The Workplace of the Future
This article invites you to peer into the future and explore the future workplace, what changes are to be realized in workplaces of the future, an objective consideration of the implications of those changes, and whether we should invite the workplaces of the future with open arms or apprehension.
As time progresses and as we move forward into the unknown, the workforce environment as we know it evolves, just like every other aspect of our lives. So, what does this mean for your organization’s future? What do you think the pacesetters of business in the future will look like? How will they be organized? What kind of machinery will they employ?
We face a future that is driven by evolutionary and revolutionary forces, for example; the invention of the internet recently hit the business world by storm and quickly transformed how business is conducted for good. What other megatrend will be next? How will it reshape our world? Have you considered the potential implications of these sort of changes?
The workplace of the future is going to be extremely different from workplaces as we know them now; workplace transformation does not simply imply the structures of our offices but more specifically how people work.
For example, just a few decades ago, there were very few individuals who worked to the ages of 60-70 but as time progressed, people held on just a little longer to their jobs. We can, therefore, assume that this trend may be stretched further in the future. In addition, as the world continues to become a ‘global village’, businesses have to reconsider their workplace. This is because of the rising demand in more skilled, more flexible, and more dependable employees.
Because of the diversification of employees in the business world today, some businesses have begun to redefine what it means to be considered and employee, what it means to be contracted for a job, and how individuals are compensated by the business. For example, some businesses have started to recognize freelancers as part of their employees.
The future is working towards introduction of new and undocumented elements into workplaces as we know them. The next section attempts to look as far ahead as possible in order to give us an image on what the future workplace will be like.
THE WORKPLACE OF THE FUTURE
Set aside rigid corporate hierarchies and imagine free-flowing career paths and ideas. Search the website right now or go to your local library and you will realize just how many books have been written on climbing the corporate ladder. In the future, such books may become outmoded and quite possibly just antique possessions rather than useful tools of information.
One of the changes already affecting workplaces today is the gradual collapse of corporate ladders, where the structure is designed to ensure that only the most loyal employees climb higher and higher in the hierarchy, a promotion at a time. The corporate ladder can be traced all the way back to the industrial revolution, when businesses were structured on economies of scale and rigid hierarchies.
But we are no longer in that era; we are in the digital age and the workforce is as diverse as it has ever been. In fact, it is a surprise that this sort of workplace structure has survived this far in the digital era. This work place diversity coupled with rapid advances in technology has inspired the need for a more flexible work environment. For businesses of the future to maintain a productive workforce, it may be necessary to trim several layers off their hierarchies and adopt more horizontal systems. This will facilitate a better flow of ideas and ease communication between extremely diverse workforce personnel.
Interested in how Adidas sees the future of the workplace? Watch this video.
I know it sound like science fiction but the machine is coming. As technology advances, automation of very many functions normally performed by humans has become prevalent. Artificial intelligence is an anticipated reality in the future and it will undoubtedly affect the nature of our workplaces. We are slowly but surely accepting the takeover of machines.
As awesome, progressive, or convenient these innovations appear, they can also be very disadvantageous. These innovations can nullify entire professions and if predictions are correct, the automation of our workplaces in the near future is expected to increase at an unprecedented rate. With such an expeditious rate of growth, artificial intelligence in the workplace might become a reality sooner than you think and its impact may be just as massive as the internet’s.
There is, however, a more positive outlook of this anticipated change. As opposed to assuming that the machines are taking jobs from human beings, we can choose to look at it as being freed in order to perform other more engaging functions. Over the past decade, machines have learnt how to organize immense volumes of data in order to produce actionable information for businesses. The ability to organize and interpret this kind of complex data enables the performance of activities that could not be previously done by businesses. For example, the pinpoint prediction of consumer persona and needs.
However, note that manual tasks are going to be the most affected areas as machines grow to perform more tasks. Robots in manufacturing industries are becoming increasingly mobile, adaptable, and affordable. Additionally, the performance of tasks such as digging, constriction, and basically, activities that would require hand eye coordination are being replaced by these low-cost, efficient, machines
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In the future, businesses will be able to monitor employees in a more intimate way. Since the performance of employees directly translates to the performance of the business, workplaces may require employees to wear devices that track their movements at work. This, of course, is not for invasive purposes but it is to enable management to monitor how an employee is feeling, to observe that employees levels of stress, whether they are tired, or are deprived of sleep.
In fact, similar tracking devices are already in use. For example, cheap GPS technologies have already become widespread especially in the field of taxis and courier service providers. Additionally, earpieces are being used to convey instructions to employees in more manual and volatile workplace settings such as manufacturing plants.
Workplace monitoring of employee health is the more unexplored area. This, however, may change in the near future. With the rise in popularity of wearable devices such as Jawbone, which tracks the owner’s exercise, calorie intake, sleep pattern, as well as other health-related aspects, monitoring the state of employees might take a very different turn in the workplaces of the future. According to the research company Gartner, over 2,000 companies around the world offered their employees fitness trackers in the year 2013. It is, therefore, possible that the way monitoring is done in workplaces is already taking a turn.
One might argue that this level of monitoring is unnecessary and a borderline invasion of privacy. However, it is undeniable that the performance at work of any employee is not only influenced by factors found in the workplace; it goes beyond that. There is a direct link between a person’s sleep pattern, exercise routine, stress, and anxiety levels outside of the workplace that will influence their concentration and performance in the workplace.
Additionally, the benefits of this kind of monitoring transcend beyond the workplace and beyond the purpose of offering the business a competitive edge. This form of monitoring will also assist the employees in enhancing their personal wellbeing and not just that of the business.
An example of a business that is a frontrunner in this aspect is the BP Company. BP gives its employees fitness trackers as part of a programme geared at reducing the healthcare costs incurred by employees. For this form of monitoring to be initiated, it would be necessary for the employees to consent that they are comfortable with their employer having such personal and probably sensitive information. Businesses would, in turn, be required to act in good faith and protect their employees’ information from being misused by unauthorized third parties.
As mentioned earlier, the age of retirement has been gradually rising and now people work well over the age of 60 years. This can however be justified by an increase in the global life expectancy at birth by 6 years. As such, if people are going to live longer, it is only logical that other sectors of their lives are going to extend in equal proportion.
Also, the extension of retirement ages may be partially influenced by business’s that will definitely stand to incur additional costs in pension payments if the retirement age is set significantly below the average life expectancy age.
Such trends lead us to believe that the workplace of the future will accommodate even persons of even more advanced ages; probably ages as high as 75 years. The workplace of the future will release employees gradually as opposed to the abrupt systems for retirement that we have right now. For some employees, this new prospect may be exiting, but it is highly unlikely that many people will want to stay in employment at the age of 70. At this age, most people want to be settled and relaxed without having to go through the hustles of the workplace and the work life.
However, it is important to note that this extension in retirement ages may be quite beneficial to businesses. Older employees have amassed years, if not decades of experience that can be passed on to younger employees, and the longer the elder employees are around the more knowledge will be imparted to the next generation. This will ensure that business never experience an air bubble in terms of their employees’ skill or expertise.
SHOULD WE LOOK FORWARD TO THE WORKPLACE OF THE FUTURE
Human beings are naturally afraid of the unknown. This is a result of millions of years of conditioning geared at preserving our own survival. Anything that we cannot fully understand is perceived as danger and in most cases we run away from it. Nonetheless, let us try to be objective for a moment and consider what the implications of the future changes in workplaces as we know them will be.
The world is experiencing drastic changes in the workplace as we proceed further and further into the future. This does not simply imply transformation of office spaces; it goes beyond that. The future workplace will change how people in workplaces interact and execute duties. The question now lies in whether this transformation is something to look forward to or something to dread.
- Connection. New workplaces, with more horizontal hierarchical setups, will encourage the establishment of both calculated and spontaneous connections between personnel. Breaking down the barriers that exist across all levels in our current workplaces will enhance our business’s services as well as employee performance. Leveraging the diverse perspectives through open communication encouraged by this open workplace setting will result in the formulation of outstanding solutions and ideas in businesses.
- Community. We encounter exceptional people in our workplaces all the time but we rarely ever get time to establish common ground. The workplace of the future will change this and enable people to build long lasting connections with one another. This is because the setting of the future workplaces, with open communication, will blur the line between personal and professional life. In addition to this, delays in retirement will encourage mentorship in the workplace and the creation of ‘father’ and ‘mother’ figures in businesses. With this sort of environment, an atmosphere of family and togetherness will emerge, enabling workers to relate better and ultimately boost their performance.
- Flexibility. The days of single-focus career paths are coming to an end and our future work places will evolve to reflect this new reality. Future workplaces will allow for more agility, accommodating diverse working styles, schedules, and employee needs. For example, freelance working has been gradually becoming accepted in businesses and continues to gain popularity as we march forward into the future.
- Inclusion. Future workplaces will encourage inclusion of workers of all kinds. Whether your concerns involve religion, accessibility, or an unpredictable schedule; workplaces in the future will create environments that support our diverse and unique needs. For example, I have encountered workplaces nowadays that set aside a religious room for their Muslim employees to be able to conduct their routine prayers even while at work. The workplace of the future will include everyone and will enable people to create the kind of careers they want without watering down their individuality.
- Genuine Collaboration. The establishment of a more pleasurable and relaxed work environment will promote creative teamwork that is unlimited by the psychological and structural barriers of workplaces today. This will promote genuine collaboration in the workplace because, when teamwork is encouraged, people get inspired and feel free to come up with creative and out-of-the box solutions and ideas that promote business growth.
- Competitive Edge. The workplace of the future, by creating a new way of working will aid in the modernization of our businesses, attract more clients, and stand out from competition. Through the reinvention of workspaces, businesses will be able to position themselves as market leaders. This is because these businesses will be forward-thinking and will in turn attain the ability to deliver extraordinary employee and consumer experiences. The workplace of the future is not just a new workspace, but a totally new outlook on work.
With this in mind, I think it is safe to say that future workplaces are nothing to be apprehensive about but rather something to really look forward to. Despite the fear that advanced technological interventions might render many of our careers obsolete; the benefits that we will realize will, in all probability, lead to the creation of more creative and engaging roles for the workforce. Therefore, let us not be afraid to walk into the unknown. Let us dare to embrace and immerse ourselves into the future and make it an even more prosperous one.
Despite the immense changes we have realized in our personal lives as a result of technology, our workplaces have retained a structure that is more related to the olden eras than the digital era. Most of us still work in offices that are structured to assign every person a supervisor; structures that deny them autonomy and limit their capacity to be creative or even think for themselves.
This will not be the norm for much longer. The future workplace promises to be less centralized, flexible, and mobile. The only workers who have gotten a taste of the future are freelance employees, and employees of progressive organizations such as Google. The workplace of the future is rapidly being accelerated and drawn closer by giant steps in economic volatility, technology, and the global race for the best employee talent.
Due to workplaces of the future, businesses will realize benefits through an increase in employee productivity, which will lead to better business bottom lines. There is one thing that remains constant in the world we live in; Change. Planning for the changes that will come with the future workplace is not an easy task.
However, being unopposed to change and leaving the past behind will enable us to be front runners in a world of rapidly evolving workplaces and marketplaces. Tiny and gradual measures today taken in an effort to promote easier communication, connectivity, creativity, and personalization at the workplace enable your business to prepare for the workplace of the future and to stand out among thousands if not millions of other businesses as the future approaches.
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