The new demography will reshape our understanding and expectations of work. In many ways, the coming decades will be defined by the largest demographic group the world has ever seen — the Baby Boomers. In 2010, they are in their 50s and 60s; and by 2025 most will have left the workforce, taking with them a huge store of tacit knowledge and know- how as well as, if some commentators are to be believed, much of the wealth of the next generations.
The future will also see unprecedented increases in life expectancy. There is a strong possibility that many of the healthy children born in 2010 will live more than 100 years, as will some of those currently in their 20s.
This will fundamentally bring into question our current assumptions about retirement, about the employment of the over-65s and about the provision of pensions.
Technology will influence the size of the world population and life expectancy and will influence our working lives in other deeper and more indirect ways — the way we engage with others, our views on morality and our own human nature. You don’t have to be a supporter of technological determinism to recognise that technological capability (through its complex interactions with individuals, institutions, cultures and environment) is a key determinant of the ground rules within which the games of human civilisation get played out.
By 2025, we can expect that more than five billion people will be connected by mobile devices, the Internet ‘Cloud’ will deliver low-cost computing services, an increasing amount of work will be performed by robots and self-created content will join the digitalisation of books to create an unprecedented amount of information in the world knowledge net. We can expect that, across the globe, billions of cognitive assistants will be collecting information, monitoring people’s behaviour and taking actions from their preferences. This massive crowd of computers is becoming increasingly capable of learning and creating new knowledge entirely on its own and with no human help.
The combination of technology and globalisation will have a profound impact on the way we work in the future. While many of the new poles of economic activity are in the Big Six emerging economies (Brazil, China, India, Mexico, Russia and South Korea), the economies of next-wave locations such as Egypt, Nigeria and Turkey are increasingly important. These emerging economies will increasingly add value through innovation as well as low-cost manufacturing. Greater numbers of people will choose to move to the mega-cities of the world, and new talent pools will emerge in areas across the globe where the population is connected to the world knowledge net. Much of the world will become joined — both in terms of trade in goods and services, the mobility of labour, the opening up of new talent pools and in the extent of global connectivity.
Globalisation will bring opportunities for talented and energetic people to become part of the world economy wherever they are born. It will also increase the exclusion of those who are not part of the global market, either because they don’t have access to broadband or because they have neither the talent nor the energy to compete.
The Future of Work is impacted by the forces around us
The mental life of human beings has been transformed by developments such as language, literacy, urbanisation, division of labour, industrialisation, science, communications, transport and media technology. These changes will continue over the coming years. By 2025, we can expect that people will be more individualistic and increasingly prepared to forge lifestyles based on their own needs rather than societal expectations. At the same time, we can expect trust in business and business leaders to continue to plummet.
I predict that, in 2025, many people will live their lives alone or in small family groups and some of these relationships will become more virtual. It will increasingly be the norm to work much of the time from home or in small community hubs to avoid the carbon costs and general wear and tear of lengthy commutes. Most employable women will work outside the home, so the majority of households will have two working members with conventional households no longer the norm. Younger men will have decided to spend more time at home and to take a more active part in caring for their children. More people will work as freelancers and ‘neo-nomads’, expecting increasing autonomy and freedom. As families become smaller and more dislocated, friends (and what I have termed the ‘regenerative community’) will play an increasing role in individual happiness.
Research that identified these 5 Forces
One of the first tasks of the research was to identify the external forces that will fundamentally change the way that work will be done by 2025. We determined that five forces will be crucial:
The extraction and use of energy have always framed the way we live and the way we work. Each time a new, more complex energy- consuming development takes place, it increases the pace, flow and density of human exchange and creates more connectivity between people.
Our uses of energy will also frame the way we work in the coming decades. We can expect oil prices to rise substantially as the developing world uses more energy and the sources of oil have become depleted and expensive to extract. Carbon output will rise steeply, particularly in China and India with their rapidly developing urban populations and manufacturing bases.
The world will have heated up, with sea levels rising and climates changing. Some governments will have introduced a carbon tax, and the carbon footprints of individuals and companies will be scrutinised and forced to reduce. This could result in a rapid escalation of the cost of moving goods across the globe and a rapid reduction of commuting and work-related travel. This will be a significant driver to virtual working and home-based working.
While I have described these forces separately, in reality these five trends will work together. For example, the combination of advances in technology and growing globalisation will significantly increase the use of tele-presence, webinars and other communal tools.