10 predictions for the future of work from leaders

Photo: Knight Center for Journalism via Flickr

In the past ten years, the concept of what work means, what determines success and what industries are the most promising has changed dramatically. As every new generation enters the professional sphere, they bring a landslide of differing opinions, values and of course, goals for where they’d like to see their careers take them. With not only a new year but a new decade beginning, now is a strategic time to think long-term about what developments are bound to impact economies and growth in the seasons to come. Whether you are just starting out, looking to make a change or take a leadership position, here savvy professionals make their predictions for what’s ahead:

Cultures will rely heavily on data. 

As many aspects of planning, day-to-day functions, and goal-setting become measurable, data has moved into the forefront of nearly all in-office discussions. As we step into a new chapter, Tim Ragland, the vice president of planning and analytics at Zulily says data will only become more ingrained. He forecasts work cultures will become hyper-focused on driving progress by adopting an iterative approach that’s deeply grounded in data. With new investments in this form of technology and tracking, he says companies will be able to avoid past roadblocks caused by data collection and interpretation. “With more customer, partner and employee data moving to mobile, work cultures that can successfully improve and evolve based on a data-driven approach will be the ones that succeed,” he shares.

People will choose to work longer past ‘retirement’ age.

While your grandfather may have happily turned in his suit as soon as he could, your pops may have officially ‘retired’ at an older age. And when you think about your Golden Years, they may be even further away. This isn’t a new trend — per se — especially since executive director at Senior Action, Andrea Smith explains forced retirement at age 65 was eliminated in 1986 during the Reagan Administration. “Considering it was signed by our country’s oldest president at the time, people felt like they still had a lot to contribute to the workforce. They were healthy, capable, and willing to continue working,” she continues. “As a result of this legislation, we are seeing people continue to work well into their 70s and beyond.” 

Part of this is by choice, and some by circumstance, where the elimination and limitations of previously endorsed-government programs start to decline. Without the ability to comfortably pay expenses and live a full life, many professionals will keep logging hours until they can.

Professionals will be driven by purpose, more than money. 

While cash is a necessary part of life, it isn’t the most important, if you ask the new decade of leaders. As Brian Fenty, the co-founder, and CEO of TodayTix explains, professionals are increasingly focused on the purpose of their work — and more importantly — how the company they align themselves with betters the world. In the past, corporate social responsibility was a ‘nice-to-have’ but now to remain competitive, all brands should develop some benevolent ethos to attract and retain top talent. “This push for a positive impact is driven most strongly by the newest entrants into the workforce, and they passionately hold their leadership teams accountable,” Fenty continues. “Organizations will need to articulate and execute on a purpose that resonates widely.”

Automation will create more expert work.

Though on the surface, automation tools that dramatically reduce cost while boosting productivity, seem like bad news for humans, it’s actually the opposite. With expectations from these types of systems at an all-time high, the next ten years will offer a new spectrum of job opportunities, for specialists who become experts in managing these technologies, according to LJ Suzuki, the fractional CFO at CFOshare.org. “Digital marketing agencies, CRM consultants, managed service providers, and fractional CFOs are the most recent examples of this phenomena, but the future holds opportunities for dozens of other specialists,” he continues. “The key to riding this wave is to become an expert in your specialty but stay agile so you are not left behind when the technology changes again.”

An analytics engineer will be the most desired job. 

Another career path that will be in demand over the next decade? Someone who can not only understand and build analytics but do so efficiently and effectively, leading teams to follow their lead. Ragland predicts a trend where nearly all companies and industries demand someone who is an expert at the intersection at art and science  business analytics, and data engineering and analytics. “We will need this discipline to connect the massive amounts of data consumers and businesses are exposed to on a daily basis, to then curate the information into a usable and actionable form for end-user stakeholders,” he notes.

More side-hustles will become bonafide businesses

You’ve read about the gig economy again (and again and again). And considering full-time freelance careers are soaring across many mediums and spectrums, it’s safe to say the trend isn’t going anywhere. In fact, the chief revenue officer at Kabbage, Laura Goldberg says side hustles are only going to become more prominent in younger generations, starting as early as the teenage years. Since today’s entry-level go-getters aren’t as mesmerized by an office job, it makes sense — and challenges household brands to shift their mentalities. “In the future, we’ll see a greater number of side hustles navigating the nuances of becoming a bonafide business, from filing their articles of incorporation to applying for working capital,” she explains. “Technology is drastically reducing the friction to start and build a business, and as a result, we’ll see more folks take the plunge into entrepreneurship.”

AI and intelligent agents will augment the day-to-day

Raise your hand if you have a Google Home or an Amazon Alexa in your home. Now, raise your hand if you also use one in your office. Though few people utilized AI and intelligent agents in their professional today, looking ten years ahead, that’s all about to change. As Cory Treffiletti, the global head of marketing at WebEx shares, voice-based assistants are starting to become the norm for booking rooms and taking notes, inching their way into workflows. “Increasingly workers are building their own ‘AI exoskeletons’ to automate mundane tasks and free them up to be more productive with their time,” he continues. “This is a trend that will continue to expand quite significantly over the next ten years. Some of the interesting tools I have seen here include voice-based inventory management systems that track backroom product inventory and make those insights immediately available to retail reps on the showroom floor.”

Main Street businesses will have a renaissance. 

….but on the other hand, artisans and small shops are not on their way out. In fact, many 20 and 30-something professionals have a growing romance and interest in businesses that were once considered Main Street. Goldberg says driven with the desire to take (much-needed) breaks from technologies, many are turning to older traditions to do timeless tasks. “There’s no model or algorithm that can replace your pipes, cut your hair, or guarantee tulips for your daughter’s winter wedding,” she explains. “Strong relationships—and even more, personalization—are key in business and paramount in customer service. Local small businesses will see a renaissance in the future, both because of technology and despite its hype.”

Current generations will require transparency from management. 

If you think you can get away with a ‘because I said so’ mentality as a leader, you’re in for a rude awakening, according to Suzuki. As he explains, millennials and Gen Z hold society to a very high standard of accountability. This makes any type of discussion among the C-level suite suspicious to them and makes them less likely to be on board with a ‘need to know’ relationship with their bosses. “Workers want to understand the organization they work for: its mission, vision, and its performance,” he continues. “Highly transparent organizations align better with these values will, therefore, attract better talent. Be on the lookout for policies like open financials, staff challenging management decisions, and democratic decision making.”

Open concept office floor plans will decrease. 

What was once cool is now considered a major hindrance to productivity. In fact, Treffiletti share professionals have had a change of thought on the open office floor design, that was originally intended to supercharge collaboration, but in practice, it creates unnecessary chatter. Without an environment that fosters heads-down engagement, many workers have found themselves having to stay later than their colleagues, merely to finish tasks in peace. “Over the next 10 years I predict the adoption of more “quiet spaces” and huddle rooms that enable teams to focus on a specific topic, execute their work, and be more productive,” he continues. “With all the demands on your time, more workers are finding it difficult to get everything done in a timely fashion.”