We asked three experts what your office could look like in the next decade.
- January 10, 2018
If I were looking 10 years out, I would say the changing nature of work will particularly reward talent living in some of the world’s biggest cities. The concentration of college-educated workers is already increasing in big cities, including San Francisco and New York. That contributes to an increasing inequality of life between larger cities and less populated areas. As computerization causes routine work to be automated, certain types of nonroutine, cognitively intensive tasks will offer an even bigger reward. It’s becoming more important for us to interact with other highly skilled people to get innovative results.
Place is key. People are not moving to remote rural areas and using Skype to hold their office meetings. Technologies like this have been around for the last couple of decades, but in fact we are seeing people concentrating in particular cities. There’s a productivity benefit: it’s still really valuable to be in a particular place and work face to face with your coworkers. As technology continues to evolve, it has been a complement to certain skills rather than a substitute for being in a particular place. At the same time, there’s a segregation of the workforce because of the high cost of living in cities. Young graduates are moving downtown and causing the quality of life there to rise—these migration trends are creating more location-specific talent. There seems to be a particular advantage to bringing skilled people to big cities, and driving that is an urban revival.
When you think about the international dimension of the future workforce, things look different. In the future, technological changes will make it easier for people outside of the United States to perform knowledge-related tasks for a greater array for industries—an expansion of what services can be produced elsewhere. If we see substantial decreases in the cost of communication technology, the American workforce might face foreign competitors in labor segments that haven’t felt much competition in the past. More doctors may start to work from overseas to serve US patients, for example. Even now, some of these tasks are restricted by policy, not technology.
In the short run, I think that face-to-face interaction is going to continue to be important and something that’s embedded in the office. But if technological improvements come at a sufficiently rapid pace, will a physical presence become less important for highly skilled professional-services jobs? That’s hard to forecast.
“What makes someone a quality employee is not going to be as regimented as it was in the past.”
Tomer Yogev, ’10, is cofounder of TandemSpring, a Chicago-based executive-coaching firm.
The workplace is moving away from a mind-set of “get your gold watch and get out” in order to appeal to younger generations of workers, who are demonstrating less enthusiasm for staying at one firm their whole careers. In the next decade, there’s going to be an even bigger shift into telecommuting and freelancing roles. Larger organizations will need to find new ways to retain talent who no longer want to have traditional desk jobs. There will be more turnover as people look for more appealing opportunities. And getting fired will not be the death sentence that it used to be.
It used to be that if you lost your job, you were out of work; but in the next decade, companies will need to work harder to keep employees engaged, because there will be more competition for new talent. Part of the solution will be taking a more people-focused approach within the organization and really understanding that it’s about the employees—not about the product, as it was during the Industrial Revolution. To meet these demands, firms will have to offer flexibility beyond what we consider flexible now—it won’t be enough to allow employees to work from home once in a while. And people will not be doing one job at a time. (When you look at the gig economy, for example, you already see people with primary jobs also driving an Uber on the side.) The path to leadership within a very regimented process will go away because people are realizing that there are many different ways to define success.
Companies will also be endorsing a strengths-based approach when it comes to promotions. Historically, an employer might say, “You are not ready for a promotion because there’s something missing from your skill set.” The members of the millennial generation, with all of their so-called entitlement, are rejecting that sort of mentality, and employers are rethinking what success means in the workplace. Instead, they are asking, “How can we make you better and use your specific skills to solve our problems?” It’s a new mentality, developing what leadership looks like to accommodate an employee base that has a world of opportunity at its fingertips.
Engaging employees will happen on a more individualized level. Companies need to learn to apply the needs of an organization on a case-by-case basis because one-size-fits-all management styles and job descriptions will no longer be applicable. What makes someone a quality employee is not going to be as regimented as it was in the past. We are already seeing this. Certainly the importance of expertise is not going to go away, but the strengths-based approach is more about the why and the how.
“You will still have to have a gut check and apply the trends that big data and statistical analysis can surface.”
Cayse Llorens is an Evening MBA student and senior associate at Invest Detroit Ventures, a Detroit-based venture capital firm.
In the upcoming decade, there will be a greater need for full-time hires to have broader and differentiated organizational knowledge. They should also grow adept at working with artificial intelligence–enabled tools and agents that will increase the value of human skills.
Case in point: the advent of robotic financial advisers will demand that human agents have more of a nuanced, personal touch. This transformation is already happening in the legal space—an attorney can use machine learning and e-discovery to sift through mountains of paperwork. The human’s job is to validate and interpret the machine’s results—it’s no longer about actually doing what can often feel like a mundane task. Another example is in the health-care space: computer vision can read a CT scan with the same degree of accuracy as a human radiologist. AI can help the doctor prioritize what lung nodules to look at first. There’s a smaller burden on the task side and more emphasis on the knowledge side, because you will still have to have a gut check and apply the trends that big data and statistical analysis can surface.
Employees in certain fields have become accustomed to training with the latest artificial-intelligence tools, but this type of training is not widespread. The makers of these tools must be cognizant of technology fatigue and prioritize user experience by easing the tools’ learning curves. If it’s easy and cost-effective to cash a check or book a trip on my phone, I will.
To be sure, entrepreneurship will still be driven by core principles that have remained the same throughout the digital revolution. It’s never been more important that you are solving a real pain point for your customer. As technical development costs decrease, marketing costs increase.
A few tips for the road: your value to the organization can be a function of skills mastery, so it’s crucial to retrain often. A portion of your salary at your current employer stems from organizational knowledge, and that can evaporate when you change employers. Thus, it’s important to maintain capabilities beyond what your current role demands.
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