The Future of Work by 2020

Gran Canaria - Pozo de las Nieves in the SpringFascinating topic, don’t you think? And here we are, still in 2013, and already thinking about what the workplace of the future would be like by 2020. Well, one thing for sure is that it won’t be anything like we have today or what we may have had over the course of the last 50 years. Even more, I am suspecting that over the course of time, if not happening already today, we are going to make a very healthy split between work and jobs. Because, you know, they are not the same, no matter what people keep telling you. They have never been the same. And, certainly, with the emergence of digital tools that split is even more natural and in full accordance with a new reality: work is you, you are the work.

So what is the future of You? What is the future of work then? It seems that lately there have been lots and lots of interesting and rather relevant insights shared across, i.e. blog posts, articles, mainstream news, insightful whitepapers and whatever else, shared across by folks who have embarked themselves into redefining how we should be looking at work from here onwards over the course of time and also from the perspective of how we are rethinking the role of jobs, even to the point of perhaps venturing whether it’s worth while quitting yours and move on to the next big adventure (Highly recommended and superb read by Irvin Wladawsky-Berger, by the way). Uncertainty will be there. Uncertainty is always there. But that’s perhaps a good thing, because it’s essentially what helps us progress further into the unknown while we keep rethinking what we will all want to be doing as work.

Long gone are the times where we were aiming for long term careers and their big aspirations, for loyalty to a specific business or company, for a long-term opportunity to have an impact over the course of decades. Long gone are the times where knowledge workers were aiming at fitting in within a working environment for which they were perhaps not ready for it, while carrying on their work, with very little motivation, waiting for the payslip at the end of the month. Hummm, well, maybe this one is not gone just yet. But perhaps it is a clear indication already as to why certain jobs need to be questioned and redefined in the context of whether they are still purposeful or meaningful altogether. After all, and this is what I keep telling people all around, we only have got one single life, so it is probably a fair game we all try to make the most out of it, don’t you think? 

Lou Adler has also got a rather thought-provoking article on a similar topic under the suggesting heading of “There Are Only Four Jobs in the Whole World – Are You in the Right One?” where he proposes how those four jobs are the following ones: Producers, Improvers, Builders and Thinkers. Go ahead and read it through, as it will certainly be rather helpful in understanding what your current job may well be about and it will confirm whether you might be on the right one, or not. Interestingly enough, while I read it myself, I just couldn’t help thinking how in today’s more complex than ever working environment each and everyone of us may eventually be doing the four jobs at the same time depending on the context of the task at hand, which is essentially what keeps driving us all into achieving our goals: that purpose and meaning I mentioned above, along with the right context in such a hyperconnected, networked (business) world. 

And to that effect, while I keep reflecting myself on the future of work, I thought I would point you to a recent article that my good friend Jemima Gibbons worked on over at “What will “work” look like in 2020?” where she gathered a good bunch of folks sharing their insights on how they see themselves the workplace of the future. Some pretty interesting insights with key concepts like Intrapreneurship and its impact behind the corporate firewall (By William Higham); or the redefinition of work from a physical space / office into a state of mind where work life integration play a rather key, paramount role (By Karen Mattison) towards sustainable growth; or how the convergence of cloud, mobile and social (Along with the “Internet of Things”) will inspire more contractual / freelance work helping organisations become more liquid, hybrid while knowledge workers become freer and more autonomous around their work, owning it and co-sharing that responsibility (By David Terrar); or how knowledge workers will no longer be talking about adoption of new technologies, but more a key concept that I have become rather fond of myself over time and which I find also rather descriptive in terms of where I feel the key is of how we redefine work, that is, how do we adapt to this new digital work environment to make the best out of it, as in how well do we adapt to change (By Helen Keegan).

Like I said, lots of great, relevant insights and plenty of key pointers that surely highlight where we may be heading to over the course of time. Jemima asked me as well whether I would be able to contribute with my ¢2 and, of course, I couldn’t reject such generous offer so I added a short paragraph that explains what’s been in my mind for a while in terms of what I sense the future of work would be like in the not so distant future … So I thought I would go ahead and finish off this article by taking the liberty of quoting it across: 

In the future, work will be more distributed and remote – technology means that people will be able to work from wherever they want to. Work processes will be driven by interactions from workers through networks and communities rather than traditional company hierarchies. Large enterprises will no longer need to exist, because of the nature of the hyper-connected and networked workforce. Trust between workers will be more essential than ever – and critical for success. People will find new meaning and purpose through building strong personal business relationships: the key objective for everyone will be sustainable growth.

So what will “work” look like in 2020 for you? Care to venture and share a comment or two on what it may well be like? Perhaps in a few years we can come back to this blog post and see how accurate our perceptions were after all. Or not. Something tells me the journey is going to be just as fascinating, inspiring and refreshing as the final destination, if not more altogether! Why? Well, because for the first time in decades it will be us, knowledge (Web) workers, the ones who can choose what we would want it it to be.

And that’s a good thing. After all, work is us, we are the work.

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10 Comments »

  • It is a fascinating topic! Your post inspired a variation on an earlier Venn diagram here: https://plus.google.com/u/0/100641053530204604051/posts/X5DW9ACawFV

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    • Luis Suarez says:

      Hi Joachim! Thanks a bunch for, once again, pretty much nailing it along with that lovely conversation on G+, along with that visualisation! Along the lines of what folks mentioned on the conversation, I, too, *love* the fact you have injected the important, critical aspect of play, of having fun @ work, which I, too, think is critical in today’s current working environment to show and demonstrate how enjoying and having fun at what you do at work on a daily basis, has got a number of different perks, but one of them is just my favourite, i.e. helping address what I think is the number #1 business problem from today’s corporate world: employee engagement.

      It may not address it completely, but I am sure it would have a rather significant impact altogether!

      So thanks again for making that connection! Splendid!

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  • Keith Brooks says:

    2020, I will be the young age of 51 and I prefer the life where I leave work behind after I go home.
    Work, unlike religion, serves little purpose to the greater good of the individual usually. An entrepreneur sees work as their life and sometimes their religion.
    We need time to play and be young and learn new things on our own time.
    Reach out for something new and exciting and fun and not part of work.
    This of course means making money becomes harder which is unfortunate because you need money to live, at least with other people in civilization.

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    • Keith, what if you start learning new things while at work? What if work becomes more fun, because you are able to master something new, are able to find some purpose, create your own space to fulfill yourself? That’s not SF, it’s possible today. It’s the intersection of work, play, and learning that we need to declare for the sake of future generations.

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  • Dave Jones says:

    I like to quote, ‘Do something you love and you’ll never work a day or night in your life’.

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  • Ara Ohanian says:

    Luis, in exploring the future of work we must be careful not to forget one thing: it does not belong exclusively to knowledge workers like us. Plenty of research indicates that the future of work will polarise. Yes, there will be an increasingly number of jobs in knowledge work which are engaging, interactive and substantially online. Clerical jobs in the middle will decrease, reduced by technology and automation. There will be an increasingly number of less well paid, more menial jobs. People doing these jobs largely not online, largely not dealing with knowledge but vital to the functioning of the economy are also part of the future of work. And any discussion about the future deserves to include them.

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  • Great post Luis! I’ve had it on my reading list for a little while and today I found the time :-)

    Work in the future will almost certainly be more fluid and when we are talking knowledge work, be independent of time and space. People will (still) be hired based on their competencies but also on their passion AND their Social Net Worth (value of a person’s social network). Organisations will be more loosely defined and I think that you will see a new type of organisations emerge that are more comparable to ‘think tanks’ than to an eg. consultancy.

    These “companies” consist of hypercnnected people in a networked organisation where they draw on each others competencies and experience in new ways – a sort of symbiotic organisation. Today’s consulting giants help people on changing the WHAT and the HOW that isn’t working – the new type of organisations coach companies in HOW to adapt to new changes and most importantly WHY this chage make sense. This is ultimately also why many consulting projects fail to deliver the expected results.

    To use Adler’s four categories, the company of the future consists of producers and improvers whereas the builders and thinkers become “guns for hire”.

    My two cents – one thing that’s absolutely certain though: The future will not be what we imagine, but the guessing game is always fun and ultimately what makes the future happen.

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  • […] Futurice. A company that is already in the future. HBR: “To Optimize Talent Management, Question Everything” HBR: “The Ideas that Shaped Management in 2013” “Essential Zen Habits” “The Third Way of Work” “a way of working where the people doing the work matter as much as the work being done” “Bring Your Own Device is really Bring Your Own Mind” “work is you, you are the work. So what is the future of You?“ […]

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