I spent this past week on a yoga retreat. There were some interesting people there and we had some interesting conversations. Among other things, we talked about our motivation to work – in particular, why we worked. Would we work if we didn’t need to? What motivates us? Money? Or something else? … things such as being needed, being important, contributing, meeting new people?
Some people said they were home-schooling their children, which led to other interesting discussions about the future of economy and work. Which skills will our children need to make their way in the ever-changing world of tomorrow? Are those the same skills we were taught? Will they work? And if so, how?
This week we celebrated Labour Day, on 1 May. A perfect occasion to recall the past and let one’s imagination run wild and picture what the future may look like.
The history of 1 May reminds us of the difficult conditions that work was associated with just over a century ago. Most people do not know that Labour Day originated in the United States, where it is not a public holiday today. In the late nineteenth century, workers were fighting for an eight-hour workday. And at its national convention in Chicago, the Federation of Labour Unions proclaimed the eight-hour workday, starting 1 May 1886. Even though this proclamation was made without employer consent, 300,000 workers across the country left their work earlier on that first day, which was the first celebration of 1 May in history. Today, it is an official holiday in 66 countries.
Back then, work for most people meant going to a factory to make something. Throughout the twentieth century, many countries witnessed social advances such as health benefits and paid vacations. However, work remained pretty much the same: people would spend their time in the office, clocking the hours.
Today, a different pattern has emerged: people work from home, work has become more creative… New technologies have changed the world so much in such a short period of time that we barely realize the depth of those changes. Changes that will accelerate and lead us to an entirely new way of working. Let’s speculate a bit as to what that new world might look like.
No more offices, but meeting places
In the industrial economy of the twentieth century, work took place exclusively at an office or at a factory. People spent very little time at home. Today, more and more people work from home at least part of the time, and only go into the office for meetings. That trend should accelerate and become the norm rather than an exception.
With robots taking on more and more physical tasks, people’s work is becoming less manual and less dependent on being physically present in a particular place. For many people, the computer is the main work tool. And with modern collaboration technologies, people can work in digital workplaces without having to go somewhere physically.
With drone deliveries, vertical water-based farms, and solar panels, people can live and work in isolated places of their choosing as opposed to crowded cities. Imagine tomorrow – living in Hawaii, yet still working full time at whatever your job is, flying mainland once a quarter for a bunch of meetings.
Stronger digital communities
The world is changing, but man’s nature has not changed much since prehistoric times. We are, first and foremost, social animals who need to interact with peers. People need to be included in the social structure. People need recognition. We need to feel needed and useful. We need meaning.
This need for a community, for social interaction, can be partially filled via online communities, be they work related or interest related. We already see strong online communities emerging based on common interests such as science fiction, spiritual practices or gaming.
In parallel, local communities should gain new meaning.
Less gender inequality
The eternal dilemma of work vs family should slowly move into the past. With more and more people working from home, the separation between men at the office and women at home ceases to exist.
People spend more time at home. Consequently, family relationships become more important, and home activities more valued, and women feel less penalized for their ‘absence’ from the office.
No more work, but creation
Manual work that demands no creativity will probably be carried out by machines in the very near future. Potentially, we may reach a point where work will no longer be an obligation, but a choice. We will run out of work. People will be required to create and express their unique talents, rather than repeat something that they’ve been taught.
That raises a lot of questions. What would people do all day if they do not need to work? How would they occupy themselves?
Different work values
In the future, people should work for pleasure, not for money. We already see this slow change from our survey about work motivation.
The younger generation doesn’t seem to be as driven by career, efficiency and money as previous generations. Work meaning, social interaction and self-development are gaining traction every year, while the relative importance of compensation, in terms of job satisfaction, is on the decrease.
In the future, the type of motivation that people will need is motivation towards self-realization, expressing one’s unique potential, and creating a pleasant work environment, – creating rather than toiling.
This is what I believe the future of work will look like. Our children will need to be very different from us to thrive in a world of creativity rather than obligation. What do you think the future of work will look like? Leave a comment!