The pace of change in the office, for most of us, is overwhelming. Looking at the workplace of thirty years ago is more like looking at the workplace of Victorian England. The tech has gone from clunky to mobile and the working hours from nine to five to anywhere and anytime. The buildings have gone from individual offices to open plan, and the dress code from pinstriped pencil skirts to slouchy jeans. The tide of small changes washing over the average office is reshaping the workplace of the future, today.
Keeping up with the change in the world of work is hard enough. Actually learning to work within the changing system and making the changes work in your favour seems almost impossible. But finding your place in the changing work place is crucial if you don’t want to end up sidelined, stuck in a dead end job -or even worse- automated, out of the office altogether as the work place robots take over.
So where do you start?
1. Know Your USP
The key to finding and maintaining your place in the changing workplace is in knowing your own Unique Selling Point. What is it that you do especially well at work? By understanding and articulating this, you will be able to see how your skill set can fit into roles as they change and evolve.
Figure out your unique selling point by asking others around you. Colleagues and friends in similar industries are more likely to give you honest and useful feedback than your nearest and dearest. Your mum will always think you’re adorable, even if she’s not so clear on how that fits into your career trajectory.
You could also invest time in reflecting on the things you enjoy doing at work. While this might sound frivolous, it is actually a useful exercise because we often return time and time again to doing the things we enjoy, and therefore become better and better at them. These things therefore become our strengths and can be the unique aspects of your skills and experience that help you maintain your place no matter how much the workplace changes.
2. Have a Realistic View of Your own Value
If your workplace is changing at pace you might find yourself needing to choose between different roles as the structure of the team develops. To be able to assess new roles you need to have a good idea of your worth on the open market.
It is often the case that internal candidates who stay with one business underestimate how much they should be being paid, which over the course of a whole working career can mean you lose a significant chunk for your loyalty. If you have recently learned new skills or taken new qualifications to get you ahead at work it might be time to audit your place on the salary scale.
Internally in your business you may be able to ask HR to share salary banding information to check where you sit on it, and negotiate if necessary. Otherwise you might choose to use an online benchmarking site which allows you to get a feel for the pay rates for others in similar roles to you. Various sites exist, so check out a few like this site and this one, to get a balanced view.
3. Plan for Change
Finding your place in the changing workforce means planning for change. Standing still really is going backwards in this respect. Watch the developments in your company and industry. Having an eye to the horizon should help you understand the challenges and opportunities as they come, and give you time to adapt and plan for the future.
The main thing that causes change to be a surprise is a sense of security, which leads to entire companies of very smart people feeling too comfortable to believe that this new idea or disruptive technology could ever really affect them. Don’t fall into this mindset. Treat every day like you did your first day in that business, and keep your eyes open to the things that you do well, and those that you’re not so good at, as the market develops.
Whatever you see coming, think about how you might personally learn and adapt to meet the challenges and seize the opportunity. Before you know it you will be known as the soothsayer of your business, and you will have assured your place as the workplace changes. You won’t be just leading, you’ll be orchestrating that change.
4. Keep on the Cutting Edge
You need to continue to develop the skills that will be needed in the future in order to find your footing in the changing workplace. The best way to do this is not grand gestures such as going back to college to do a high class MBA, but by gradual and iterative learning and picking up new things every day.
See what you can learn from your colleagues and boss. Look at what other businesses in your industry are doing, or how different industries tackle similar problems to those that your business might face. Look at what your competitors are doing, where the innovation in your industry lies. What new technology is disrupting the field, and how might it be applied in your business? What opportunities are others seeing that your company does not? What matters to your customers? Who will your customer be in five years or ten years-time, and how can you personally, and your business more generally, plan to serve them?
Take a leaf from the start up world, and embrace iterative learning by figuring out on the fly how you can adapt and grow to meet these needs and handle the change that will inevitably come.
5. Build and Use Your Network
Recruitment today relies as much on who you know, as what you know. This can feel like a very unfair situation, but in our hyper connected world it is inevitable. Build the best network that you can in your industry and beyond. This is not a one way street, and as much as you will be helped by a strong network, you will be able to help others in return.
Learn to network, get over any fear of reaching out, and get as involved as you can in the industry you work in. Even if you don’t need it now, you may well turn to your network for help in future.
If the future of your chosen field of work worries you - or even worse, if you simply never give the future a second thought - then this is the time to get to grips with what’s coming. The pace of change is not slowing - if anything it is going to increase, with ever more technological, economic, political and social change meaning that where, when and why we work today might have shifted dramatically in only a few years-time.
If you choose to, you could be simply swept along with the changes that will affect your workplace. But this might mean that the tsunami of change leaves you struggling. Alternatively, with a little forethought, you can understand and adapt to (even shape) the changes that are coming your way. Keep an eye to the horizon and put yourself firmly in control of your own career destiny.