Be prepared for the Future of Work – 4 Guiding Principles For Contractors

“Status quo, you know, is Latin for, ‘The mess we’re in.” — Ronald Reagan

Whether you’re a career contractor, or you’re currently in a phase of taking on contract work over FTE, it’s in your best interests to be prepared for the future of work.

It’s a phrase that’s been thrown about a lot lately: ‘the future of work’. And it has particular relevance – and importance – to both contractors and the organisations that engage them.

One thing we’ve recognised with our clients, and in the marketplace generally, is the misnomer that the ‘future of work’ has pure technology relevance. This is simply inaccurate. Yes, the way we work will be – in fact currently is – hugely impacted by technology. But there are a multitude of other factors that go with being prepared for the future of work, particularly if you’re a contractor.

Technology is just one.

Today, I bring together four learnings – or guiding principles – that we’ve made as a business over the past couple of years that are important – no, critical – for contractors to be across, if they’re to be active, successful members of the future workforce. I’ve taken this from our work with some of Australia’s biggest organisations and importantly, and the work we do with their contractors.

I’m a Contractor: How Do I Prepare for The Future of Work?

1. Skills Development:

  • Build the right skills for yourself, to remain relevant in your chosen profession
  • Do your research on the skills that are in decline – those where humans will never be able to compete with robots. For example, we’re at a point now, where Artificial Intelligence can do most admin tasks. Think about that. Or this: driverless cars are estimated to be at 75% of all cars on the road, by 2040. So the impending shift in the transportation industry will be beyond dramatic
  • Be lateral in your approach to skills and educational development in preparation for the future. Look at how your industry and discipline will work with machines – of which there will be multiple alternatives. We liked this example below, in the realm of marketing from HBR – ‘Five Paths to Employability’:

5 paths to employability


  • Lifelong learning is key here (mentioned again below) – we need to be able to adapt and change to circumstances via a commitment to learning. And the shift to lifelong learning needs to take place now, as the changes to the workforce are already underway
  • Finally on this point, don’t fight innovation. Embrace it. Work with it. Learn from it. And grow who you are because of it.

“ … [there are] two core abilities for thriving in the new economy:

  1. The ability to quickly master hard things.
  2. The ability to produce at an elite level, in terms of both quality and speed.”

Cal Newport


2. Soft Skills:

  • Separate to point #1 above, here the focus is on the soft skills you’ll need to develop as a contractor in the future of work. Factors like adaptability, and a foundation for learning are going to be crucial in the future workforce. The other major soft skills I see as crucial include;
  • Time Management: competing demands in an increasingly complex work environment can create overwhelm and a paralysing effect on output. Managing time effectively, and learning the proven techniques are critical
  • Emotional Intelligence: life experience often plays a role here. But there are other ways of developing your EQ (there are even courses on Udemy). The key EQ factors you’ll need to be mindful of as a future workforce contractor include understanding the personalities around you; managing emotions; healthy self-awareness; building strong workplace relationships and connections; and honing an effective communication style
  • Productivity: the first cousin of time-management, productivity will be crucial especially in a digitally enabled world (see ‘digital literacy’). Blocking distractions, personal accountability, managing competing demands, and improving your ability to focus are the main factors here
  • Change Management: the one thing we see as a constant in today’s workforce, is change. So those contractors who can be adaptable to change, are going to be the ones with long, successful careers
  • Conflict Management: the modern workforce is increasingly complex, so having the necessary skills to navigate conflict with diplomacy and effective outcomes, will be critical in the future workforce.


3. Digital Literacy:

  • This isn’t about knowing how to use Twitter (although, nothing detrimental will come from being well-Twitter-versed 😉)
  • No matter your age, seniority, industry or skills, being equipped with the knowledge to navigate the digital landscape – from social media to online collaboration tools and much, much more – will serve you well in the future of work
  • Technically, digital literacy “…refers to an individual’s ability to find, evaluate, and compose clear information through writing and other mediums on various digital platforms” (Source). From a future workforce standpoint, the realm of IT, digital marketing and digital acuity converge for all workers, especially those seeking to firm up their relevancy in the future of work
  • How indispensable you are, and how indispensable you are perceived to be, is key here. Where one person on a team lags on digital proficiency, the remainder of the team lag as well. And that’s good for no-one
  • Digital literacy covers a broad category of ‘skills’ including any and all of the following (and more):
    • being across basic functionality, typical UX & user journeys on digital platforms
    • being mobile-technology literate
    • understanding how to operate in a virtually collaborative environment
    • being willing to explore new apps and tools to enhance and improve your performance
    • eLearning
    • being media savvy in a digital context: as both a consumer and publisher of information
    • being security minded and protective of IP, identity and privacy
  • You’re across IQ and EQ, right? DQ is now a thing: The Digital Intelligence Quotient. And if you’re looking to be a high-value contractor in the future of work, you’ll ensure your DQ is up there
  • The DQ Institute devised this model, which we believe covers it all (for now):

Digital literarcy


4. Critical thinking:

  • Critical thinking is a desirable skill important to your career as a contractor now and in the future of work
  • Critical thinking is defined as the objective analysis and evaluation of an issue in order to form a judgement. It is disciplined thinking that is clear, rational, open-minded, and informed by evidence (Source)
  • We regularly see the need for critical thinking skills as a crucial prerequisite for contractors, by big business
  • There are five key elements of critical thinking:
    1. Open-mindedness: this involves being able to park past assumptions or biases to be able to analyse the information as it is presented. It also involves skills including being inclusive; having a broad scope for ideas; objectivity; being culturally aware and inclusive; having observational skills; humility and self-reflection
    2. Communication: being able to analyse data is one thing; being able to communicate that analysis is something entirely different. Sharing ideas effectively involves group thinking and collaboration. Other traits of communication in a critical thinking context include expression of ideas; written and verbal communications; presentation skills; teamwork and collaboration skills; and assessment skills
    3. Problem-solving: a skill greatly valued by employers of their contractors, these include devising and implementing ideas that mitigate risk; practicality in solution design, suitable to the business environment and specific problem; being innovative; logical reasoning; and taking a stand with regards to decision making
    4. Creativity: creativity is a requisite stand-alone skill, which is highly desirable in the current and future workforce setting. There are multiple manifestations of creativity which will serve you as a contractor. These include idea generation; arriving at original solutions unexplored previously; cognitive dexterity; imagination; abstract thinking; curiosity and being visionary
    5. Analytical: the ability to examine, interpret and utilise something, such as data or information. Traits include the ability to ask thoughtful questions; applying sound judgement; questioning evidence; analysis of data; being able to recognise similarities and differences in concepts.


In summary, these 4 guiding principles are by no means exhaustive. But we hope they get you thinking about what you need to do today, to maintain your status as a high-value contingent worker.

And really, to heed Regan’s call, if you’re a contractor in today’s workforce, and you’re planning to remain a contractor in the future of work, ‘status quo’ will definitely leave you in a mess. No doubt.