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Throughout history the way we work has been altered and transformed. The last transformation has found its roots in a disease which forced us to work from home. Still, there are more transformations upcoming on the horizon. What are these transformations and how will they alter our workplace in the future?
If you do a quick search on the internet you will find countless articles on the workplace of the future. It is flooded with blogs on working remotely, AI impacting work, and working more data driven (I also wrote a few blogs on those). So today I want to talk about something different, on how the workplace will look like if we are used to working remotely, working with AI, and working data driven. In this blog I will take a shot at the social impact of these evolutions and talk about future hierarchies and decision making, how working will be more intertwined with our personal lives, and how human contact and well-being will become more and more important in our work lives.
Hierarchies and decisions
Currently decisions are still made in hierarchical structures where one person’s input might weigh heavier than another. Of course, there are differences in how steep hierarchical structures are, from very tall hierarchies (still mostly common in Asia and parts of America) to flat hierarchies (still mostly common in Europe). In the workplace of the future I believe that the hierarchical structures will not disappear, but change in form and appearance. In this sense the traditional manager will be replaced by groups and teams who check each other’s behaviour and performance. Driven by data and AI they will take decisions based upon crowd-based intelligence instead of hierarchical positions. In a similar fashion, bonuses and salaries will not be a result of negotiations and charisma, but from data-based performance and team approval. There will be more transparency in why certain decisions will be made and more people will be involved in the decision-making structure. This will require a simplified model of decision making as more actors will be involved. This will make for organisations that:
- are more agile and can respond quicker to market trends,
- have less internal politics and bureaucracy, and
- determine, plan and execute better decisions.
Want to find out more about our future hierarchies? Read this article from Collin Williams.
Work and personal life
If working remotely will be fully accepted and implemented in the future, then that will have an implication towards the division of work and personal life. I, and with me many others, believe that working remotely will be fully implemented in the future. Beside the challenges and opportunities which that brings (about which you can read more here), this will also have an influence on the division between our work and personal life. Obvious things come to mind as the working day has no ‘solid’ start and finish anymore. So, you might pick up your laptop during the evening, do a laundry run between meetings, or go out for a coffee with the family when there is not a lot to do. This has the advantage that we can become more flexible in how and where we work, but I would argue that this can also result in a lot of new forms of stress. Since we do not have a solid end of our working day, we will experience a constant ‘working-mode’ kind of pressure in our mind. I would therefore argue that in the workplace of the future there will be more emphasis on planning and the use of calendars to structure your workday, and that this will be required by employers to prevent needless amounts of stress.
What’s more is that I believe that retirement as we now know it, might be a thing of the past. We live in a time that the proportion of elderly population will become relatively larger and that they will live longer as well. It is technically and financially not possible anymore to maintain ‘early’ retirements anymore in the current system as most people stop working around the age of 65 (and often earlier). This system worked when people lived up until the age of 80, but currently people are generally becoming older. What has also always baffled me is that people at the age of retirement immediately go down from a full week of working to absolutely nothing. I believe this to be a wrong way of retiring, firstly because stopping too early with working is detrimental for your cognitive ability (see this article). Secondly, because it drops a lot of people in a mental hole, often feeling social isolated and without a sense of purpose. Thirdly, because these people are often capable of working longer if we rethink our perception of retirement. I believe that in the future we will go to a step-by-step retiring system, involving medical advice and personal preference. An example of this could be a long-term plan where somebody starts to work 75% at the age of 60, 50% at the age of 67, all the way down to 25% at the age of 70. Other ideas could involve different or less intense functions and shorter working days. Of course, there will be people who will read this with a certain bit of healthy scepticism and will say that it is physically or mentally not possible to work that long. To them I would say that their arguing is sound if they base those ideas on current-day working conditions. I would argue that future work will become less physical intense due to atomization, robotization and the utilization of AI.
Human interaction and wellbeing
As technology and working methods advance towards working remotely, there will be a bigger future emphasis on human interaction and wellbeing. More and more people will look for ways to interact with colleagues as they make up a large part of their social life and life in general. We already start to see the first signs on the wall with the COVID-crisis: people start meeting up for lunch meetings again and are showing up at the office for a couple of days a week. So, despite a global health crisis, we still long for human interaction. In the future this will mean that there will be more emphasis on events that promote human interaction despite the working-remotely working culture. Things you can think of are: regularly reoccurring team-building events (going from once a year to maybe once every other week), lunch meetings, culture promoting events, working remotely in teams etcetera. The employer of the future will support this in the future as it is important to maintain the company culture and the loyalty of his or her employees.
In an ever-changing world more driven by data, we believe that more and more companies will take a vested interest in their employees’ health and wellbeing to keep them at the top of their performance. This might mean that future employers will get involved to help out their employees with personalized health programmes in accordance to how their employees sleep, eat, drink and feel. So, in this sense data will be collected at the future workplace to analyse how the employees are doing and in the same sense will personalized health plans be a part of the future work place. You might think of personalized food plans, wellness and mindfulness programmes, and personalized ergonomic working stations.
In this blog I’ve tried to look beyond just stating the future ideas of working remotely, AI, and being data driven and gave a sense of the implications that these developments might have. I believe that the future workplace will be ruled by mass-intelligence, driven by data, and focussed on health, wellbeing and performance optimization of the employees.