The last couple of years has changed the world of work forever. The pandemic has taught us that how we work is much more important than where we work.
Hybrid and remote working has become the norm for many organizations, and they’re opening up a wealth of opportunities for the modern workplace.
Technological advancements like the metaverse, virtual and augmented reality, and artificial intelligence are also driving changes to jobs, tasks and skills. The digital revolution is having a significant impact on every industry, from telemedicine in the healthcare sector to e-commerce in the retail industry.
Whatever the future holds, the key to success is bringing together the best of the physical, hybrid and virtual environments to unlock the full potential of your workforce.
A journey to the infinite office
Discover how and why our best work will be able to happen anywhere inside the metaverse.
What does the future of work look like?
Accelerated by the pandemic, changes that were steadily creeping into workplaces have been fast-tracked by the urgent need to keep people safe and well.
Even without a crystal ball, it's possible to predict that remote and hybrid working is here to stay. Employers and employees alike have woken up to the benefits of less commuting, flexible work schedules and improved wellbeing that remote working can bring. This trend is set to continue.
But, over the coming years, organizations will need to refine their approach to remote teamwork to replicate the social connections, friendships and collaboration that, until now, people could only achieve on-site and in-person. Otherwise, feelings of isolation, boredom and low morale could escalate.
This is where the metaverse – an internet you can step inside – could really shake things up. It will open up the possibility of new forms of work in what Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg calls the "infinite office".
In other words, workers using virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) will be able to create and share collaborative online worlds where they can socialize, play games or work together on projects from wherever they are. Although online tools make this possible now, it will become a much more immersive experience, blurring the boundaries between the real and virtual worlds.
Automation will also shape the future of work in a big way. Although this automation could potentially displace millions of jobs and tasks, history tells us that fears of machines taking over are unfounded. The same concerns existed at the time of the Industrial Revolution. But labor markets tend to adjust to technological advances, and lost jobs are likely to be offset by creating new ones.
So what lies ahead? A World Economic Forum white paper has come up with eight scenarios of what the future of work might look like by 2030. The report makes it clear they're not predictions. They're ideas to stimulate discussion and help organizations prepare for every eventuality (even a dystopian future) based on different combinations of technological change, learning evolution, and talent mobility.
Workforce autarkies are nationalist economies that aim to be self-sufficient. The status quo is maintained in this scenario, with no acceleration in technology, learning or mobility. This forces employers to move highly skilled work to countries with unrestricted markets.
In this scenario, both lower and higher-skilled workers are on the move looking for better opportunities. While this helps organizations get the best talent, it increases competition, potentially leading to social tensions.
Technological advancements see more jobs replaced by machines, including those considered highly skilled. The slow evolution of learning leads to high demand for new skills such as programming and data development but, ironically, this leads to increasing demand for technology to replace people.
Automation continues to perform manual and non-manual tasks, with robots, machines and algorithms doing most of the world's production. This leads to large sections of the workforce becoming unemployable. Consequently, large-scale mobility creates globally dispersed super-economies.
The pace of technological change matches learning because governments and businesses accurately predict and react to likely skills shortages. This creates dynamism in the workplace, with workers creating entrepreneurial opportunities for themselves.
The fast pace of learning leads to a highly-skilled, motivated, dynamic workforce across various regions, industries and sectors.
Technology has replaced many manual and non-manual roles. But with reforms in education, business investment in skills, and workers desiring lifelong learning, there's a good balance between automation and employment.
Many jobs are automated, but there is strong demand for workers to complement machines, thanks to the creation of new roles. High mobility and online working lead to a truly agile, globalized workforce.
Stepping inside the infinite office
How technology will change the future of work
Digital technology has played a massive role in getting workers through the pandemic, from video conferencing to cloud computing. But that's just the tip of the iceberg. Let's look at the possible impact of further advancements in the digitization of work.
The shift to 5G wireless networks has the potential to revolutionize entire industries, from manufacturing and transport to healthcare and retail. 5G enables superfast connectivity and the integration of technologies like AR and VR.
Smart factories will streamline processes, and the transportation of goods will evolve with automated vehicles. In healthcare, medics unable to travel to remote locations will virtually perform more examinations and diagnoses. It's also hoped that as 5G becomes more accessible, it will help close the gap between high and low-paid workers.
Some professionals, like soldiers, surgeons and pilots, already use VR and AR headsets to train. But the metaverse of the future will make collaboration and idea-sharing more accessible than ever before.
You'll drop into virtual meetings as a 3D avatar or access virtual training at your leisure. You'll also be able to take your perfect desktop setup with you wherever you go, meaning you could take your desk to the park on a sunny day. Trainee surgeons will be able to stand alongside experts in their field as they operate in another part of the world. Architects in the UK will look through AR glasses at a 3D model that floats above their desk while their teacher in the US talks them through the key design principles. The possibilities are endless…
Automation, AI and robots
The need for better efficiency without sacrificing quality will lead to greater dependence on automation. By 2024, Gartner predicts that organizations will save 30% on operational costs by combining task automation with existing processes.
Robots will carry out more tasks in warehouses, hospitals and retail stores and take on some of the more hazardous work currently done by humans. AI assistants will learn our work patterns to help us improve our productivity, performance and diary management.
While improved efficiency is a good thing, it will inevitably require a rebalancing of work roles. There are also growing concerns surrounding the use of data collected through new workplace technologies. Law-makers may need to regulate AI around ethics, liability and intellectual property rights to improve trust in technology.
Internet of things
The internet of things (IoT) refers to the billions of devices that connect to the internet and collect data over a wireless network without human intervention.
In the workplace, it helps to optimize processes - like automatically ordering printer ink when it's running low or turning off lights and air-conditioning in empty rooms. Emerging IoT technologies will make workplaces even smarter, automating check-in procedures and using occupancy sensors to identify overcrowded spaces. Labor-saving processes will free up more time for creative thinking and focusing on more complex tasks.
How to prepare for the future of work
Keeping up with the rapid pace of change can feel like hard work, but you risk getting left behind by not adapting to it. Leaders must be proactive in preparing their workforce for the changes and challenges of the next decade. Key areas to think about include:
The pandemic has changed what people expect from work. Employees want to be trusted to do their work wherever they are. Providing a positive employee experience at a time of radical change is paramount if you're going to hang on to your top talent.
With only 34% of US employees feeling engaged in the workplace, most organizations still have a lot to do on this front. Firstly, it's important to have compassionate managers who motivate, inspire and support their teams wherever needed. It's also a good idea to give employees space and time to pursue side projects to keep their minds fresh and spark their creativity.
Training and learning
Emerging technologies, an aging workforce, and the pandemic's impact have radically transformed the type of skills needed to thrive in this new age of work. As well as digital skills, there's a growing demand for social and emotional skills. According to McKinsey's Global Survey on reskilling, most executives say that training existing staff is the best way to close the skills gap – ahead of hiring, contracting or redeploying employees.
Businesses that invest in upskilling and reskilling their employees, and put more of an emphasis on people skills, are likely to see the greatest benefits.
New ways of working create an opportunity to build a diverse, inclusive workforce. Remote work, in particular, can create a level playing field for people from all backgrounds regardless of race, age, gender or disability.
More organizations will intentionally develop diversity on their teams and implement measures to counteract unconscious bias. This might include removing names from resumes and holding "blind" interviews where candidates and interviewers can't see each other.
Creating an office fit for the future means more than just changing the seating plan and installing a new coffee machine.
Cubicles and rows of desks will give way to collaborative spaces, video rooms, desk-booking software and wellbeing benefits like garden space. Many companies are moving towards a hybrid business model where staff can work from home sometimes, with offices mainly used for meetings, brainstorming, and collaboration. One study found that 58% of employers are already building auditoriums, 31% have outdoor spaces and 69% have on-site baristas or coffee shops.1
With employees' needs changing, returning to the status quo isn't an option if you want to keep your workforce happy and motivated. One upside of the pandemic is that it has forced many organizations to rethink their workplace culture.
A positive culture isn't just flexible hours and remote working opportunities. It's about promoting your company values, encouraging openness and making everyone feel included. Workplaces of the future will focus more on creating a sense of community and personalized experiences that bring everyone into the conversation and empower them to be their true selves at work.
What employees are saying about the future of work
For many, the pandemic has been a lightbulb moment. It's made people realize what they truly value in life – and their careers. With job vacancies surging and workers leaving the labor market in their droves, employees hold much of the power now and may continue to do so for the foreseeable future.
Organizations that want to attract and retain the talent they need to thrive must understand the priorities of their future workforce.
BCW's International Workforce Insights Study, in partnership with Workplace from Meta, found that today's top five employee workplace demands are:
1. Meaningful work
2. Feeling supported and valued by their line manager
3. Feeling supported and valued by their immediate team
4. Workplace benefits and perks
5. Effective leadership
Flexibility will also continue to be a priority for the global workforce. Two-thirds (67%) of employees say they would like to see further changes in their organization that enable flexible hours or a hybrid work environment.
Today's employees, particularly Gen Z-ers, want their voices to be heard and expect leaders to be transparent, approachable and understanding. In the BCW survey, 90% of all employees said a CEO should advocate ethical work practices, while 87% said they should be accessible to all levels of the organization.
Meanwhile, a Harvard Business Review survey shows that:
86% of employees agree that a diverse workforce will become even more critical as roles, skills and company requirements change over time
83% of employees think workers will be more likely to move out of cities and other urban locations if they can work most of the time remotely, creating new work hubs in rural areas
This suggests that the future workforce won't be driven so much by financial gain but by a better work-life balance and a chance to make a difference. What people really want is a job that fits in with their lifestyle, values and professional goals. They want to be judged on the value – not the volume – of work they deliver.
The concern is that employees' expectations might not match their employer's. But organizations that listen and take employee demands seriously will reap the most significant rewards.
Future of work challenges and opportunities
Exciting times lie ahead as VR collaboration, robotic colleagues and AI innovations are set to transform our working lives. While this opens up a world of opportunities, it also presents some challenges. Here are a few areas to focus on:
Many leaders realize that hiring all the new skills they need is impossible. Instead, the best solution is to look internally and develop the talent they already have. This approach is often quicker, more cost-effective and good for morale.
In PwC's Upskilling Hopes and Fears Survey, 77% of workers worldwide say they are ready to learn new skills or completely retrain. But while the will is certainly there, one of the biggest challenges facing companies is predicting what skills people will actually need in the next ten years. As automation displaces specific jobs, those with more traditional skillsets need to be allowed to retrain.
Equality and equity
Future workplaces will be all about promoting equity as well as equality. Equity happens when all members of a diverse workforce have equal opportunities and the support they need to succeed and flourish. For example, an accountant with disabilities may need different resources to a non-disabled accountant to carry out the same task.
Equity isn't something that happens overnight. You can only achieve it by establishing a diverse, inclusive and equal workplace. Start by scrutinizing all your HR processes from an equity viewpoint. For example, are your job descriptions accessible to everyone? Do you offer mentoring programs? Are your staff perks likely to make some employees feel excluded or are they for everyone?
Access to a wider talent pool
One of the most significant benefits of remote working is that location is no longer a constraint. You can access talent wherever it is in the world. But hiring from a global talent pool has its challenges. For instance, you can't hold open days to find out whether prospective candidates are a good cultural fit for your company. You may also need to consider local labor laws on things like sick leave, pensions and vacation entitlement.
Looking ahead, it's likely that an increasing number of enterprises will only employ a core group of staff full-time. They'll then fill the other necessary roles with freelancers or other external contributors who don't require staff benefits.
Learning and development
In a hybrid environment, you can't take a one-size-fits-all approach to your learning and development strategy. Training will need to be more personalized and flexible as employees need to be able to learn from anywhere, at any time and on their terms. It may help if you aimed to deliver content in various formats, including interactive webinars, videos and even VR. You might phase out performance reviews in favor of more flexible ways of giving and receiving employee feedback. Team leaders will emphasize coaching, skills development, and letting employees set their own goals rather than micro-managing.
Reimagining the workplace
In the workplace of the future, the traditional office hierarchy will become less important. There will be greater adoption of flat management structures like a holacracy that gives employees greater ownership of their work without rigid job titles. The entire workforce will also have more of a say in the direction that their organization is taking.
Companies will be built remotely from the start instead of having one or two remote teams or occasionally letting employees work from home. Face-to-face meetings will be the exception rather than the rule, as businesses embrace the technology that allows them to hire talent from across timezones. Rather than grouping workers by location or department, a modern organization might group them by project or problem they're trying to solve.
Ultimately, the future of work is about driving productivity and engagement in a hybrid work environment. The future of work will take shape with a laser focus on technology, flexibility, automation and an approach that puts people front and center. The future of work is happening now. Are you ready to step inside?
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