In the past several years, we’ve seen an explosion of technology solutions in every field of business, from cloud storage and collaboration to marketing.
As a result, the way we work itself has been transformed. According to the BLS, the average worker today is almost twice as productive as workers in 1987. Just about everything can be accomplished on a screen, whether a desktop, laptop, tablet, or smartphone. Technology is changing the nature of work and the types of work we focus on faster than ever before.
Here are some of the biggest ways technology will change the way we work by 2020:
1. Traditional “jobs” may disappear completely
Once upon a time, fathers passed down the family business to their sons, who passed it down to their sons. “Jobs” were firmly tied up with identities. Today, Millennials change jobs every two years or less, and it’s estimated that 65% of children entering primary school will work in roles that don’t currently exist.
This unprecedented wave of job choice, job loss, and job creation is due to the confluence of two main factors: a never-ending onslaught of technological innovations and the increasing automation of repetitive, rules-based tasks.
“There’s going to be a huge change, comparable to the industrial revolution,” says Jerry Kaplan, a Silicon Valley entrepreneur who teaches at Stanford. Robots and AI “are going to have a far more dramatic impact on the workplace than the internet has.”
A 2013 study by the Oxford Martin School estimated that 47% of jobs in the US could be automated over the next two decades. And a study by the McKinsey Global Institute predicted that robots could replace 40–75 million jobs worldwide by 2025.
2. We’ll all be more creative
But there’s still hope for humans. By absorbing the routine aspects of our current jobs, machines are freeing us up for more creative activities. Many futurists predict that while machines will automate most administrative and factory jobs, our remaining jobs will be highly creative, strategic, and impactful.
We’re already experiencing this shift towards unprecedented creativity. For example, difficult traditional arts that take decades to master, like art and design, are now being turned into apps. The creative process itself is being commodified with DIY options like Wix for websites and Canva for designs. And if you want to learn how to create your own app or repair your car, you easily find a video tutorial on YouTube.
Anyone with some time on their hands and a willingness to learn new skills can find helpful learning tools to unlock their latent talents. This is especially true for our new generations of digital natives, who will be born with free resources at their fingertips that their parents couldn’t have imagined.
Some futurists even predict that new jobs could be created within virtual worlds themselves. We’ve already seen this happen to a surprising degree in games with real currency transactions, like Second Life and Eve Online. Many creative players have made respectable livings for themselves by creating and selling game items or by speculating in virtual markets.
3. We’ll work wherever we want
In 2017, nearly 43% of Americans report working remotely to some degree. Unsurprisingly, 44% of HR decision makers believe that remote working, co-working, and teleconferencing are the principal drivers of change for the future of work.
Think about it: Upwork has 10 million freelancers from 180 countries in its database. They compete for 3 million tasks per year. And this is just one platform—there’s also Guru, Elance, Freelancer, People Per Hour, Amazon’s Mechanical Turk...the list goes on. McKinsey estimates that by 2025, 540 million workers will have used one of these platforms to find work.
The result of all this remote work is that the very structure of organizations is under attack. Where hierarchical organizations were once the norm, today 92% of CHROs and CEOs believe there needs to be a change. Many are actively flattening their organizations and stripping away extra layers of management. The goal is to make jobs more dynamic and take full advantage of both remote work environments and flexible contract workers.
4. We’ll collaborate however & wherever we want
But what about innovation and team building? Traditional managers balk at the idea of letting their team members work whenever and wherever they want. But the assumption they make—that being face-to-face is more conducive to innovative and effective teamwork—may be flawed to begin with.
In fact, studies have found that virtual brainstorming eliminates production blocking (when dominant team members talk too much), which hinders creative idea generation in introverted participants. And while in-person brainstorming sessions with more than six participants tends to get messy, there are no limits to online group sizes. Virtual brainstorming is not only correlated with performance, it’s also more scalable.
This all makes a lot of sense. After all, the Internet began as a way for people around the world to communicate and share information instantly and anonymously. It would be kind of crazy not to leverage such an incredible communication tool as often as possible.
With ever-improving chat and conferencing solutions like Slack and Zoom just a click away, it’s easier than ever to ping a coworker and get together within seconds for meaningful discussion. The range of tasks that can be conducted through cloud collaboration is also increasing.
Google Drive gave us real-time edits, comments, and suggestions. For the first time, entire teams could work on documents, spreadsheets, and presentations remotely. Today, startups like MURAL, whose approach to digital workspaces is paving the way forward with innovative collaboration technology, are empowering leading companies like IBM and Intuit to collaborate and innovate internally by identifying problems, prioritizing and brainstorming solutions using new methods and tools.
Soon, there will be little that workers can’t do remotely that they can do in person. Our virtual workspaces are evolving and allowing teams to reach insights even faster.
We’re moving at light speed
The future of work has never been more uncertain and more exciting than it is right now. So if you want to stay hirable and attractive to employers—do your due diligence. Find out how technology, automation, and shifting market forces affect your industry. Do your best to cultivate a culture of learning to better prepare yourself for any eventuality.
Make absolutely sure that you aren’t left behind with old innovations. The future of work will be here before you know it.