3 Theories on Tomorrow’s Working World

Photo: Privat
“Many want to do their own thing, set up their own company, or join small organizations,” says Rahild Neuburger about the current generation of university graduates. (Photo: Private)

Rahild Neuburger has often worked from home over the past 15 years. As a scientist at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität (LMU) in Munich, she enjoys the flexibility of her work and therefore also – to some extent – the working model of the future. “When students left university 20 years ago, they usually looked forward to the opportunity of getting a job at somewhere like Siemens,” she says. Today, the situation is often quite different. “Many want to do their own thing, set up their own company, or join small organizations.” Short decision-making processes, responsibility, being able to make decisions right from the start – these are some of the motives that spur young talents on. Even while at university, some students earn extra cash through small tasks such as writing short texts, translating, or programming. Such jobs are acquired via the Internet from crowdsourcing platforms like clickworker.com, 99designs.com, or innocentive.com. Things can hardly get more flexible, because students need to keep the process going of getting new small jobs to keep the money rolling in. The very nature of work will change. A white paper by the Münchner Kreis, a non-profit association dedicated to communications research based Munich, Germany, also indicates this. Its three most important findings are:

1. IT is an enabler for technologies AND knowledge

Flexibility is also one of the three important developments that the Münchner Kreis identifies in its white paper. “Through the use of smart tools and technologies, work processes can be organized more efficiently and effectively,” the report says. In other words, as far as making work more flexible is concerned, IT serves as an enabler, especially because “IT creates location-independent access to globally available knowledge and competences – this is a factor that sometimes remains in the background,” Neuburger explains.

Next page: Work is being polarized – automated or not

The fundamental crowdsourcing model has already found its place in the “real” world of work, too. For example, in the long term, it is quite possible that companies will be able to select their employees for new projects from a pool of skills and competencies. “It could be the case that you’ve just been working in Germany and are then sent to work on a two-month project in Manila,” Neuburger explains. The SAP partner Accenture, which operates globally, already selects employees for projects using a database. Even though they have regular employment contracts, consultants are required to seek out their future project-based jobs themselves, because Accenture Germany dips into its network to put together project teams. “It seems to be really important for the competitiveness of companies to give young, highly qualified employees a suitable organizational framework,” says Neuburger. SAP can be a role model here, for example, with innovative ideas for cooperation, such as design thinking.

2. Work is being polarized – automated or not

According to the experts, people who are particularly well trained and have highly specialist skills won’t struggle on the labor market of tomorrow. That’s because – and this is the second important point – work may become polarized. On the one hand, there will be work that can be automated, and on the other hand, there will be work that cannot be automated. “IT experts who have a highly specific qualification are lucky in that their work cannot be automated,” explains Neuburger, who has a doctorate in business administration. It’s unlikely that a robot will be able to do specialized development and programming work, and handling complex projects is hardly something that can be automated, either. Similarly, the jobs of tradespeople who lay pipelines, make table legs on a lathe and then create furniture, or cut hair cannot be automated. “I hope that this will lead to a greater increase in value for professions that maybe aren’t given much recognition today,” Neuburger says. However, the classic administration tasks familiar to banks, accounting, and so on, will become increasingly replaceable as time goes by. “Education is not catering to this sufficiently,” the white paper states. To put it radically: the education system could be training young people to become losers.

Next page: Work-life balance will become life balance

3. Work-life balance will become life balance

People’s approach to leisure and work is ambivalent. While last year’s Münchner Kreis Future Study Volume V determined that only one in four of the 7,000 international participants wanted their professional and personal lives to be separate – in other words, three out of four preferred a more flexible approach – the case study from the Monitoring Report 2013 showed a comparatively low use of flexible working forms among the companies surveyed. Neuburger also disapproves of any moves toward a large-scale flexibilization of work. After all, she argues, there will always be activities that require employees to be present. Nevertheless, it is also clear that the traditional relationship to work that stems from industrialization is changing beyond recognition. Factories and clocking-in will be part of a vocabulary that no one in Generation Y will understand.

“Even today, the younger generation is no longer entrapped in industrial structures,” Neuburger says. As a result, the term work-life balance might soon be obsolete. That’s because the dividing line between what’s related to work and what’s personal will become increasingly blurred. The idea of going for a run at lunchtime and going through e-mails for an extra hour in the evening will become ever more common. In other words, life balance will be the right word to describe our attitude to work in the future. “Work is part of life,” says Neuburger. And only with this attitude can the positive side of flexibility be used, that is, being able to plan time freely and not to have to stick to a fixed plan. Or – what’s worse – to be stuck to a fixed plan by someone else.