A decades-long debate is finally seeing things come to fruition: in the future, will we work more or less? It seems like a simple question, but there are actually quite a few moving parts in the answer.

First, a historical perspective: in the 1800s when the predominant work was agriculture, people worked 100-hour weeks to make ends meet. Over time, the average hours worked in developed countries has dropped significantly, more recently at an average of 0.5% per year. This drop is due to a variety of factors, mostly related to processes and jobs that allow us to work more efficiently. However, we now stand at the threshold of a new wave of work, with technology and innovation growing faster than ever before. At the same time, people seem more tied to their jobs and in many cases, especially in the United States, are working more hours than before. What does our work schedule look like in the future of work?

On one side is the argument that technology and innovation will help us be more productive and efficient, therefore requiring less time to get our jobs done. Things like robots, automation, smart software, artificial intelligence, and the Internet of Things will undoubtedly streamline many of our processes. It's very likely that in the not-so-distant future we won't have to spend time doing menial tasks like filing, searching email, or trying to find colleagues because everything will be automated. That will leave us more time to focus on the core responsibilities of our jobs unencumbered by things we can easily delegate to a robot or automated machine.

Perhaps the number of hours we work will be more of a choice than it is now. If we can really streamline things as much as we think we can, most experts are in agreement that we will end up working fewer hours. However, that's not to say that people will actually choose to work fewer hours. With the growth of the freelancer economy, employees can work for a portfolio of companies and essentially set how many hours they want to work. Even employees working full time for a single company who find themselves only working 30 hours a week could choose to add freelance projects on the side to stay busy, make more money, or expand their experience in the industry.

Just because we have the ability to work fewer hours, will we actually work fewer hours? In the future, people won't automatically work fewer hours. There is a definite possibility that many people will work more hours, but in many cases, it will be their choice to do so. It comes back to one of the main principles of the future of work--customizing the employee experience. If an employee wants to work more hours, either at one job or through a variety of contracted positions, it is his or her choice to do so. However, if an employee would rather work fewer hours and enjoy more time for other projects, that is his choice as well.

There are definitely a lot of things to consider how much we will work in the future. Much of it depends on the speed of innovation and the spread of technology, but most people agree we will have the option to work fewer hours, if that is what we want.

Published on: Nov 9, 2016
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