The Future of Work: Same Old Story

Malcolm Ryder
3 min readMar 16, 2023

The “future of work” is already a mini-industry in content publishing, but that content is far more often than not actually describing the future of “working”, which is not the same thing.

From a value perspective, working is about how you get to do work when you have it.

Spending 60 hours a week on that topic, not to mention how many if you’re still trying to get work from somebody else to do, is a big deal. But the value of working is not the same as the value of work.

Work is labor that is changing something into something else, regardless of how you do it or get to do it. Work achieves something that, in some given context, makes a difference that has a significant impact. The significance of that impact is the value of the work.

This also means that a lot of work could end up not having much value, regardless of how it got done.

Almost any product marketing manager can tell you what it is that their product, which supports Work, allows that Work to generate as a type of value. Just changing something into something else is not a value proposition. The outcome of work needs to have a significant impact on something else, like (for example) opportunity, capability, or compatibility. I picked those three because without them, almost everything else you ordinarily think about when the word “value” pops up is speculative — including performance and money.

Now that we’re confronting AI, it is again instructive to look at how anything used in work might generate or amplify influence towards notable value. Engineered machines and programmable computing obviously triggered tectonic shifts in Work. AI, a gigantic umbrella term, is now affecting work in a huge range of ways.

But I don’t think that range is significantly different than it ever was. At a basic level, work can be described comprising four elements — conditions, materials, forms and functions — that are being engaged separately or in some combination, through acts that support future value — support recognized as opportunity, capability or compatibility.

This cross-reference of acts and engagements doesn’t need to cover the entire known universe of concepts about work or achievements. But with it we can show examples where new things might alter the changing of one thing into another.

In this iteration of the matrix, common terms (in the white cells) considered to be specific tasks easily represent the generic tasks (column sub-headers) that affect types of value (column headers). Generic work elements (row headers) include specific elements (row sub-headers) that are engaged by tasks.

Recognizing Work: Impacts in Context

As a vocabulary check, the exercise of putting the terms in the “best” place can cause a lot of reconsiderations, but the point is not to etch in stone. Instead it is to quickly recognize that something new that presumes to support work does not replace work; rather, it just revises labor.

New ways of Work” can profoundly affect organizations, expectations and the impacts underlying potential value. But the key word in that sentence is “can”. As part of both strategy and change management, understanding the difference between ways of work and ways of working is essential to understanding how to connect the two for progress and benefit.



Malcolm Ryder

Malcolm is a strategist, solution developer and knowledge management professional in both profit and non-profit companies across business, IT and the arts.