Tracking the rapid transformative changes to what work is and how it is done requires knowledge of multiple areas of development. Macro-drivers and trends work together to sculpt a new landscape for work of the future. They will continue to combine and mature as we navigate out of the Badlands driving more dramatic changes for at least the next decade.
All of these drivers and trends have been enabled by the new technologies and science of this disruptive cycle of innovation. It is wise to remember one of the important and overarching lessons from these cycles over the last many centuries. It is not the technology and new science that creates the changes: it is the choices that humans make about how to use them or not.
Four of these drivers are discussed here:
1. Global connectivity
One of the most pervasive and relentless macro-drivers is global connectivity. Today, there are few areas of the earth left that aren’t connected with the global socioeconomic environment to some degree, enabled by the disruptive information and communication technologies of this era particularly with the rapid diffusion of wireless technologies. These technologies are expansive, mature, and affordable to many. They now have created an irreversible new global economy and culture and practice of global business woven together by the flows of people, ideas, technology and capital.2. Global aging and healthy longevity
People are simply living longer all over the world; increasing numbers will live beyond 100. While there have been long-term increases in life expectancy for the advanced economies over the last several decades, the majority of people now expected to live beyond 80 years of age are actually those in emerging economies. The populations of these countries are increasing their life expectancy much faster than currently developed countries did.
Furthermore, people are not having their daily activities affected by health impediments until age 75; in other words, they are not “old” until 85 and beyond. This has very broad implications, especially on workforce demographics, age of retirement and social programs.3. The changing role of women
World War II fundamentally changed the role of women, when they entered the workforce to fill the work roles left by men. When the war ended women did not go back home to their traditional roles as housewives but went on to further their education and re-entered the workforce in higher skilled jobs. Today around the world more women are graduating with baccalaureate and masters degrees than men. By 2025 most knowledge workers will be women. One of the many implications is that workplaces must concentrate on creating a women-friendly environment or they will become less competitive because they can’t attract and retain the highest talent.4. The disaggregation of work
In the early stages of globalization the new communication and information technologies enabled the distribution of work to various places around the world. A company could operate efficiently by leveraging places around the world and remain integrated. With the further evolution of technology into smarter machines more work was able to be replaced by technology, particularly in the middle labor jobs in manufacturing and management. While high-end knowledge work increasingly demands creative and adaptive thinking and low-end demands manual labor, we can automate the jobs in the middle. The impact of these trends on loss of jobs is just in the early stages.
These macro-drivers create many questions about the future, as these changes in what work is change:
- The growth of the middle class in the last 50 years that rose up with the growth of higher skilled jobs in the middle. Is the era of this now-shrinking class over? Can trends towards greater income inequality be reversed?
- As women become the more educated of the two sexes – what’s up with men? Will we see major changes in their roles as we navigate out of the Badlands?
- How will we as a global people and planet adapt and change with 25 more years of life? Given how fast this is occurring will we be able to manage its many impacts is a successful way?
- Global connectivity also levels the playing field between big and small players. Will most innovations of the future come from nimble entrepreneurs in emerging economies and upset the balance of economic power between the old and the new? What will be the intended and unintended consequences of this new dynamic?