From cubicles and private offices to open spaces and the rise of freelancing and the gig economy, the nature of work today would be unrecognizable to anyone who retired just two decades ago. We sometimes laugh at the people who predicted, decades ago, that everyone would own a flying car and butler robot by 2000. So it can be a little daunting for us to predict the world of 2050 or even of 2025. However, with the help of experts, we can make some tentative predictions which just might prove useful to you and your business.
The first thing is to understand that computers and new technology are responsible for the state of working life today. If most, or all of your work can be done on a simple computer, then you don’t really need to come to a physical office — right? The rise of working from home and the gig economy are products of this new tech. But working from home has been shown not to be the best for mental health and productivity, and recently, some workplaces have begun fighting back against the idea that the physical office is defunct.
Secondly, in addition to being more digital, the modern workplace is also increasingly diverse, with greater representation for women and people of color. Furthermore, globalization and the rise of multinational corporations means that workplaces must be ready and able to communicate with coworkers and others in different time zones — and in different cultural contexts. This new paradigm comes with plenty of risk, but many workplaces are quickly learning how to use this new situation to their advantage, utilizing the talents of individuals from a wide variety of backgrounds and geographic locations. In the future, these trends are only likely to speed up.
The millennial generation, quickly becoming the largest percentage of the workforce, is also driving rapid change. Millennials value different things than their predecessors — namely, a good work-life balance, a sense of meaning in their work, and a pleasant work environment. Hiring will be done mostly by AI rather than by people, and meetings will as often as not be conducted through digital means, rather than being physically present. You can expect tech-heavy workplaces and increased virtualization to become the norm. Millennials also favor more flexible hours than previous generations- this is partly why the gig economy has been growing so rapidly in the past few years.
So what will the future physical office look like? For one thing, it will probably be environmentally-conscious. Personal private offices and cubicles are disappearing in favor of mixed-plan workspaces with comfortable lounge areas, private meeting rooms that can be booked on demand, and plenty of natural light and green spaces — increasingly seen as key to employee happiness, productivity, and wellbeing. Partly as a result of these innovations, corporate hierarchy is also adapting. Management often circulates amongst the general population in open areas, and offices are also becoming more productive as communication and worker satisfaction improves.
Of course, the future is uncertain. But we have plenty of reason to be optimistic about the green, digital, flexible, multicultural, and meaningful workplaces sure to be coming our way in the next five, ten, or 15 years. Nobody really knows exactly how we’ll work in the highly globalized and fluid economy of tomorrow, but there is one thing we do know for sure — it’s going to be interesting.