As a lecturer and executive-in-residence at the University of Houston’s Graduate Program in Futures Studies, I am fascinated by the workforce of the future.
Having established the Global Trends Program for Kellogg Company, and served as futurist and senior ideation leader at Dow Chemical, I have decades of insight into the inner working of corporations large and small.
So what will the “Workforce of the Future” look like?
To make sure we don’t overlook the obvious, the shift to knowledge-based work is the overarching driver behind the changes in the world of work. A big way that is showing up, finally (we futurists can be impatient at times), is that working with digital information frees us from the tyranny of sitting at a desk. No longer do we work only where we need to work—increasingly we are working where we want to work.
Of course, we know people and organizations tend not to like to change. Inertia is a strong force. But it no longer makes any sense to force people to battle a congested commute to travel downtown, head up to the 35th floor, and spend their whole day working on a phone and computer in an office. That can be done from home, at a coffee shop, or at one of the emerging co-working collectives that serve telecommuters from different organizations. Going to what I call the “glass tube” downtown simply wastes time and energy (gasoline and the emotional sort), and doesn’t help the environment.
To be clear, I’m not suggesting that there are no good reasons for people to meet face-to-face. In fact, I’d argue that a face-to-face meeting will become even more important in the future. But I think we need to be smarter about it and decide what chat, email, phone, or even a computer camera can handle, versus what really requires a face-to-face.
How will the global economic crisis affect work in the coming years?
Beyond the obvious impact, economic downturns tend to lead to belt-tightening and cost-cutting, which often means cutting back on investments in new technologies and innovative approaches. Ultimately, it means a slowdown in terms of change. Now, one could argue, and many do, that if an organization has been smart in planning, it will make such investments during this period when things are cheap so it will be well-positioned when the economy recovers. Unfortunately, that is often an element of wishful futurist thinking.
That said, some interesting innovations are likely to emerge out of necessity. Rather than cut people from the staff, for instance, organizations could experiment with work-sharing arrangements. So, while a crisis slows investment, it can also stimulate creativity and innovation.
Remember, our first generation of knowledge workers is approaching retirement age.
But I don’t think most Boomers will actually retire. They will move from the jobs they had to do to make a living to the jobs they’ve wanted to do for self-fulfillment. These knowledge workers will be well-positioned to be choosy about with whom they work, for how long, and for what purposes—and it won’t be about the money.
Although Boomers will continue to work, I still think there will be a difference in the workplace they will be moving out of positions of power and influence. With the generational transfer of power and influence, what’s going to be really interesting, particularly for large organizations, is to see to what extent Gen X and Gen Y are going to be the kind of dedicated, loyal, long-workweek types of employees that the Boomers have been. You’re chuckling, too! Not bloody likely, right? Hard to see that same kind of work ethic—I am not suggesting they will not work hard, but I think they will pay a lot more attention to work-life balance. And thank goodness for that!
As for the Millennials who are just starting out in the work world, my advice is to be patient!
Twentysomethings don’t want to hear that, but I want them to know that it will be their turn soon. They have the opportunity to make significant changes in the world of work, ones their own descendants will be proud of. But it will probably take longer than they want. Again, people and organizations would rather not change—and inertia is strong. I hope they hang in there.
About Andy Hines
Andy Hines is lecturer and executive-in-residence at the University of Houston’s Graduate Program in Futures Studies, bringing together the experience he earned as an organizational, consulting, and academic futurist.
He co-founded and is currently on the board of the Association of Professional Futurists and has co-authored three books:
- Thinking About the Future: Guidelines for Strategic Foresight (Social Technologies, 2007),”
- 2025: Science and Technology Reshapes US and Global Society (Oak Hill, 1997),
- Managing Your Future as an Association (ASAE, 1994).
Hines has also authored dozens of articles, speeches, and workshops, including the 2003 Emerald Literati Awards’ Outstanding Paper accolade for best article published in Foresight for “An Audit for Organizational Futurists,” and the 2008 award for “Scenarios: The State of the Art.”
Most recently, he has appeared on several radio and television programs, including KRIV-26 News talking about the future of libraries and the CBS “Early Show,” to talk about an MTV-commissioned study: “The Future of Youth Happiness.”
Click here to learn more: www.andyhinesight.com.