Once upon a time a farmer grew up in the fields, owned a family farm, and bequeathed it to his offspring upon his death — offspring that were raised with the singular purpose to carry on the family tradition of farming.
While being “born into an occupation” is a concept as old as time itself, though, it has never been more outdated than the present. The modern work world is awash with change. Everything from workspaces and tools to employers and the employed themselves are all in a state of flux. The 21st-century has already witnessed shocking developments that have rewritten the employment script, and the situation only looks primed to heat up heading into the 2020s.
A Look at the 2010s
While it’s interesting to consider where the future of work will take us at this point, the speculation is made especially poignant when it is juxtaposed against the backdrop of the previous decade or two.
There’s no doubt that the 2010s (and to some degree the decade that preceded it) were times of incredible change for the average business. The steady creation and proliferation of new technological marvels — things like social media, smartphones, and cloud computing — served up a steady hum of digital disruption that turned the average workplace on its head.
Many of these shifts focused heavily on communication. Video and text-based electronic communications, the internet, and the instant transmission of news around the world forced companies to adapt to a more global business mindset. Even the marketplace as a whole shifted as consumers began to rely heavily on mobile phone usage. They shopped online and adjusted to free two-day shipping expectations. By the end of the decade, even traditional, non-digital advertising spending had been surpassed by its online counterpart.
To further complicate matters, the incoming millennial generation prompted a dramatic shift in workplace culture and expectations. Topics like work-life balance and addressing a toxic workplace environment began to take the front seat.
Corporate social responsibility percolated up the ranks to upper management, and businesses began looking for ways to reduce their carbon footprint through things like eliminating waste or shifting to solar power. Even small items addressing work-life balance that had previously been brushed under the rug, such as bringing your dog to work, were brought up and addressed.
From one end to the other, the first decade or two of the 21st-century was riddled with transformation, experimentation, and in many ways, a complete overhaul of the traditional workplace.
A Look at the 2020s
With so much change in the rearview mirror, a question that must be asked is if the trend shows signs of slowing in the future — and the short answer is: not likely. The 2020s promise to be at least as transitional if not more than the previous two decades combined.
For instance, the millennial generation served, in many ways, as the guinea pigs of a technological world. They were born into a world with corded phones and boomboxes, only to have things like social media, self-driving cars, big data, and widespread internet use thrown in their face.
In contrast, the 2020s will be Generation Z’s chance to shine. As the first generation to completely grow up in a technologically steeped world, Gen Zers won’t have to face the need to learn to adapt. They’re already used to it.
Rather than shift the job landscape out of a necessity to adapt to change, Generation Zers are likely to take the workplace by the bit and bridle and turn it to their own will. They expect job stability, diversity, social responsibility, and flexible schedules, and they’re not afraid to question the benefits of technology.
Many Gen Zers have also eschewed a traditional degree, focusing, instead, on more entrepreneurial opportunities. When commenting on the termination of Doritos’ popular “Crash the Super Bowl” crowdsourced commercial contest, chief marketing officer Ram Krishnan pointed out that, “If you look at when we started the program, millennial consumers were the target…[Now] Our Doritos target is Gen Z consumers and they’re already content creators.” This recognition of their creative abilities speaks volumes to their potential as entrepreneurs in the 2020s job market.
Apart from the generation change, there are several other major factors that will likely shape the next decade of jobs, starting with the gig economy. In the waning years of the 2010s, the gig economy exploded. Remote work had become both easy and expected — by 2018 70% of the global workforce worked remotely at least once a week — and the rise of the freelancer began to erode the remnant of the traditional work office environment at an accelerated pace.
While controversial laws have recently been enacted looking to bring gig economy workers under the umbrella of common workers’ rights, it’s unlikely that they’ll fully bring a stop to the freelance movement.
How will this movement look over the next decade? While only time will tell, there are several likely adjustments coming down the pike including a proliferation of entirely remote offices and a further elimination of the need to commute to work. And then there’s the topic of automation. While automation already wrested numerous low-skilled jobs from workers throughout the early 21st-century, the trend only looks likely to accelerate going forward.
Balancing out the effects of automation and the gig economy is a natural rise in the demand for more skilled professionals. As employees prioritize work-life balance and flexibility, more skilled professional positions are becoming available in fields like technology, data science, and skilled trades.
Also adding fuel to the first is an increased pressure for businesses to shift their operations to more sustainable methods. Solar power and other alternative forms of energy are being pursued more aggressively than ever as part of larger business objectives. Waste is also being systematically eliminated, as has been clearly demonstrated by the coffee chain Starbuck’s continual efforts to increase the sustainability of its operations.
All Hail the Ever-Changing Changing Business Landscape?
With so much change continually swirling, a natural question that arises is whether or not things will ever slow down again. The 2020 election is already setting the tone for the future, with employment remaining a hot topic and some candidates pushing fairly radical agendas, such as Andrew Yang’s plan for universal basic income.
While many of these changes are easy to predict in general, though, time will only tell how the specific changes in the workplaces will play out as the 2020s unfold.
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