The future of work. At home, looking after grandma

Mar 14 2008 by Nic Paton Print This Article

As the population ages over the next decade, workers will increasingly find themselves having to juggle holding down a job and career with caring for elderly dependents, a demographic challenge that could profoundly change the way we work.

The prediction of how the workplace will look in 2018 has come from the UK Chartered Management Institute, which has also forecast that by then technology will have freed millions of workers to work either all or at least some of the time from home.

But this more flexible environment, rather than creating a leisured workforce capable of balancing work, family and home-life more effectively as once hoped, will instead be the domain of a stressed, 24/7 workforce desperately struggling to meet the conflicting demands of children, elderly dependents, instant communications and global markets.

What we will see as a result, argued the CMI, is less "work-life balance" and more "work-life integration" where the boundaries of work and home become increasingly blurred.

Nevertheless, the dream of work-life balance will still be important, with two thirds of workers expecting to work from home on a regular basis and three quarters arguing that work-life balance will become a key part of the decision-making process when choosing whether to take a job.

The CMI's report, entitled Management Futures, identified 17 possible scenarios that UK organisations could be facing within the next decade, and also surveyed more than 1,000 senior executives.

Among the more futuristic suggestions were that holograms, robots and "intelligent" computers will all have a role to play in the UK's future business landscape.

The report argued that, by 2018, businesses could routinely be using microchips to enhance employees' abilities.

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Jo Causon from the Chartered Management Institute discusses the future of work study

This could mean chips being implanted in brains to enhance memory or knowledge, but could also mean the use of chips to monitor and control behaviour.

While many of the business leaders surveyed were sceptical that "bio-chips" would become commonplace, three quarters agreed that "virtual businesses" will become familiar, with nearly nine out of 10 believing that there would be much more "virtual contact" between workers by 2018.

Workers could become "multi-employed", in other words working for a day or two a week in "third-place locations" outside their organisation or home office. They could also communicate by high-speed broadband supplemented by hologram technology to give them a "virtual" presence at meetings, the report argued.

But firms would also need to think seriously about how such technology could be misused and the human (and human rights) implications of it coming gradually into the mainstream.

Worryingly for managers, the report forecast that robots with artificial intelligence could be put into management positions, although not necessarily ones with arms and legs, it stressed.

The internet would increasingly become a cyber battlefield, with terrorists attacking web and computer systems and sending out global viruses to disrupt businesses.

Companies would therefore need to look at developing red-alert detection systems to raise a "virtual dam" against attack, with multiple back-ups and "intellectual property banks" to protect this increasingly important area.

The structure of many companies could change, too, with shareholders losing their right to all the profits and companies increasingly handing power back to employees.

Positions and job titles might be removed if they hindered collaboration, and organisations might be compelled to offer more tailored lifestyle benefits to employees.

Teams, two thirds of the senior executives polled argued, would become much more multi-generational, with more than four out of 10 believing women would have a greater say and be in more senior positions, in turn fundamentally changing management styles.

Organisations could evolve into "guilds" better to support employees, the report argued, with, in an ageing world, younger employees increasingly calling the shots and refusing "meaningless" jobs on a mass scale.

Large corporations were likely to become more global and powerful, with some even becoming more powerful than governments, it argued.

At the other end of the scale, we could see a proliferation of "virtual" companies, commonly small community-based enterprises without conventional business premises.

Environmental issues were also likely to become much more important, with the pressure to reduce the carbon footprint of commuting, as well as family life, would be a key factor in encouraging more workers to work from home.

Mary Chapman, CMI chief executive, said: "Looking ahead ten years, it is clear that the successful organisations will be those who can do more than embrace change Ė they will anticipate, identify and drive it.

"Of course we cannot determine the future, but that does not mean we shouldn't forecast and prepare for it to ensure that organisations and teams are effective, capable and competitive," she added.

"A greater degree of emotional intelligence will be required by managers and leaders so they can understand how people work and their likely reaction to change," she continued.

"They will also need to shift from today's input-driven approach to a focus on output, achievement and a better integration between work and personal lives," she concluded.