What Does the Future Workplace Look Like?

February 21, 2020 by Stefanini

By now, you’re likely used to your commute. You wake up early, grab a cup of coffee, and join the endless line of commuters also trying to beat traffic. Your office might feature rows of gray cubicles or perhaps a cheerier open floor plan. The break room might display a ping pong table sitting alongside a vending machine. And it might seem like this is the way you’ll work forever.

Yet, a transformation in is occurring – what some might call a quiet, but powerful, revolution. And people are starting to get nervous. After all, how could they not after the multiple rumors floating around that automation and ‘thinking machines’ are replacing human tasks and jobs, thereby changing the skillsets organizations are looking for in their people? It’s true – the workforce will be undergoing massive changes over the next decade. And these changes raise huge challenges not only for workers, but for leaders and HR.  Not only is competition for the right talent cutthroat, but the word ‘talent’ itself is changing, with many of the roles, skills, and job titles of the future unknown to us as of yet.

This conundrum raises some important questions: how will organizations prepare for a future that still is quite murky? How will needs for talent change? How can organizations transform in order to attract, train and retain the talent they need? How might stipulations for HR change?

Instead of waiting for the future, the time to prepare is now. And as we change, by becoming even more dependent on mobile devices, we become less tolerant of inefficient processes and technologies. As we work faster, changes in the workplace are sure to follow. Futurists have made a plethora of predictions, including many employee-centric solutions, such as responsive workplaces that have idea incubators that have gentle lighting and circular couches, portable desks, and 3D holographic imaging projectors for in-person brainstorming.

One thing is certain – in order to maintain competitiveness in this new era of work, both employees and leaders need to pay attention to these predictions.

Future-Shaping Forces

According to a report put together by professional services network PwC, before we consider how the workforce is going to change, we need to pinpoint how the world is going to change. Not only will automation have a huge effect on the nature of work, but regulations and laws, the different governments imposing said laws, and broader trends in worker, citizen, and consumer attitudes will influence how this technology is integrated into the workplace.

Trends to Watch:

1.       Technological Breakthroughs

Not surprisingly, PwC predicts that over the next decade, breakthroughs in technology will accelerate. Among these breakthroughs are automation, AI and robotics, which will change the number and nature of jobs available. Yet, these advancements could come at a price. While technology has the power to dramatically change our lives, if attention isn’t paid equally to shared economic advances, these advances could cause social unrest and political upheaval.

2.       Demographic Shifts

People are living longer, which is affecting business models, pension costs, and the types of talent we cultivate. Older workers are tasked with learning new skills and working for longer while younger workers face even more competition in the workforce. Automation and productivity enhancements will become the norm as a number of rapidly-aging economies face a shortage in their human workforce.

3.       Fast Urbanization

Over the next ten years, the UN predicts that 4.9 billion people will relocate to cities and by 2050, the urban population of the world will have increased by 72 percent. Therefore, cities will become significant avenues in job creation, while ‘re-tooling’ – or, the altering of companies to make them more technologically relevant – will become increasingly necessary. 

4.       Shifts in Global Economic Power

Developed countries are in danger of social unrest. As rapidly developing nations invest in education while attracting investment from others, they have the opportunity to become more significant players on the world’s economic stage. The biggest challenge will be faced by emerging nations as technology increases the chasm within the developed world as unemployment and migration may continue to be unchecked without significant, sustained investment. Wealth disparity, job losses due to large-scale automation and the recession of the middle class could potentially create social unrest in developed countries.

5.       Resource Scarcity and Climate Change

A rapid restructuring in traditional energy industries is nigh due to the fact that by 2030, the demand for energy is set to increase by 50 percent while the demand for water might increase by 40 percent. Jobs will be created in alternative energy, engineering processes will be made new, and new product design, waste management and recycling will need to be created to meet these needs.

Workspace Trends to Watch

Not only is the world changing, but the types of workspaces we’re accustomed to are transforming. In order to stay viable, be on the lookout for these workplace types of the future:

1.       The Incorporation of AI and Digital

There is much potential for digital platforms and AI to grow the world of work, bringing a layer of digital value chain, commoditization, and automation of the back office. Yet, though the two combined can create a healthy marketplace, it can grow to take over the entire ecosystem, which creates a risk for cyber-attacks. According to a PwC survey, 73 percent of people surveyed think technology can never replace the human mind, while 37 percent of people are concerned that automation will put jobs at risk. Yet, there are some positive points to implementing AI into the workforce. If AI was properly integrated, it could potentially create a world in which human abilities are augmented. While humans are engaged in high-level thinking, decision-making and creativity, machines can help people process, analyze and evaluate the abundance of data that creates today’s world. When considering AI as a part of the future, it’s helpful to think of AI in three parts: assisted intelligence, augmented intelligence, and autonomous intelligence.

a.       Assisted Intelligence – you likely have encountered assisted intelligence today as this merely improves what people have already been doing. For instance, the GPS navigation you use in your car has the ability to both offer directions and reroute you if there are obstacles on the road.

b.       Augmented Intelligence – in contrast to assisted intelligence, augmented intelligence is merely emerging. It helps people and other entities do things they couldn’t otherwise do. An example PwC gives is that of ride-sharing services, which couldn’t exist without the combination of programs that organize them.

c.       Autonomous Intelligence – this type of AI is the most future-gazing and allows machines to act on their own. An example is that of self-driving cars, which are projected to come into widespread use some time in the future.

2.       Space Change – According to the futurist Faith Popcorn, AI, the gig economy and the virtual office is set to completely rework the way we do business. One of the ways this will happen will occur in the physical space in which we work. But it doesn’t stop there. AI will be used to track productivity, match people with their ideal jobs, and provide unending feedback loops to keep employee efficiency and satisfaction in check.

3.       Diversity Will Be Expected – gone are the days when upper management all looks the same. Today’s hires expect diversity when they start working at a new company, as diversity circumvents problems caused by bias and allows new perspectives to be heard – at times, unlocking unknown insights.

4.       Moving Outside the Office – according to Popcorn, the next generation is all about flexibility: flexible desks, flexible hours and flexible work locations. Work hours are expanding outside the norm and if businesses invested in co-working spaces, 22 percent of Millennials said they would be willing to work more hours while 82 percent stated they would be more loyal to employers if they had flexible work options. Some tech platforms like Mimesys and Vntana are offering remote holographic collaboration, which is making working “off-campus” the new normal. Further, according to ISG, policies like BYOD are becoming more popular, laptops are replacing desktops, and the use of mobile devices like tablets are continuing to increase.   

5.       Hacking Intelligence – Popcorn estimates that companies will distribute cognitive enhancers (also known as “smart pills” or nootropics) to improve performance. Some companies have already gone as far as to have their employees “chipped,” like Wisconsin tech company Three Square Market. The chips act as passwords, ID badges, and credit cards, functioning as both a convenience for employees as well as a cause for concern, though workers volunteered to have the chips implanted. With anxiety at an all-time high in today’s day and age, forward-thinking workplaces will offer mindfulness training for stress reduction and virtual coaches in the form of AI “buddies.”

6.       Future Benefits – benefits packages need an overhaul, with Popcorn suggesting that your business consider such real-life concerns like paid parental leave and relatives’ cancer career. To get young people to join large corporations, set up student loan early-repayment schedules and stoke entrepreneurial passion projects.

Welcoming the Future Workplace

At the end of the day, the workplace of the present is fast becoming the workplace of the past. As the workplace changes, the world will change with it. While these changes can seem intimidating, it’s equally as exciting to look forward to the potential the future holds.

Interested in implementing some changes in your own workplace? Stefanini can help with AI, automation, and more. Visit our website for more details.

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