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8 ways work will change in the future

Richard Watson is a futurist who works with the Foresight Practice at Imperial College London and publisher of What’s Next, an online report of new ideas and trends. In 2006 his book Future Files became an international bestseller. In his new book Digital vs Human ($29.95, Scribe), Watson asks what our lives will look like in the future and comes up with some surprising answers. What role will technology play in our lives? What are the jobs of the future? Here are eight ways Watson predicts work will change in the future.

1. A new leadership paradigm will emerge

Leadership in the future will be more diverse and less hierarchical. “We’re shifting from a model that was like the military where you have male generals at the top yelling at everybody, saying ‘if you don’t do what I say I’ll fire you’, [what was] a rigid pyramidal structure,” says Watson. “It’s moved much more to an open, fluid network structure – more like a university, with leaders sitting in the middle, not necessarily at the top, trying to inspire and motivate people.”

2. The workforce will look different

One of the biggest changes to impact the global workforce is the rise in the number of women who work. Another big demographic shift Watson identifies is the ageing of the workforce, which will become increasingly multigenerational as it continues to shrink in size. “I think we’re going to have much more flexibility in terms of contracts and conditions,” says Watson. “Funnily enough what suits a 22-year-old suits a 72-year-old; it’s all about having some flexibility about where you work and when you work.”

What suits a 22-year-old suits a 72-year-old – it’s all about having some flexibility about where you work and when you work.

3. Going solo

“We’ll see more people working for themselves and pursuing portfolio careers,” says Watson, although not everyone will jump aboard this trend. “I think we’re on the cusp of a backlash on that, because while we’ve heard forever that we’ll all be free agents and working from home, the one thing that misses is that work is inherently social,” he says. “We do need physical interaction at work.”

4. Retro offices will replace open-plan spaces

Recognition of the social value of work means that there will be a swing back to people sharing physical spaces. “The open plan office may have seen its best days,” says Watson. Instead, “we might go back to the slightly older model as people try to focus their attention and find quieter places to think. We’re moving much more into a knowledge economy which requires people to think deeply, so trying to create structures where people can do that is really important.” At the moment, he says, “Work has almost being redefined as getting through your email, and we’re constantly distracted by things.”

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