The nature of work has undergone profound change in just the last six months, since the COVID-19 pandemic first sent vast numbers of workers home to work remotely. But what will work look like in the future? Numerous foundational changes are likely. To help create a framework and thought process around the issue, Citrix recently conducted a study, Work 2035, that focuses on looking over the horizon and into the future of work. The study delivers some sharp thinking on this topic by looking at four elements that frame the analysis:
- Government and societal issues
- Organizational makeup and layout
- The role and makeup of leadership
- The role and makeup of employees
The research study started with a group of experts that identified four possible scenarios, and a survey was then sent out to understand how management, professionals, and employees view each of these four possibilities. The study provides excellent detail and depth. Reading the full report (PDF) will complement what is provided here.
Four Alternative Views of the Future of Work
As might be expected, there is no single answer of what Work 2035 will look like. And, as always, it is impossible to know with any certainty what the future will hold. For this reason, Citrix asked respondents for their thoughts about each of the four alternative views of the future of work, getting input on what respondents expect from each one. The four scenarios and some relevant survey data are as follows:
Freelance Frontiers: In this scenario, organizations eschew permanent employees and instead rely on a large pool of on-demand workers whose skills are enhanced with technology. The most valuable work is generated by “swarms” of specialized professionals. Sophisticated digital tools support remote work, and new virtual reality (VR) solutions enable more effective training and collaboration. Two survey findings stand out about the Freelance Frontier scenario: 66% of employees and 54% of business leaders believe that those humans who have chips implanted in their bodies to enhance performance will have an unfair advantage, and 60% of employees believe that governments will seek to regulate labor due to the decline in the number of permanent employees.
Platform Plugins: In this scenario, smaller firms that utilize a technology platform that in effect is the business will be able to fully compete with large businesses, commanding the same reach and scale. As technologies such as AI, machine learning, and data capture/analysis become incredibly powerful, businesses will downsize their permanent workforces. The remaining permanent employees will be specialists that design, build, operate, and modify technology platforms. Other workers will be “plugged into” the platform as needed. The most interesting findings about this scenario from the survey are that 60% of employees think it will make permanent employees rare, that 67% of professionals believe that the highest-growth businesses will use this model, and that 63% of professionals believe technology will provide unique advantage to smaller firms, resulting in the “niche-ification” of vertical industries.
Powered Productives: In this scenario, successful integration between humans and technology will drive positive results by providing business leaders with a real-time understanding of the workforce and workplace. Firms with the most sophisticated integration and adaptable workers will outperform others and gain competitive advantage. Work will be more meaningful, and integrated technology will improve worker performance. Some key findings: 77% of professionals believe that, by 2035, AI will speed up decision making, and 83% of that same group expect technology to automate low-value, repetitive tasks.
Automation Corporations: This future state envisions that the largest firms, the ones that can control the entire work process, will be able to find new efficiencies and adopt new technologies faster. This will provide competitive advantage. For these firms, permanent employment will be the standard, and human capital will be vitally important. However, automation will periodically eliminate some roles, and employees will be constantly retraining to stay relevant. Key survey results for Automation Corporations are that 72% of professionals believe AI and technology will generate more revenue for the organization than human workers and that 57% of professionals believe that, by 2035, AI will have the ability to make most business decisions, removing the need for a senior management team.
What will the workforce, work models and the work environment look like in 2035? And how will technology shape them? Looking back over the previous 15 years to see how technology has impacted business provides an interesting perspective. However, the rate of technological change is increasing, and changes moving forward may occur much more rapidly. It is too early to take definitive actions, but developing a broader perspective over the next few cycles could be very worthwhile. Technology is going to be a defining factor, and understanding what new functionality and capabilities impacting the workforce are on the horizon is critical knowledge.
Whether it’s reinforcing employee experience through new opportunities or keeping team members safe during challenging times, organizations and their leaders are now reimagining the way things get done—propelled by people and then innovations like Citrix Workspace. As Work 2035 illustrated, new technology powered by flexible work models will cause companies to rethink workforce strategies. Are you prepared for this digital, organizational, technological and societal transformation?