When The Beatles released this song, 49 – yes 49 – years ago in 1967 it was in many ways as much a social statement about the times as it was a good song.
As it was then and as it is now
At 64 men were one year from retiring likely with a final salary pension scheme having worked for only one maybe two employers during their careers. Those women who worked would have retired four years earlier at 60, probably without any separate pension provisions. Life expectancy was maybe another ten years until you were mid to late 70’s.
Fast forward 50 years and think about how work has changed during that time, and indeed continues to change with the pace only likely to accelerate.
I’m 57 and so for me 64 is seven years away. I thought it would be fun to try and predict how work will look in 2023. Of course every working environment is different and I’ve tried to look at this in the broadest possible context.
A word of caution. My predictions do not fuse together to represent one ideal model for a future workplace. Some ideas complement each other, others standalone whilst some may appear contradictory. So please read this with an open mind.
If you don’t want to read the full blog I’ve summarised my thoughts in the three paragraphs below.
Work as we know it will fundamentally change. The employer/employee relationships as we currently understand it will cease to exist as “employees” become a more flexible resource undertaking work on an as required basis. Rather than being a negative this change will allow them to increase their skills and experience, thus becoming more marketable and take more control over what we currently know as their work/live balance. For employers it will mean that they will be able to call on a wider range of skills than is currently the case.
The office will become redundant as a place of work replaced instead with “for hire” work hubs that is when people need to meet at all because they are unable to utilise the technology that will allow them to work smarter.
The work that these self-employed workers (perhaps we should call them individual entrepreneurs) do will be measured in terms of output rather input. What they achieve will be considered more important than how long it has taken them to complete it. Thus they will work smarter.
Onto my predictions.
Work will be measured in output not input
Currently as a matter of course employees have contractural start and finish time. Arrive early and work late and you are viewed as a “good hardworking employee”.
Arrive late or finish early and you are considered to be “not committed”.
Whilst punctuality is an important personal discipline to have, what it does not do is measure the contribution you make whilst at work. It measures input not output, and there is no guarantee that working longer hours automatically equates to an increase in output.
In 2023 employers will I believe measure contribution in terms of output rather than input. This will lead to a more flexible approach to work and in many respects a return to the old principle of “job and finish”.
This approach to work will encourage employees to work smarter and be more productive.
The rise of collaborative project-based working
Of course their currently exists collaborative working in workplaces all across the country. Without it, nothing would get done.
That said many businesses do tend to have a “silo” mentality to work. Finance stick to finance, IT to IT and commercial to commercial. Of course they communicate with each other, and work together undertaking projects, but do they truly work as collaboratively as they could in for example tackling business problems? Probably not.
I foresee a greater emphasis on project based collaborative working in the future with employees from different disciplines coming together to work on projects and manage challenges.
The demise of the office as a place of work
Offices are expensive and under-utilised resources, paid for but empty for 60% plus of the time they are available. They do not make financial sense.
They will be replaced by work hubs that can be rented as required to provide workspace for collaborative activity and meetings.
Current office space will be turned into housing.
A move from employment to self-employment
Like office space, employees are an expensive resource, employed and paid for 5 days a week for 52 weeks a year. In addition to salary they are paid for holidays, sickness absence, pension contribution etc.
Whilst organisations will always require some employees, in the future I see these being organisational and analytical champions, responsible for managing a pool of self employed talent and engaging people to undertake particular skilled tasks when required.
Employment as we currently know it will become the exception rather than the norm with much of the workforce becoming self employed freelance workers undertaking work and projects as and when they are needed.
Whilst at first sight this may seem a frightening prospect, returning society to the days of the 1920’s and 1930’s when men stood outside the shipyards waiting to be “picked” to work that day – or not - this model of working has attractions for both parties.
For the employer it provides flexibility over employment costs, often the largest cost for many employers. It also allows them to be more agile in the services they provide and how they provide them. Having the opportunity to engage fresh talent to work on projects will allow them to be more innovative and creative in the services they provide.
For the employee this work method provides total flexibility, it is the ultimate model of work/life balance. Work when you like, where you like for a price that you can set. Further, undertaking work for a number of employers will aid life long learning and ensure that skills are continually being developed and applied.
I must confess to chuckling every time I hear the term work/life balance because in many ways there is less balance now than there was probably 10 and certainly 20 years ago.
The rise of remote smarter working, iPhones and iPads, and flexible working to deal with issues such as childcare, and increasingly looking after elderly relatives as the population ages means that the concept of work/life balance is changing.
In its purest form the term implies less work and more time for other non work related activities. The reality however is different.
I predict the end of work/life balance as a concept.
Commuting (into London and I suspect any other major cities), is time consuming and expensive. I spend between three and four hours a day, depending on train delays or cancellations, travelling to and from work in overcrowded and dirty train carriages. And I pay close to £4,000 a year net for the privilege.
It's expensive and more importantly not time efficient.
By properly engaging with and embracing the ever evolving technological advances we can and we will be able to work smarter.
As much as anything it’s a mind-set of having to be in the office. Already companies use technology to communicate not just between offices but between countries. Why not between home and the workplace.
And here’s another (slightly mischievous) thought. Remote working without the time and cost involved in commuting, will allow employers the option to reasonably increase working hours and reduce salary. In my case, and I hope my boss isn’t reading this, work an extra 2 hours a day for £3,000 per annum less salary. I would not be unhappy with that.
So all things considered seven years from now work will be better for both employers and employees.
There is nothing new in what I have outlined above. The theories and in some cases the practices have been known about and in place for many years. What I think will have to happen is that employers will have to be more open minded in their approach and their thinking than is currently the case.
Will this happened? Yes I think it will because the business leaders of tomorrow are the employees of today and in seven years time, what they want now, they will be in positions to deliver then.
So, much to look forward to seven years hence.
Just as well final salary pension schemes are a thing of the past!