By Andy Berkowitz
Founder and CEO, Suggestion Ox
With the pandemic passing, there have been a lot of words written about whether the future of work is back to the office, distributed, or an office/remote hybrid.
This is a massive underestimation of where we’re headed.
Remote isn’t the endgame—it’s just the beginning of a massive transition in how work happens, unlocked by technology and powered by a rebalancing of the relationship between companies and employees.
Imagining that work in 2035 is going to look like 2020-with-better-Zoom is as short-sighted as the predictions in the 1980s that we’d all have faster fax machines at the turn of the millennium.
Here’s where work is headed:
1. The line between office and remote will be further blurred by both technology and new norms
Slack and Zoom made it possible to stay connected whether your team was in the same office or across the world. In the coming years, virtual and augmented reality will make it easier to feel as though you are physically present with your co-workers. Some argue that VR and AR are terrible and no substitute for being together in person, but those are the same arguments we heard about “video chat” back when it was tiny, grainy, jerky videos with a two-second lag. The technology will get better and we will be in VR with our co-workers in the future.
But this is only half the equation, because one of the prime arguments for bringing people together in an office is the serendipity of conversations and connections outside scheduled meetings. For this reason, new norms will arise where people are connected to co-workers in video, VR or AR throughout the workday, not just during meetings. Already, software products are flourishing that let people co-work remotely; there’s a hunger to stay connected while remote.
Nobody wants to feel like they have a camera pointed at them all day long, but most people want a way to connect with co-workers socially and serendipitously while working. New norms and tools will help people feel more present with co-workers even while they’re in different locations.
2. The rise of fractional work
Having a fixed employee base can be incredibly inefficient. One quarter a company might need a ton of designers and developers to crank out a new feature, while the next quarter they need to spin up a larger marketing or analytics team. In most companies, matching work to available resources becomes a huge bottleneck.
Now imagine a world with much more flexibility—cloud employees if you will—where a company can spin up as many developers, designers, marketers, security engineers or anything exactly when they’re needed. No more trying to schedule work around available resources or beg, borrow and steal time to complete projects.
We already see this with fractional CISOs and fractional CTOs, but push the concept further to any role being available on demand. Companies will never get bottlenecked by having too few (or too many) people available in the right roles.
From the employee side, the option to be a fractional worker means gaining the ultimate flexibility. Work for multiple companies simultaneously and maximize your earnings. Or take months off at a time. As a fractional worker, not locked in to a single employer, you’ll accept the projects you find most interesting, when you want, at whatever price you find acceptable.
3. Matching workers with jobs will mostly be automated
To handle the demand for fractional work and the need to quickly spin up resources, the days of grinding through Upwork looking for contractors, scheduling interviews, bidding on jobs and making offers will mostly be replaced by a reputation-based system and automatic matching.
Need some Wordpress development resources today? Get automatically matched with a developer who has the exact skills you require, at the combination of reputation and price you require. Thanks to AI, you’ll instantly be able to determine whether that worker has the skills needed to complete your job and thanks to the reputation system you’ll know you’re getting a top-notch person.
Today this kind of matching already happens with agencies acting as a middleman; imagine a broader system that uses reputation, bidding and AI-based skill matching to make spinning up a new worker as easy as clicking a button.
As a worker, you’ll be able to set your price and grab interesting projects instantly from top-rated employers. The best producers will have their pick of amazing projects. Newer or less-skilled workers will have a chance to increase their pool of projects by increasing their reputation or skill set. Hustling for jobs will be replaced by a mostly-automated system. Whether you’re looking for a one-day, one-month or one-year engagement, most of the process will be automated.
4. You may join a virtual team instead of a company
The increase in fractional work will create opportunities for the virtual team. Think of these virtual teams as mini-agencies, instantly available to be hired by companies for on-demand work. Workers can belong to a single team or multiple teams; teams will have their own governance, culture and norms.
As a company that needs to launch a new project or a new initiative, you can select from the highest-rated teams, set the parameters of the work, and let the team deliver the results, without needing to worry about managing the work or hiring individual fractional workers.
Teams will form around broad or narrow capabilities, philosophies, working styles or cultures. Rather than joining an individual company, a worker may join several teams and do work for each of them. You might join one team because you like the people, one team because you like the work, and one team because they share your philosophy about doing good for the world. Some teams may offer flexibility to choose just the work you want, while others may ask for a commitment of a certain number of hours per week.
5. Coworking and culture will transition from companies to teams or collectives
As humans we crave belonging, fellowship and culture. But with the rise of fractional roles it will be harder to rely on one’s company for relationships and connection; you may be working for a specific company for only days, weeks or months.
For this reason, new online communities will evolve where workers make friends and build relationships around the virtual water cooler. No longer will the friendships you build during your day-to-day work be forced to end when you leave a company. You’ll build richer, longer relationships that last your entire career, in new virtual spaces. Imagine Slack-like communities that feed your need for connection but encompass a broader group of people than just the co-workers from the company you’re at today.
For those who crave being with others in a physical location, office buildings will be repurposed into living/working facilities—think apartments with attached coworking spaces. It makes no more sense to commute to a coworking space than it does to an office. Imagine new downtown residential coworking options that simultaneously help relieve the rental/housing crunch while creating a new class of spaces to work and play around others.
6. The end of company-sponsored health care and geographical limits
As we move toward more fractional and virtual work, company-provided health insurance becomes a huge barrier to job portability; it simply makes no sense in an on-demand world. Moving forward, group health care plans will be decoupled from employment and companies will adjust compensation to let people purchase and manage their own insurance. You will not be locked into a job due to benefits and it will be simpler to compare compensation across employers.
Simultaneously, it will become easier to hire across state or international borders, creating a more nationwide and global workforce. Right now, laws and regulations make hiring a geographically-diverse workforce challenging. With time, those laws will get sorted out (or normalized by a PEO-like equivalent) making it much simpler to bring on a new worker (or accept a new job) regardless of geography.
7. No more negotiating salaries
Salary negotiations are a vestige of unequal information and unequal power. In the future, not only will compensation for every job be transparent, but it will also be much easier to match compensation to the work that is done. Much of it will be automated, but whatever isn’t automated will be done on a bidding basis where willingness-to-pay and willingness-to-work are aligned to find the right rate.
Salary transparency will remove purposeful or inadvertent bias in compensation, while automated assignment of pay scales to work will end the thousands of hours that companies and workers waste reviewing, adjusting, hiding and ultimately getting frustrated by salary negotiations. Pay will largely adjust automatically to reflect the work, demand, productivity and the market.
8. The end of the five-day (and four-day) workweek.
While recent experiments have touted the four-day workweek as being just as productive as the five-day workweek, the entire notion of “work days” misses the point of remote, asynchronous, distributed work. In the future, most people and teams will set their own schedules, whether that means working four days a week, six days a week, or one day a week. The world doesn’t operate 9-5, Monday through Friday, and work won’t either.
While some argue that this “always-on” philosophy harms work-life balance, for most families the ability to fit work around family obligations is far better than the traditional “workday” model. Forget the four-day workweek and reframe around a workday and workweek that balances energy, obligations and opportunities.
Repeated studies have shown that there’s no one-size-fits-all in terms of when individuals are most productive. Letting people and teams set their own schedules that allow them to be most productive simply makes more sense.
9. Improved onboarding and process-as-a-service
Right now there’s a huge productivity penalty when someone switches companies. In the future, starting a new job will largely be automated and getting the tools and information one needs to be productive will be much, much faster. Companies will invest in documentation, tooling, process and onboarding to reduce this penalty significantly. Planning for seamless continuity as people move in and out of jobs will be the name of the game.
To make this happen, we’ll see the rise of process-as-a-service. Today, most companies struggle with process: how to run projects and teams, how to communicate, how to deliver work and get things done. Every company treats itself as a special snowflake and reinvents the wheel when getting work done should be a solved problem.
Soon, the tools, techniques and even personnel needed to make processes run smoothly will be available to plug into your organization. Just like today you can take your knowledge of Slack from one company to the next, entire processes will be productized and standardized so companies can just do the work instead of struggling with how to do the work.
10. The end of B.S.
You know it when you see it: bad managers, eye-rolling motivational posters, pointless policies, tone-deaf leadership. Employees don’t need to be coddled but they do want to do great work without the B.S. Just as companies seek out “star” employees, employees will seek out “star” companies. Those will be the companies that recognize that great people want to do their best work in a great environment.
Technology and remote work have unlocked unprecedented flexibility and job portability for employees. The rise of fractional work and virtual teams will create even more options for workers. Companies will be in fierce competition for the best people, and to win this competition they will need to offer not just fair compensation but also a work environment that is free from stupidity.
Want to win as a company in the 21st century: cut the B.S.
Suggestion Ox has turbocharged the suggestion box. Over 60,000 companies, associations and government agencies use their anonymous online suggestion box to gather actionable employee feedback, gain customer insights or empower whistleblowing and reporting.