The confluence of a global event and the awakening by many people to the existence of technologies has created a paradigm shift for employers and employees alike.

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, virtual technologies like Zoom and Microsoft Teams had barely penetrated many workforces let alone the general public consciousness.

It seems that everything now is different. In many ways, of course, lives, careers, and industries have fundamentally changed in the wake of the global pandemic. However, like a change in the awareness of already existing technologies, it seems that employers have figured out something that some employees but many researchers have known for more than a decade.

People are just as productive while working from home as they are at work. Call it managerial enlightenment. Call it managerial self-interested enlightenment – less rent to pay for the office space! Call it an opportunity to rebalance work-life balance. Call it organizational and human evolution. All probably carry some truth.

In many societies, compressed work weeks or four-day work weeks are already the norm. Economic research provides evidence that working shorter work weeks does not reduce employee performance or overall economic productivity. In fact, there is reason to believe that well-rested and healthy employees actually perform better than over-worked, stressed employees.

It is unfortunate that it took a global pandemic for many employers to learn these lessons, but it is important nonetheless that they have learned these lessons.

Despite the lack of awareness that many of us had toward the ongoing Fourth Industrial Revolution, that revolution has been underway for decades and will accelerate in the coming decade. Automation through machines such as robots, artificial intelligence, and machine learning have existed, in some cases, for over a half century. It is the more rapid advances in artificial intelligence – the human programming of machines to respond to situations or events in ways that humans would – and in machine learning, where the machines no longer need human programmers but learn on their own, that will accelerate trends that seem to have only appeared in the wake of a once-in-a-decade global pandemic.

Highly repetitive work with standard physical movements that requires little autonomous decision making will continue to see displacement due to technology. Jobs and industries that now dominate service-based economies, will contract if not outright disappear. Companies will no longer need dozens of accountants or financial analysts when a data scientist who creates algorithms and just a handful of accountants or financial analysts can do the same amount of work with fewer mistakes. Marketing, human resources, supply chain management, and most other job categories found in modern companies will shrink.

Even the retail sector will see a technological transformation. Fast-food or cafeteria-style restaurants will operate with very little human work, as machines will take orders, prepare and cook meals, deliver orders, take payments, and clean tables, utensils, dishes, and glassware. Pharmacies will use automated robots and kiosk-style ordering terminals to serve customers. Convenience stores will use robots to stock shelves and kiosks for checkout. While this sounds like some far-off, futuristic scenario, consider that these types of retail settings already exist in countries like China.

Even call centers, once the exemplar of outsourcing to foreign countries, will be replaced by technology. When you visit a website and a dialogue box appears on the bottom of your screen, that is an artificial intelligence bot. By the end of this decade, virtual bots will have conversations with you on the telephone. The development of hologram bots means that you might not even know that the person you Facetime with is actually an artificial intelligence bot.

All of this might scare you and make you wonder if your job will even exist in ten years. It might not. So what can you do to ensure that you have a long, vibrant career?

First, adopt a lifelong learning mindset. Recall that automation occurs for jobs that have highly repetitive functions and little independent decision-making. Seek out opportunities to up-skill, which might mean returning to formal education settings or seeking out certificate programs. Second, learn to thrive through failure. Yes, learn to fail. Find safe opportunities to try new things at which you will fail. Take cooking lessons. Try to build a piece of furniture. Attempt to paint. Put yourself into uncomfortable situations and learn to adapt. You will find that your ability to problem solve and take calculated risks will benefit you across your life. Finally, get healthy. The next decade will feel stressful. Your ability to cope with stress will benefit you. Exercise, sleep well, take your holidays, recharge your mental and physical batteries, and try your best to take breaks from your smartphone – which creates stress by even being on your person.

Do these steps guarantee a successful career as the Fourth Industrial Revolution? No. However, these steps will help you adapt to a rapidly changing future.

Anthony WheelerAbout the author

Anthony Wheeler is Dean of Business Administration, Professor of Management at Widener University and co-author with M. Ronald Buckley of HR without people? Industrial evolution in the age of automation, AI and Machine Learning.