The Future of Work – Part 1

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‘Live to work’ or ‘work to live’? Unless you’re one of the lucky few people who have a charmed life, most of us spend more of our waking hours at work than we do at home. That period in your day we call ‘work’ is about to change drastically, and both workers and the organisations that they work for will have to change too. To be fair ‘work world’ has been changing around us but just as you barely notice your child growing up, or perhaps your garden maturing over the years, you might not have noticed.

Those of us that work as ‘knowledge processor’, or indeed process anything that can be digitised, can do so from any location – even from home, with the blessing of our employer of course. In doing so we’re reducing business costs, saving on expensive space and energy. Nowadays going to ‘work’ doesn’t need to involve actually going to the workplace. Despite Boris Johnson’s protests, and according to the ONS, as many as 4.2 million (March 2014) people are now classed as homeworkers, that’s c.14% of the workforce. Those figures don’t include the occasional homeworker.  In the U.S. it’s predicted that an astonishing 43% of the workforce will work from locations other than the office next year.

I cite this phenomena as a tangible and recognisable trend that is actually noticeable. Many similar historic progressive trends have not been so noticeable. This is because in the main, until the recent past much progress has been slower and perhaps outside the span of a normal generation or memory. The last time there was such a leap was probably during the Industrial Revolution. Whilst it began in the mid 18th Century many historians would argue that the real effects were not being felt until 200 years later. Before that you have to look at the domestication of animals and plants (i.e. their use for our own purposes) for a similar impact on humanity.

It is clear that the speed of technology driven change is increasing such that it’s now perceptible. From a personal perspective my early working life involved paper based work. We used pens to write memorandums, attached the ‘memo’ to a file cover and placed the whole file, categorised by subject, into a tray on our desk for someone to collect and drop into the tray of the next person in the process chain.  A simple recordable question and answer could take days for an internal query, communicating outside the organisation took weeks. You do have to ask yourself how on earth business was done. Of course cheaper microprocessors and the pervasive nature of wired and wireless networks speeded up the nature of business, and we’ve coped.

So what’s changing?

There’s a conflux of changes and innovations right across global geo-politics, the socio-economic space and in technology innovation and increasingly these changes will impact us all. The most important of these are:

  1. Globalisation – the global nature of doing business and co-operation is now an established fact. Economies are interconnected more than ever, and as nation states we can’t act in an insular way. Increasingly nation states are cooperating, and collaborating to solve the most difficult problems.
  1. The workforce – There is a looming global workforce crisis– globally birth rates are in decline. So there will be huge competition for skilled workers, and we’ll have to use ‘machines’ more.
  1. ‘Generation Z – or if you prefer ‘Digital Natives’ will enter the workforce and will have very different expectations. They are very comfortable with technology.
  1. Social Media – If you’re under 50 and you don’t have a Facebook account then you’re probably in a minority. Higher levels of social interaction levels via platform’s such as Twitter and Facebook, combined with advanced analytics and big data allow us to base decisions on real sentiment.
  1. Moore’s Law – whilst the original proposition was about transistor density doubling every two years, we’ve seen similar exponential growth in other areas of technological innovation.
  1. Internet of Things (IOT) – We are witnessing the birth of the Internet of Things. Basically, if you can get power to an item in the home, office or practically anywhere, then you can add a processor to it and connect it to the internet.
  1. Falling costs – We’ve all seen the pattern. Innovative products are launch at a fairly prohibitive price, and then prices fall to such an extent they become almost commodities. Think tablet!
  1. Artificial Intelligence (AI) – advances in AI are accelerating and many of us will have ‘digital bosses’ by 2030.
  1. HCI & response systems – research and development in the Human, Computer Interaction and Response space is being driven by commercial opportunities. Driverless cars are a great example.
  1. Big data – as more ‘things’ are being connected more data is being collected, with sophisticated data analytics driven in part by increases in raw computing power, we can be more confident about our decision making in the future.

The ‘eBusiness’ buzz of the 2000’s, which was essentially focussed on the back office and B2B functions has been replaced ‘Digital’. By placing customers at the centre of our improvements, Digital transformations are ‘front office’ focussed. The pendulum is now swinging back again and the workspace and living space is where the next leaps forward are being made.



Post by Pete Wilson

Pete has worked in the technology and business change space for over 30 years. He's worked globally for large public sector and governmental bodies and for large private sector multinationals across numerous industry sectors.

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