Top 5 TED Talks About the Future of Work and the Global Workforce

By Deena Anreise | Updated: 10 Aug, 2017

We live in the era of the gig economy, which is a labor market characterized by the prevalence of short-term contracts or freelance work as opposed to permanent jobs.

Chances are, you know someone who makes money through companies like Airbnb, Lyft, Etsy, Upwork and so on. Companies like these have reshaped the way the mainstream views work. When, how, where, and why can now be flexible aspects of how work gets done. People choose lifestyle and culture fits over paychecks and job security, because it's getting ever easier to find professional meaning and purpose without sacrificing work life balance.

On top of this, access to talent has reached an all time high as platforms like LinkedIn make poaching a company’s best employees easier for recruiters and competitors. So, it's no surprise that companies all over the world are making significant investments in the employee experience with goals to make employees more engaged, productive, and happier by rethinking their physical, digital, and cultural environments.

As I write this, the global business community is in the midst of reshaping what it means to be an employee as well as what it means to work. This in due, in large part, to technology. Entire organizations can now be built without employees being physically present in the same office.

Below, I present 5 TED Talks that examine the future of work and the global workforce. 

You don't have to be a manager to understand that good communication is inherently necessary in the workplace. If you are part of a team at work (any team) then you know that communication is vital to meeting deadlines, reaching quotas, improving products and services, and so much more.

But how does good communication apply to the future of work and the global workforce?

What Is the Future of Work?

As companies stake their growth strategies on global expansion and pursuit of new markets, their ability to forge a human capital strategy and HR capability that is both globally consistent and locally relevant will be critical to success.

Did you know that 68% of employees feel their company doesn’t create a culture in which employees have a sense of purpose and meaningful impact? (source: 

Having a purpose over having a job is the ultimate end game in today's business environment. So, what does this mean for you and for your company? To put it bluntly, if employees do not feel a connection to the company, its upper management, or its purpose they will leave. Regardless of generation, if an employee does not feel valued or if there is no growth potential, it's highly probable that another opportunity will be sought. 

In a nutshell, the future of work requires an organization to create a meaningful culture that holds the interconnection of all people and processes to be paramount.

What is a Global Workforce?

Distributed teams (aka: a global workforce) are now the norm for most mid-sized and large companies. Even small businesses like Prialto enjoy the benefits of having a diverse group of employees spread across multiple continents. With this distribution comes the need to learn about the traditions, languages, and customs of all team members, since strong interpersonal relationships are the core of good communication efforts.

Profile of the Global Workforce: Present and Future (Source: SHRM Foundation)

As the workforce becomes more global—a product of economic, political, social and technological forces—the dynamics underpinning human capital have been altered extensively. Today, the profile of the average global worker entails a myriad of characteristics:

  • An older, more gender and ethnically diverse workforce, with increased interconnectivity, has become the standard
  • Country of origin and ethnicity no longer dictate a worker’s geographical scope, especially with developing countries producing at least as many skilled, educated workers and managers as developed countries
  • Working from remote locations no longer prevents employees from communicating with their colleagues, allowing teams to collaborate with ease across national borders and time zones

Top 5 TED Talks About the Future of Work and the Global Workforce

1. Heiko Fischer | "The Future of Work"

Credentials: Fischer is 3rd generation Human Resources and believes its function should become the driver of balanceto evolve or become irrelevant, like everything else.

Summary: In his talk at TEDxKoeln, Fischer builds a strong case for turning Human Resources on its head by enabling employees to become resourceful humans instead. People want to do a good job. Given the proper environment, they will do so. This proper environment consists of timeless management practices combined with cutting-edge collaboration tools to optimize work environments for both people and products.

The angle for Fischer’s talk is moving away from the idea of human resources and towards an idea of being resourceful humans. Fischer believes the current system of work is out of balance because it’s undemocratic and the positions of power are not justified by the people.

  • Fischer shows a TV clip from 50 years ago in which David Packard (of Hewlett-Packard) is ridiculed for saying that companies also have a major responsibility to employees and customers, and that money is only a byproduct.
  • The currency of the future is development rather than to make money at all costs, and that companies must look after employees along the way. 
  • Fischer makes the point that Darwin’s concept of “survival of fittest” has been misappropriated. What Darwin actually said is that the most successful species are those most capable of collaborating, which is an important distinction for the survival and success of both the modern human resources department and the company it serves.

Takeaway: "A stunning number of people don't feel like they have any control over how things work at their place of employment."

2. Valérie Hoeks | "Cultural Difference in Business"

Credentials: Valérie Hoeks studied Sinology at the Leiden University and has been active in China for over a decade as a traveller, a student, and an entrepreneur. In 2010, Hoeks co-founded China Inroads, an organization that provides a strong foothold for innovative companies to expand their business to the Chinese market.

SummaryHoeks discusses the differences between Chinese and Western cultures and how these difference impact business customs. She highlights exactly why it's important that every business let things happen naturally, embrace experience, and how to look at a situation from different angles in order to positively benefit business rather than race toward a solution that may turn out to be mediocre at best.

Hoeks further examines one of the main cultural differences between Europe and China, which is the importance given to building relationships. 

Takeaway: “You need to build relationships in order to be successful."

3. Itay Talgum | "Lead Like the Great Conductors"

CredentialsItay Talgam was the first Israeli conductor to perform with the St. Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra and the Leipzig Opera house. His book, The Ignorant Maestro, was published in 2015. Talgam created the Maestro Leadership Program, and leads workshops that aim to help everyday people develop a musician's sense of collaboration and a conductor's sense of leadership: that inner sense of being connectedof listening and reactingto your fellow players. 

Summary: Talgam demonstrates how six of the greatest 20th-century conductors face the ultimate leadership challenge (e.g. creating perfect harmony without saying a word), and how today's leaders can get the most out of any collaborative effort.

Authority is not enough to make a subordinate your partner. Leaders cannot use employees as instruments if effective collaboration is the end game, because you want team members to develop skills and contribute instead of being controlled. Enabling team members to provide input and listen to each other opens a space for them to work together and become stronger partners. True leaders not only create the process but the space in which the process can truly evolve.

Takeaway: “[A conductor’s] happiness does not come from only his own story and his joy of the music. The joy is about enabling other people’s stories to be heard at the same time.”

4. Chimamanda Adichie | "The Danger of a Single Story"

Credentials: Nigerian author, Chimamanda Adichie, was awarded a MacArthur Genius Grant. She was described in the Times Literary Supplement as "the most prominent" of a "procession of critically acclaimed young anglophone authors [that] is succeeding in attracting a new generation of readers to African literature."

Summary: Adichie eloquently explains how fewer harmful assumptions about your co-workers will happen when you realize that every person is a complex individual shaped by their socio-economic situation, education, family status, health, early life experiences, genetic composition and so on. 

In this way, Adichie cautions us against hearing only a single story about another person or country in an effort to keep critical misunderstandings at bay. In the workplace, could a single story you hold about a coworker undermine an otherwise successful working relationship? Consider how you may have underestimated (or overestimated) a colleague's ability to handle a project based solely on their education level, ethnicity, gender, or religion.

Takeaway: "The problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue but that they are incomplete. They make one story the only story. The problem with a single story is that it robs people of dignity. It emphasises how we are different rather than similar."

5. Margaret Hefferman | "Forget the Pecking Order at Work"

Credentials: Margaret Heffernan began her career in television production, building a track record at the BBC before going on to run the film and television producer trade association IPPA. In this TED Talk, Heffernan explores the all-too-human thought patterns—like conflict avoidance and selective blindness—that lead organizations and managers astray.

Summary: Organizations are often run according to "the superchicken model," where the value is placed on star employees who outperform others. And yet, this isn't what drives the most high-achieving teams. As an internationally established business leader, Heffernan brilliantly observes that social cohesion—built on coffee breaks and other such micro moments of connection—leads to greater results over time. She poses a radical rethinking of what drives us to do our best work, and what it means to be a leader. 

Takeaway: "Companies don't have ideas. Only people do."


Widespread, accessible technologies as well as a globally open talent pool are reshaping the future workforce, and driving many organizations worldwide to reconsider how they design jobs, organize work, and plan for future growth.

Are you leveraging collaborative technologies (e.g. free video conferencing software, group communication tools) and outsourcing (e.g. virtual executive assistant, virtual assistant services) to strengthen your company culture and build revenue?