The 2020s will be an era of enormous technological change and nowhere will this be clearer than in the workplace. We can expect the nature of companies to change, as well as the make-up of the workforce and even the types of jobs that are required.
As a decade closes, it's natural to look ahead to what the next one might hold. What will the world of work look like in the coming decade?
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The Fourth Industrial Revolution Requires a New Social Contract
The 2010s saw the progression of the Fourth Industrial Revolution – an era of digitization that began at the turn of the century. The First Industrial Revolution was an era of mechanization, powered by water and steam, and reshaped the world of the late 18th and early 19th Centuries. The Second, in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries, was the era of mass production, made possible by electrification. And the Third, which dominated the second half of the 20th Century, was a digital revolution, powered by information technology.
The Fourth Industrial Revolution sees a fusion of technologies that blur physical, digital and biological spheres. In the world of work, it marks a shift in power, with employees gaining autonomy through freelancing, the gig economy and increased demand for scarce talent. But the change is not a simple one and it is likely to require a new social contract.
What will its impact be on the 2020s? Here are 10 trends, divided into four key areas, that will shape the coming decade.
1. The Technology Revolution: The Fourth Industrial Revolution is driven by digitization. The Internet of Things is turning more of our world into data – from machinery, to inventory, and even people themselves. By 2020, up to 50 billion devices worldwide will be electronically connected. That data can be analyzed with artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning, which will uncover new insights, drive efficiency and create new opportunities for personalization. Already, companies are shifting from personalized experiences for customers to personalized experiences for employees.
2. 5G: Linking this technology will be the fifth generation of mobile connectivity or 5G. It allows the sharing of more data, more quickly, so that areas and devices without wired or Wi-Fi internet access will be fully connected. Entire factories will be connected with 5G, allowing AI to optimize the performance of each machine and process. Self-driving cars and even entire cities will be connected, able to share data and operate more efficiently.
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3. Automation: As this new technology sweeps in, many of our skills will become obsolete. Robot process automation (RPA) will see automation take over many tasks, while ‘cobots’ will work alongside humans to help them. Meanwhile, ‘globotics’ – a combination of RPA and a growth in remote workers – is expected to have a major impact on white-collar and service workers. However, out of this creative disruption will come entirely new jobs, from interactive chatbot designers to automation ethicists and more.
4. Reskilling and upskilling: These emerging roles will require new skills, so companies will invest in upskilling and reskilling their workers. A culture of lifelong learning will be vital as the pace of change accelerates. And employers will need to place greater significance on ‘soft skills’, such as resilience and adaptability, which will be better indicators of success than job experience.
5. Reverse mentorship: Skills exchange in the workplace will increasingly be two-way. Older employees will find themselves learning more from their younger counterparts – a kind of ‘reverse mentoring’ that will be vital as technology advances. For instance, the Adecco Group, through its ‘Global CEO for One Month’ program, makes it possible for young people to spend a month working alongside Adecco Group CEO Alain Dehaze.
6. Inclusivity: A recent study found that organizations in the top 25% for gender diversity outperform their competitors by 15%, while those in the top 25% for ethnic diversity outperform the competition by 35%. The 2020s are likely to be a decade in which businesses seek to diversify their workforce and benefit from a broader range of viewpoints, approaches and abilities.
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7. A shift to smaller firms: While larger companies can benefit from economies of scale, digital technology and cloud computing services make it easier than ever for a small company to access cutting edge capabilities and compete. Add to that the fact that smaller companies can be more agile, and the competitive landscape could be reshaped in the coming decade.
8. Clustering: Companies within sectors often cluster in the same location to access talent, be close to suppliers and gain other advantages. Over the next decade, rapid development of new clusters could accelerate the pace of technological adoption but might also unevenly spread the effects of digitalization.
9. Government: While business can do a lot, governments will need policies to support the new world of work. Education, for example, will need to emphasize soft skills, such as problem solving and independent thinking, over memorizing facts and processes. Regulations will need to account for a shift in working habits, with more freelancers and gig economy employees.
10. Sustainable Development Goals: Climate change is arguably the greatest challenge of the modern age. The behavior of companies and governments will increasingly be shaped by a need for adaptation and mitigation of the effects of climate change. Companies are already considering the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals when they consider their impact and strategy.
A lot can happen in a decade. With the pace of change as it is today, there’s every chance that by the end of the 2020s we will be on the brink of the Fifth Industrial Revolution. To make the most of these developments, individuals, companies, and governments will need to face up to the challenges head-on and as soon as possible.