What can we deduce from current working trends about the workplace of the future, and the skills we will need in the future?

Illustrations by Valeria Radkevych

For many people in Ukraine and around the world, 2020 was a year of remote work, increased stress, and disruption to our daily routines. But the COVID-19 pandemic has only reinforced trends that were there previously, and raised certain issues up on the agenda: What work skills should be prioritized? What social protection policies should be put in place for gig workers*? And which of the current working practices should continue into the "post-COVID" period?

* The term gig workers covers both freelancers and those who have other jobs outside their main place of work. In Ukraine, this category usually includes entrepreneurs (known by the Ukrainian acronym FOP) and persons providing services under civil law contracts.

Our study looked into the nature of work, examining the situations on two levels simultaneously:

-        At the level of the Eurasian region, based on an analysis of prior publications and research by UNDP staff from six different Accelerator Labs, who jointly prepared a report highlighting 30 current key signals and trends relevant to the future of work. This report can be downloaded in Ukrainian or English via this link: "The Changing Nature of Work: 30 Signals to Consider for a Sustainable Future"

-        At the level of Ukraine, where the study was based on collective foresight methods – in other words, we explored the likely future, searching for and interpreting information related to changes in the area of work. The research was carried out by volunteers, who worked in coordination with the Head of Exploration of the UNDP Ukraine Accelerator Lab and in partnership with Impact ua.

In this article, we present the conclusions of the approaches we applied.

The future is not fully predictable –  our ideas about the future are mainly just an extrapolation of current trends, which are based on previously existing data. But to see into the future, we don't just need to look behind us. Rather, we can look along a number of possible paths ahead of us –alternative futures – or scenarios, images and ideas that can often seem strange, as they might not meet our subconscious expectations.

Our collective foresight produced a set of micro-scenarios and possible consequences of the changes we detected. In the first part of this article, we present working day scenarios and the signals that support them, while in the second part we describe our research path – after all, in foresight, the process is no less important than the end result.

A working day from the future

Oksana Ivanivna, 65

Makariv, Kyiv Oblast, Ukraine

Like all farmers, Oksana wakes up early, but her morning does not start with coffee: The first thing she does is check the orders that have come in to her electronic office. A typical morning, she says, might see orders for “1 kilo of fresh lettuce, five packs of carrots, 10 kilos of kiwis (a new urban favourite that I’m catering to)… and lots more.”

As she has to pack everything quickly so that it is ready in time for the pick-up lorry, she heads off to the garden. Meanwhile, her partner Mykola, who is good with figures, completes the “check-out” process and manages the financial side of the business.

Oksana started her journey to becoming an eco-farmer a few years ago, when she received training in digital marketing and e-commerce. Thanks to a broad partnership between the government authorities and e-commerce operators, she doesn’t have to bother with all the nitty-gritty of tax reporting and registration – she can dedicate her time to what she’s best at – farming.

Signals to note:

·        In early 2020 the Ministry of Digital Transformation of Ukraine launched a digital literacy course for elderly people;

·        Ukrainian leading e-commerce company Rozetka partnered with Visa to promote local producers;

·        A local farmer-client matching platform wins  the #HackCorona challenge in Ukraine.

 

Ivanna, 22

Zhytomyr, Ukraine

Ivanna is a recent graduate in cognitive computing. She has a minor speech deficiency, and is a wheelchair user. While getting about is a challenge for her, Ivanna was able to complete her studies and work on two internships remotely.

Today is her first workday for a multinational company as an Associate Cognitive Analyst, and her home-office is already set up – the company bought all the equipment she said she needed. Ivanna’s first task is to craft her own job description and choose one of the few available roles: She is hesitating between “Master’s Apprentice” and “Gig-spotter.”

She logs into a virtual city space to browse the rooms of her colleagues for inspiration. 

Signals to note:

·        Businesses are talking more often about the need to “craft a job” for employees;

·        The Ministry of Social Policy of Ukraine signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the IT Ukraine association and CSO “Prometheus” (an e-learning platform) facilitating free studies for people with disabilities;

·        Many leading IT companies have committed to making remote-working available by default. The Ukrainian office Grammarly provides “work from home” stipends for people to set up home offices.

 

Marianna, 32

Kyiv, Ukraine

Mariana is a Policy Entrepreneur at the Ministry of Social Policy of Ukraine. She manages the complex partnership needed for the roll-out of a nationwide smart social insurance system: This requires navigating a path between platform employers’ hunger for personal data, and the rights to privacy of insured people.

It’s an important day for Mariana, as she is about to launch a digital consultation process for the proposed policy. After a successful 3-year pilot – which had been fraught with risk – the government is now ready to take the next step.

A data partnership between the social services, digital platforms, social media, and educational institutions has resulted in the creation of the new approach to providing social security to gig-workers: digital educational certificates, social network influence indexes, and data on performed gigs have been translated into scores, on the basis of which the state and private companies can offer hyper-personalized social insurance packages.

Mariana convinced government officials that only a whole-of-society consultation would bolster the legitimacy of the new policy, so today she is launching a swarm consultation, through which  people in Ukraine can voice their views on key issues in an instant. 

Signals to note:

·        An experiment tested whether algorithms modelled on the swarm behaviour of honeybees could help politically polarised British voters agree on Government priorities;

·        The Ministry of Digital Transformation of Ukraine launched a digital certificate to assess the public’s digital skills, which generates granular knowledge of a person’s actual skills. 

·        All around the world and in Eurasia we have seen an increasing number of strikes against unfair work conditions offered by platform employers.

 

Nazar, 55

Lviv, Ukraine

Nazar is going to work early on Monday – he’s performing surgery on patients in China, so he needs to adjust to a different time zone. After a tough urological operation, he checks on how his prototype vein prostheses are doing – they are growing slowly, but surely. A fellow bio-technician from Silicon Valley rents out a bio-printer for half the price if you agree to be in the lowest priority group of orders.

Nazar is hopeful that this latest prototype will be better, and will help secure funding for his small startup. Seeing the veins grow in real-time is fascinating, but unfortunately, his observation of the printing process is interrupted by an urgent message from the tax office: “You are requested to provide confirmation documents for international transactions made over the last 10 days at your earliest convenience.”

It’s at times like this that Nazar regrets that he opted out of the extended data sharing mechanism established by the state some years ago. After the urgent request is fulfilled, Nazar can finally get some rest. 

Signals of note:

·        Ukrainian hospital installs  a robotic surgeon; 

·        The sharing economy (a model of consumption of goods and services that provides for short-term leases of property, or joint ownership) is booming;

·        The fourth industrial revolution is on the horizon.

 

Foresight: A process to systematize thinking about the future

As previously mentioned, our work was based on collective foresight methodologies. Foresight is needed in order to develop systematic thinking about possible futures, so that organizations and communities can prepare for likely scenarios and develop the relevant strategies.

At first glance, foresight may seem like a difficult and perhaps unnecessary step in developing programmes and policies, but it is increasingly used as a mandatory link that disrupts linear thinking – which is extremely important in our turbulent times. The set of foresight methodologies is quite extensive, and many of them allow one to integrate foresight into one’s work without additional training.

As noted at the beginning of this article, with foresight the process is as important as the end result, so in this part we share information about our path in more detail and highlight the additional results, which are no less interesting and deserving of attention.

The basic framework of the foresight process, which was proposed by Dr. Joseph Voros in 2000, has several stages, and includes a set of main questions that need to be answered:

Inputs:
We began the foresight with a structured process of environmental scanning, and collecting publications, news articles, statements, and other pieces of information that may serve as indicators of the current state and anticipated changes in human work. In total, we collected 90 "signals" and classified them according to the STEEP-U framework (social, technological, economic, environmental, political, and undefined categories):

Analysis:

Next, we grouped these signals along two dimensions: their likely impact on performance, and their potential for acceleration, and combined the most interesting of them into new "unexpected opportunities" (the method used by the International Institute for the Future: "Reveal Unexpected opportunities" by IFTF).

As a result, we gained an understanding of the (dis)balance of driving forces that determine the direction and the speed of changes when it comes to work, and collected a significant number of "artefacts" and opportunities of the future, which were prioritized for further research.

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Interpretation and prospection (insight into the future):

At the next stage, we visually interpreted the prioritized signals and capabilities using the "Future Wheels" method, which was proposed by futurist Jerome Glen in 1971. This method involves unfolding the consequences of the selected signal or the probable change by several degrees of order, allowing one to think non-linearly.

You can take a closer look at these "wheels" by following this link – this is one of the most important products of our collective foresight, which helps us get a better feeling of the directions in which current trends – and their unexpected combinations – are taking us.

All of the above-mentioned is the result of collective foresight, and in the process of developing it, we tried to delve into the most interesting signals, and work with the ideas with the least predictable consequences. Our small-scale study indicates that the changes occurring in the area of "work" are non-linear, and their solution requires the use of a systemic approach. This approach should be based on pre-emptive public policy measures, rather than simply responding to problems in current systems. It is necessary to experiment with new solutions, and support local projects and ideas that can be scaled up.

About Accelerator Lab

In 2019, UNDP Ukraine established a new unit that aims to identify local innovative solutions, and help Ukraine’s reforms development ecosystem test such solutions and employ new methods to address sustainable development issues. If you follow our blog, you've already heard about the UNDP Ukraine Accelerator Lab – over the past few years, our small team has been working on a variety of issues: from digital literacy among the elderly, improving the speed of emergency responses, and introducing the principles of the circular economy to your favourite coffee shop.

Each "engagement" of the Accelerator Lab is aimed not only at creating a better understanding of issues at hand and a coming up with a possible set of solutions – we also apply public sector innovation methods to resolve them (by the way, our partners from NESTA have brilliantly visualized these in their "landscape of innovative approaches"). Our lab and others like it sidestep the "business as usual" approach, hypothesising that by working in a different way, we will gain new experience and knowledge, and in this way discover a shorter path to workable solutions.

Acknowledgements

This work would not have been possible without the involvement of volunteer researchers: UNDP’s Accelerator Lab in Ukraine expresses its sincere gratitude for the diligent work of Anna Bazilo, Kateryna Viter, Oleksandr Vilchynsky, Anna Gasparian, Zhansaya Zhansaibayeva, Diana King, Yuliia Legka, Ksenia Lukach, Maxym Semenchuk, Yurii Chipko, Yevhenia Sabadyn, Anna Shevchenko, and Mariia Khomich.

Text: Ievhen Kylymnyk. Editing: Euan Macdonald

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