We talk a lot about the workplace of the future, but what about the workers in it? In this article — the second in her series on the topic— Jodi Williams explores what changes in the future workforce mean for workplace design. Read part one, “A Brief History of the Workplace of the Future”, here.
Over the course of the next five years, the workforce as a whole is projected to become more diverse both in terms of inherent attributes such as age, race, gender, religion, socioeconomic background, as well as acquired traits, like cognitive viewpoints and life experiences. While part of this is due to increasing incorporation of diversity initiatives, it is also reflective of larger demographic shifts.
Expect to see changes to the composition of the workforce: more retirees returning to work (or simply staying on part time), employees seeking work/life balance and greater flexibility/autonomy, and the increased influence of the 1099 economy.
In the next ten years — by 2027 — global socioeconomic shifts will result in larger changes in worker type, available jobs, and ways of working. The rise of the middle class in emerging markets will have a large impact on the overall workforce. Currently, one-third of the global middle class is located in Asia Pacific. By 2030, this proportion will double, due in large part to expansions of the middle class in countries like China and India. This growth will result in changes in buying habits, ultimately driving economic growth. According to a Morgan Stanley estimate, by 2030 middle-class spending will almost double that of 2010.
New patterns will emerge in occupations: jobs in service-oriented industries such as healthcare and hospitality sustain growth, but a significant portion of workers gravitate towards more flexible work arrangements and freelance jobs. There will be an influx of jobs enabled by emergent technologies.
Due in part to the sustained entrepreneurial nature of the workforce, significant growth in the peer-to-peer economy is expected, with an increased emphasis on global connectivity. Companies will have small core staffs with extensive networks of freelance workers; workplaces will shift provisioning and policy to become truly 24/7 operations.
Due in part to the sustained entrepreneurial nature of the workforce, significant growth in the peer-to-peer economy is expected, with an increased emphasis on global connectivity. Companies will have small core staffs with extensive networks of freelance workers; workplaces will shift provisioning and policy to become truly 24/7 operations. There will be a greater reliance on formalized training, knowledge sharing, and community building.
Wearable technology such as smartwatches and fitness trackers are already familiar; employers are already using them in health and well-being initiatives, typically on a volunteer basis. This will expand to support baseline office operations: information access control, time and space utilization tracking, building safety, and more.
Near field communication (NFC) technology is already embedded in many workplace security badges, but readers are typically limited to specific checkpoints. Similarly, biometric authentication will expand as things like fingerprinting, iris recognition, retinal scans and vein pattern identification become more commonplace. This will enable continuous data collection of metrics such as employee attendance, movement, space utilization, and even communication. One of the main barriers to adoption is the “big brother” factor; people do not like to feel like they are being watched.
So what does this mean for workplace design?
- Shifting toward more specialized space, training, and team building areas: Even as work shifts and processing-oriented jobs continue to move offshore, people will still have to come together to train and develop interpersonal relationships. We foresee spaces inspired by residential and hospitality design that are high-tech and flexible.
- Elevating building maintenance and facilities teams: Someone needs to fix broken building systems, office tools, and even robotic employees, so we expect the role of building engineer to become a much more specialized job.
- Continuing to shed real estate: Large companies continue to shed space; small companies stay small. The average employee’s office is anywhere they want it to be.
- Disappearing keys and cards: Technology enables access to everything employees need, such as unlocking the building and accessing prints, reducing the number of devices required in the workplace.
- Controlling space at the individual level: While this is happening today in workplaces such as Deloitte’s The Edge, in the future not only mobile devices, but also wearable technology will be integrated with building automation systems. Spaces will sense us and immediately provide preferred settings and relevant information.
- Transitioning to extreme focus on cybersecurity: As more data is captured and transmitted electronically, there will be changes to the way devices are allocated and controlled, and the way infrastructure is designed and deployed.
Where will be in 2042? By 2040, the world population will expand from 7.5 billion to over nine billion people, which will significantly impact the demand and distribution of labor around the world. While growth rates are declining, overall population increases will create a demand for labor, primarily in developing economies.
While the job market is likely to feature technology-based jobs, jobs across all sectors will be heavily impacted by changes in workplace technology. By 2040, virtual reality will be commonplace, enabling a workplace that is completely virtual, or a mix of virtual and in-person. Integrating virtual and personal elements has significant implications for all aspects of the workplace, especially personnel management and workplace communication.
By 2040, virtual reality will be commonplace, enabling a workplace that is completely virtual, or a mix of virtual and in-person.
Advancements in robotics also impact the worker of the future. Robots already perform a large percentage of industrial work; Wintergreen predicts that the industrial robot market will grow at an 11.5 percent rate. White-collar jobs of today will become automated, starting with repetitive, highly-programmed, and scheduled positions. This shift has already begun: in some offices, robots are utilized for reception, security, and delivery. As research and testing increases, humans will become supervisors and programmers, rather than actual “doers.”
This, too, will have a huge impact on workplace design, including:
- Enhanced reliance on technology: As workplaces become more automated and more reliant on AI, it will become increasingly essential to invest in technology and technology support.
- Changes in fire and life safety design: AI, robots, and virtual humans do not need to be protected from fire: they are connected to the cloud, damage to the physical space will not impact stored information. In areas where humans are present, codes may change to accommodate different use patterns.
- Increased need for accessible space: With more robots in the workplace, it becomes essential to design easily navigable spaces. This may mean fewer stairs/steps, or perhaps spaces differentiated by colors, patterns, or textures.
- Change in air quality, power, and plumbing: Because only humans breathe, the advanced technology required to power these environments will likely dictate a change in required levels of heating and cooling. Power requirements may increase to charge devices and project holograms. And, of course, non-humans do not need a bio break or a coffee/tea point.
Thinking big, we explored some of the “what ifs.” While the likelihood of these is harder to predict, it’s fun to consider:
What if we are “chipped” and no longer need devices to compute and communicate?
What if we reach the singularity and Artificial Intelligence takes over?
What if an alien species (benevolent or not) becomes known on our planet?
But don’t worry. The next article in our series is an examination of something much more familiar: the commute of the future, and how transportation will impact location and work practices.