Five key workplace trends of the future: Report

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Business meetings via hologram, suburban ‘coworking hubs’ and the possibility of working in Joondalup one day and Auckland the next are just some of the predictions outlined in the Intel Security Safeguarding the Future of Digital Australia in 2025report published yesterday.

While 50% of the 1230 Australians surveyed in the report feel comfortable with the current rate of technological change, with only 17% feeling concerned, it is worth looking at what trends could be on the way that your business may need to adapt to.

1. Fully globalised work

According to the report, it’s not just knowledge work that forms the globalised economy: “We are seeing everything from surgery to mining machinery operation being routinely completed by people far away.”

As such, in the future it will become even more crucial for businesses to focus on high-quality customer service in a challenging environment where every industry can foreseeably go global, exposing businesses to many challenges but also unprecedented opportunities.

“Almost all work can be done anywhere now,” futurist, entrepreneur and author of the report Ross Dawson told SmartCompany. “This will drive down the prices of what people are prepared to pay for this work.”

Likewise, marketing will take on a whole new importance, enabling companies to compete on a global scale and differentiate themselves from competitors the world over. According to the report, this will require companies to acquire more and more personal information from prospective customers in order to discover better ways to target them directly – and with 51% of Australians not reading online privacy policies, as well as the confluence of online activity, this information will be produced in incredibly high volumes.

Dawson says Australian businesses which have “the global perspective”, including strong links to Asia, will be able to take advantage of the opportunities posed by a fully globalised economy, but points out that such an environment would “place pressure on the availability of work and the wages paid for workers who do not have distinctive capabilities”.

2. Rise of the machines

The report says by 2025, machines will have risen against the humans – in a sense. While the advent of advanced robotics will make many jobs obsolete, they may allow for the creation of more jobs in the knowledge industry. These jobs will fill in the blanks with regards to what the machines are not likely to be capable of, such as creativity and relationship skills.

However, the report warns this will create inequalities in the job market that will be challenging to navigate. While specialist knowledge will be in demand and lead to many job opportunities, the rise of the machines will lead to fewer jobs for people without such skills – and lower wages too.

“This is one of the big uncertainties, the big unknowns: the degree to which we have ‘technological unemployment’,” says Dawson. “Whatever happens, what we do know is that we need to focus on developing the distinctively human skills and capabilities of people.”

“We have actually dehumanised work, we’ve made [jobs] into processes. The more tightly we define the work that is done, the easier it is to create a machine to replace it. We now need to work on humanising work… rather than trying to create highly process-orientated work roles,” he says.

3. Flexibility

There will be more self-employed people by 2025, with many more opportunities for flexible and freelance work.

The report predicts businesses will reshape in order to adapt to this new labour flexibility, with a new focus on extended rather than permanent workforces.

While this might sound like an ideal situation for highly paid freelance workers of the future economy, too much inequity in pay for flexible workers may create job security issues – yet another challenge for businesses to address by 2025.

“The trend is already evident that we are moving towards more and more unstructured freelance work. And as we move to a more and more fluid economy, it means there will be more opportunities for individuals to create a portfolio of work,” says Dawson.

“There will be some people who struggle… but there is a lot that we can do to guard against that. Part of it is around the sorts of social support structures that we have, as well as the education opportunities we have available to adults as well as children.”

4. Office revolution

One of the most interesting possibilities outlined in the report is the notion of creating more ‘coworking hubs’ – suburban office spaces separate from a CBD-centred central office, where employees can work collaboratively in a creative capacity.

“[Collaborative work] is absolutely fundamental… to ensuring Australia’s competitiveness and success,” says Dawson.

These hubs are envisaged as being far more attractive than today’s offices, featuring access to sophisticated technology that may have only been available in the head office.

Short of simply cutting back an employee’s morning and evening commute, these hubs will serve the purpose of boosting productivity and financial turnover by fostering creative entrepreneurship among coworkers. One American survey by Deskmag says that 71% of workers reported an increase in creativity once joining coworking spaces, with 70% also reporting feeling healthier and 62% saying their work output was better.

Better networking technologies would help facilitate these geographically separated work situations, one idea being the use of a ‘holodeck’: a multi-camera set up that could project someone’s likeness in three dimensions, allowing bosses to meet with their employees even if they do all their work at the hub.

5. Security

Of course, an increased reliance on information technologies will require a corresponding increase in network security. If the globalised economy will require more information collection to facilitate marketing, new systems will need to be put in place to protect this personal information from malicious hacking.

“The first thing is understanding what sort of information we need,” says Dawson. “There is often a gathering of data for the sake of it, when it really needs to be focused on creating value. There needs to be a strategic directive,” he says.

Dawson says apart from a focus on plain IT security protocols, which are likely to include more shifts towards point-to-point security, the online behaviour of employees will also need to be addressed by business owners, in order to avoid information leaks.

“One of the other trends is that there are more and more people working remotely, so locking down data becomes very different to what it’s been in the past. It’s also about having the right behaviours by the people inside your organisation.”  

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