Remember when 2020 seemed like the distant future? Well, don’t blink. It’ll be here in less than five years, and according to a variety of experts who study such things, an incredible amount of change in the workplace is likely to take place between now and then. As Peter Hirst, associate dean of executive education at MIT Sloan School of Management puts it, “Five years is a long time in technology evolution and revolution, and the next five years will see even more change than the past five years.”
An oft-cited prediction about the office of the future is that it will be populated by workers who will literally be wearing their technology, and Hirst thinks that’s on the mark. “Over the next five years, it is hard to imagine that the display, processing, interface, and communication capabilities of these wearable devices won’t match and likely surpass what we can do with today’s tablets and phablets (phone /tablet hybrids),” he says, calling the technology “tantalizingly close already.”
Along with the exponentially increasing power and capability of technology, several other trends will have a dramatic impact on the workplace over the next five years, affecting organizations of all sizes. One is the entry of “digital natives” into the workforce and the consumer marketplace. “This is happening already, and we can therefore see what is coming,” Hirst points out. People who have grown up as both workers and customers in the “flat, connected, and transparent world that has been enabled by the digitization of everything” have different demands than their predecessors. “Whether it’s demanding meaningful work and flexible career options as employees, self-employment as highly specialized contractors, or products and services from all providers that are equal to the best of the best, this is going to change both supply and demand for all businesses--and it’s happening now,” he says.
Globalization, even though it’s something that has been discussed for decades, is another important trend for the next five years, especially in terms of the impact it’s likely to have on small and mid-sized businesses. The challenge of increasing competition from economies with lower costs and higher efficiencies will be offset to some degree by the huge new markets available to those businesses that can adapt and access them. “Small and mid-sized businesses--or, more accurately, high-growth, innovation-driven enterprises--are often, perhaps even usually, the engines of such change,” Hirst avers. The businesses most likely to prosper over the next five years are those that embrace the digital transformation and all its concomitant effects, he adds.
Business owners should also be preparing for significant changes in the office environment by 2020, predicts Brandon Atkinson, chief people officer at AppNexus, a cloud-based platform for programmatic online advertising. “In an increasingly knowledge-based economy, employees will have unprecedented power. They will increasingly disregard today’s notions of hierarchy, will expect to be treated as a valuable asset to be invested in, and will require the opportunity to solve problems autonomously,” he says. “They will also be less loyal; if they aren’t learning, they are leaving.”
Remote work will be much more prevalent by 2020 than it is now. “Thanks to laptops, company servers spanning the globe, and video-chat services, the workforce will be more mobile and flexible than ever before,” says Howard Tarnoff, senior vice president of customer success at Ceridian, a global human capital management technology company. “This is a perk that Millennials seek out when advancing to their next employer, and it will be the norm five years from now.”