July 2015: The Future of Work

What Will the Workforce Look Like in 2020?

“Andy Hines had us at hello. Hello future that is,” wrote the directors of TEDxHouston after Hines spoke to the audience. “Andy’s career has lead to him helping organizations integrate future thinking into their business processes and decision making.” We had the opportunity to talk to him about one of his areas of expertise: The Future of the Workforce. Click here to watch our interview on FutureInFocusTV.

ahinesDon’t miss our podcast interview with Andy Hines, a lecturer and Executive-in-Residence at the University of Houston’s Graduate Program in Futures Studies. He believes that foresight can help deliver the insight that is so needed in today’s organizations and the world. So we were thrilled to feature Andy’s forecasts about the Future of Work in the May 2015 issue of Future in Focus. For even more details, scroll down for our Q&A.


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flickr_Michael Coghlan

In the last few decades there have been dramatic changes in the way people work. According to futurist Dr. Andy Hines, several early signs point to 12 surprises that have been emerging piecemeal.

“Things will get really interesting in the decade ahead, however, as most of them will have a reinforcing influence on one another, which could result in a fairly sweeping transformation.”

“By studying the changes that are occurring now and trying to understand their significance for the future, organizations will be able to spot opportunities to proactively shape their future,” he insists. “These trends emerge primarily from issues affecting knowledge work, and will most likely appear first in affluent nations.”

How can you prepare for what’s on the horizon?

To ensure your company is ready for what lies ahead, scroll down for Hines’ interview with Future In Focus president and CEO Michael Vidikan.

Michael Vidikan, CEO, Future In Focus

5 Forecasts on the Future of Work

1. Workforce Demographics

Michael Vidikan: Looking ahead 5, 10, 25 years, what are the kinds of demographic changes companies should be paying attention to in the workforce? What do you think are the most important changes companies continue to ignore?

Andy Hines: One big challenge is aging and succession planning as the Boomers move into their “retirement” phase. Most will not actually retire, but shift from the jobs that they have had to do (to pay the bills, put the kids through school, etc.) to the jobs they want to do, now that the financial pressure is off. Large organizations may find the talent “falling off a cliff” so-to-speak, without adequate replacements — as those behind the Boomers long got tired of waiting and went elsewhere. Succession planning will be crucial to avoid this cliff.

2. Work Spaces

Michael Vidikan: We’ve seen a lot of growth in co-working spaces around the country, what do you think is fueling that growth? Is the traditional office being replaced by a new format?  What’s the biggest change in how work spaces are being configured?

Screen-Shot-2015-07-16-at-9.48.07-AMAndy Hines: At some point as futurists we have to make a decision when the non-traditional becomes the tradition. I don’t think we’re quite there yet in terms of alternatives to the traditional office, but we’re gaining fast. Just-in-time lifestyles, fueled by advanced communication technologies, are driving the spread of work to more and more venues. We need to be able to work at more points in time, wherever we happen to be, and communications technologies enable this. And now we’ve gotten to use to it and expect to be able to work wherever and whenever. Over time, we’ll have less need for traditional offices, and they will morph into meeting spaces designed for people to work together when they need to — rather than cubicle to confine them.

The workplace-is-everywhere model presents some interesting security challenge in terms of the company information, but the benefits to workers are such that they are going to demand it.

3. Work Tech

Michael Vidikan: When it comes to workplace technology, which emerging technology’s do you think will have the most impact on work? How and why?

Andy Hines: The growing capabilities of a vast array of information and communication technologies are still the single biggest driver of change. Within that broad umbrella, I would say AI (Artificial intelligence) and analytics are poised to reconfigure how we work, as we figure out a new division of labor. In simple terms, think of Siri as the “beachhead,” and watch how we get more comfortable talking to it, as Siri-like technology becomes increasingly routine and integrated into our lives. We will have more and more of these partnership relationships with our technology — we may not recognize the AI engine behind it, but it will be there. Analytics will be continually gathering and crunching data, and the AI will report to us on what it finds. While the technology will gradually be capable of more and more sophisticated tasks, in the shorter term it is likely to focus on working with and crunching large data sets for us.

Tying this in with our demographic challenge, we might see some interesting generational clashes — pro and anti-AI for instance.

4. Organizational Structure + New Business Models

Michael Vidikan: What are the biggest structural changes you’re seeing in org structure? Are you seeing the emergence of any new business models?

Andy Hines: The biggest change in structure is the move to a network model. More and more organizations are moving to a smaller core supplemented by a growing periphery. It is increasingly important for organizations to know who they are where they want to go — their vision, as that provides the sense of what is core — the essential value they bring — and what can be handled by their partners.

But even the distinction between core and periphery is blurring, as the network members work more closely with the core. Workers who desire more control over their time are willing to enter these network arrangements (contractors, part-timers, temps) often on a project-by-project basis, trading some financial security for greater freedom. Of course, not everyone is a networker by choice, but it is becoming increasingly common.

Recruiting and retention becoming increasingly vital functions for organizations. It’s all about getting that talent, at the right time, in the right place, and with the right combinations.

5. 21st Century Job Skills + Training

Michael Vidikan: From a professional development perspective, what types of skills do you think will be in high demand over the next decade? What does the future of employee training and education programs look like (gamification, adaptive learning, virtual training)? Do you think strategic foresight is a critical skill and should it be a required course?

Andy Hines: Perhaps the ideal combination is deep subject matter expertise combined with a set of 21st century skills: critical thinking, systems thinking, creativity, communicating, and, of course as a futurist, I must include foresight. Some of your skills you can take with you on any job, and some are not as portable.

One might be an entrepreneur (using the generic skills), in say, alternative energy (the subject matter expertise) for a period of time, and then the next venture might be in educational technology. I would suggest that it will become easier to learn the subject matter than the generic skills – while we won’t quite be at the Matrix-like level of “give me the kung fu program” and be an expert in two minutes, we will be able to learn subjects much, much faster than before with our AI friends helping us.

I would suggest that the bigger point is being able to re-skill — in effect, re-skilling is the key skill. So workers develop a core portfolio of portable skills supplemented by the needs of a particular job.

Click here to see more of Hines’ insights on The Future of Work.