Is this the end of the office? Looking at the future of work

Despite what Dolly Parton might say, ‘Working 9 to 5’ might soon become a thing of the past as workers of today start to move towards different ways to make a living. Or at least that’s what the results of our latest survey are telling us! We’ve surveyed 10,000 workers and 500 HR professionals globally to find out what people really want the future of work to look like, and what that means for businesses.

In ‘The future of work: A journey to 2022’ we’ve worked through a number of different projections for what the future of work might look like – and we start to see the emergence of three potential different ‘worlds of work’, all with different characteristics:

  • The Blue World: where the corporate is king and big company capitalism rules as organisations get bigger and bigger.
  • The Green World: where consumers and employees force companies into developing a powerful social conscience and green sense of responsibility.
  • The Orange World: where small is beautiful and technology fragments the big bad world of global business.

I’ll talk about all three worlds over a series of different blog posts, so be sure to check back in with us or sign up for our email alerts. But I wanted to start by focusing on the world where technology empowers the rise of the ‘portfolio career’.

In this version of the future of work, people feel strongly that they no longer want to work within the constraints of the typical office environment. And advances in technology mean that we don’t have to be shackled to our desks - one in five people want to work in a ‘virtual’ place where they can log on from any location or use collaborative work spaces. People believe that they will have their own brands and sell their skills to those who need them. They will be working for themselves, where they choose. So for me, the big question is how do organisations start to prepare themselves for this shift?

People’s lack of interest in working in an office reflects the growing desire among many workers to have more flexibility and varied challenges by working freelance or as a contractor for a number of organisations. I suspect that many organisations will embrace these changes in employee working preferences and use them to their own advantage. We could easily see the rise of organisations that have a core team that embodies the philosophy and values of the company, but the rest of the workforce comes in and out on a project-by-project basis. These companies will make extensive use of technology to run their businesses, coordinate a largely external workforce and support their relationships with third parties.

Many of the HR professionals that we surveyed are already preparing for this shift towards more portfolio careers, as they predict that at least 20% of their workforce will be made up of contractors or temporary workers by 2022. Nearly a third of HR professionals are building their talent strategies around the rise of the portfolio career, hiring a diverse mix of people on an affordable, ad hoc basis.

It’ll be an interesting time for big business. The growth of this agile, innovative and entrepreneurial middle market could soon start to challenge big businesses as they can compete on specialism and price due to their slimmed down business model. Workers will be more likely to see themselves as a member of a particular skill or professional network, rather than as an employee of a particular company. People will be categorised and rewarded for having specialist expertise. Project-related bonuses could become more common as people have a personal stake in the organisation’s or project’s success. And could this see the emergence of an e-bay style ratings system of past performance for contractors and partners to help them land their next contract?

We can only scratch the surface – but we’ve seen from experience that the demands of the workforce tend to influence the direction of work. We’d love to hear your views on this. You can also take our quiz to see which world of work you might belong to. Visit the Future of Work web page to find out more.

Jon Andrews | UK Human Resource Consulting Leader
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