What is the future of work? Predictions from Dropbox, Slack, Fujitsu, and more

Find out how the world of work is changing in The Drum's latest issue.

Social and technological changes are revolutionizing the way we work. What will digital communication mean for workspaces? Will the search for a work-life balance result in mindful employment practices? And will tech help us become more productive, or just get in the way of our humanity? We posed these pressing questions to some of the people who know best.

Amelia Kallman, futurist, consultant, speaker and award-winning author

We’ll continue to see decentralization in the workplace as new technologies make it easier to collaborate digitally, removing geographic barriers. The coming explosion of 5G will mean faster and higher-quality experiences, which will have a significant impact on the new realities of machine learning and data processing.

Holograms will allow us to attend real-time meetings or events as a 3D, 360-degree avatar, telephony will utilize virtual reality, and the power of the expanding metaverse (the infinite landscape on to which the content of VR, AR and MR exists) will all change the way we work. Buildings and homes will have to adapt spaces to usher in these new communication strategies that could ultimately save businesses a lot of money, while also helping the environment. As a consequence, we could see a backlash against urbanization in favor of sustainability and a better work-life balance, as it becomes less necessary to go to a physical workspace every day.

Chris Patton, UK & Ireland head of marketing, Fujitsu

The future of work will see the productivity question answered. Technology has had a proven influence on employee and organizational productivity, and in the future, businesses will use innovative tools to enhance their employees’ experiences, the same way we see technology improving the customer experience. Access to effective workplace technologies will become the new normal, and will be used to attract and retain talent. Because work is what we do, not where we go, better use of technology will underpin a more harmonious work-life balance, with greater numbers of people working from home or remotely.

From a business perspective, companies will have to shift their focus to better maintain virtual communities and support employee wellbeing. Finally, the future of work will see expectations and demands from employers change. As we move into an era of new technological advances, people’s value – their soft skills, their communication skills, empathy and sympathy – will greatly increase. This emphasis on creativity will provoke more employees to look for meaningful work which contributes to society.

Stuart Templeton, head of UK, Slack

The way people work is changing, and the pace of this transformation is only set to intensify over coming years. At the heart of this workplace revolution is a fundamental shift in how we communicate and collaborate with our colleagues, and the rise of innovative technologies working to meet that need.

While tools like email have their uses, they are ultimately a dying breed. The future of workplace collaboration is based around open, transparent and inclusive communications. Communication that breaks open silos and creates a knowledge repository for all employees. This is especially important as the modern workforce becomes more agile, flexible and geographically dispersed. We think that by 2025 these channels will replace email as the primary means of communication.

Matt Barrie, chief executive officer, Freelancer.com

It is certainly becoming more flexible and interesting. When our grandparents took a job, they took that job for life. When our parents took a job, they stayed in that job for perhaps 20 years before starting their own business in their last 20 years of working. I am Generation X and I think you should stay in a job for at least five to 10 years before trying something else. For Generation Y that may be two years, and for younger workers it’s perhaps six months to a year. The average length of a job for freelancers on Freelancer.com is two weeks.

Freelancing provides the flexibility and freedom to choose what you would like to work on, for whom, where and how. The future of work is also about creating a job, not taking a job. There’s so much opportunity to start a business at the same time as freelancing. Also, the digital economy provides people who would otherwise be excluded from traditional labor markets an opportunity to have an income, whether that’s people with disabilities, stay-at-home parents or college students looking to lessen their school debt.

Sera Miller, co-founder, The Fawnbrake Collective

The future of work is already here, it’s just not evenly distributed. Decentralized systems, flexible working behaviors and cultures that balance autonomy and accountability already exist. Looking at our industry, the future of work will see skilled individuals being pulled together into flexible, temporary teams recruited based on their ability to solve problems quickly and effectively.

The future of work will look exactly like clients and talent need it to: a model based on the quality and impact of the work itself, not where or how the work itself takes place. Models based on access not ownership have revolutionized other sectors – now it is the turn of work itself to be disrupted. We should embrace the tools already at hand to make this possible. An outcomes not outputs (or even archaic inputs like time spent) model is already a business necessity for those who understand that to run 21st-century businesses you need to consign many 20th-century practices to history.

Peter Day, chief technology officer, Quantcast

Attention around artificial intelligence (AI) has seriously gathered pace in 2018. The UK government’s pledge to put £1bn towards the future of the technology in April, and steady adoption across a number of industries since that time has cemented it as a key component for the future of work.

We’ve seen that brands and ad agencies that use AI in tandem with human creativity can achieve more relevant, targeted and measurable campaigns. AI is quickly becoming the new standard in digital advertising, and those brands that don’t adapt to this new way of work will quickly be forgotten.

James Keating, EMEA head of marketing, Dropbox

Although technology enables us to be mobile and connected, how much are we really able to focus on meaningful work, rather than ‘work about work’? Being connected from anywhere, at any time and to anyone can reduce the mental bandwidth we have available to think our best thoughts and really focus on meaningful work. Creating a healthier relationship with technology is vital for the future of work.

Ensuring technology enables clarity of communications, roles and objectives is a good starting point for achieving this. And leaders have a responsibility to help employees with this transition, through educating and generating awareness, and by making sure they are using collaborative technology to its best ability.

To gain more insights into the working world of tomorrow, grab a copy of The Drum’s August issue, where we hear from WPP chief transformation officer Lindsay Pattison; find out how workspaces, advertisers and agency models are changing with the times; and question whether machines could ever replace marketers.

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