As the thesis takes shape, here's what's happening...

The future of work is ubiquitous—at least the term is, for now. From organizational designers to the newsstand to sci-fi memes, the way we will survive amid constant innovation has never seemed more urgent, or vast. But beyond the speculation and scenario planning of automation and artificial intelligence, the internet of things and the Fourth Industrial Revolution, the continuum between hard and soft skills, what does this future mean for the American worker? We know we’ll be working longer—and thus, coexist in a more diverse workforce encompassing wide swaths of age, location, background, education, behavior, and values, for starters. We know we’ll do so alongside robotic complements and exponential advances in technology. We know the traditional paradigm of the 9-to-5 office workday, with a benefits package and rise-through-the-ranks-to-retirement career track, is passé. We know our receptiveness to lifelong learning and transferable skills—emotional intelligence, collaboration, critical thinking, creativity—will prove our viability and relevance. But what don’t we know? And how might current presumptions about all of the above, the patterns so documented by demographers and trend analysts and journalists and socioeconomists and HR personnel, fail us in forecasting the future of work? What are we missing?

I argue what is missing, for starters, from present literature is the complex nature of our individual relationships with work. We lack a deep understanding beyond hype and generalization and stereotype and siloing. As such, this study is unconcerned with organizational strategy, or at least relegates such broader systemic design to the periphery. The zeitgeist is saturated well enough with advice for C-level leaders out to boost their recruitment, retainment, company culture—or the public perception thereof—and ultimately, bottom line. Rather, the focus of this thesis is an explicitly and intrinsically human one, an examination of the many adaptive systems that influence work on a personal level. How are fluid micro-changes in tech, space, cognition, work-life balance, and other factors rewriting our narratives of work? What does work mean beyond a paycheck, a purpose to get up, a promotion, perhaps even beyond “work” itself, given the advent of Universal Basic Income? And what will it mean in our future, when what we do on an individual plane ripples within an increasingly asynchronous workforce?

This study considers the dialogue of eras, of approaches, of methodologies, of priorities, of passions, applying an algorithm—an equation—of the elements shaping the future of work for each of us. Through extensive primary and secondary research, I am designing a formula that takes into account the values, variables, interactions, and “environmental conditions” affecting an individual’s relationship to work. I will then test this equation, contextualizing it within larger frameworks of generation, geography, technology, and cognition—points that are temporal, spatial, virtual, and mental—to poke holes and find the dissonance in preexisting thought. The result, a personalized snapshot of one’s own work narrative, provides users a better understanding of their future in and with it—and, as a part of an evolving document, within the workforce at large.

Make no mistake: I do not claim to solve for work itself, but iterate on an evolving tool that will provide greater personal and collective understanding of work, for the goal of better understanding ourselves, one another, and the challenges, opportunities and disruptions of tomorrow in turn.


Amanda Schurr