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The Future of Business and Work: Future-proofing Your Strategy

By Rohit Talwar, Steve Wells, Alexandra Whittington

We’ve written extensively on the future of work. Our first book, The Future of Business, allowed us to spotlight the thinking of over 60 esteemed futurists on this very topic. In our many articles, we’ve explored automation, artificial intelligence, smart cities, universal basic income, design, architecture, and more, as different drivers shaping the future of work. For this piece we emphasise the idea that the future of business is itself a key driver in emerging thinking about the possible scenarios for the future of work and employment.

From our perspective, there must be strong focus on the impact of automation, the new opportunities that could emerge, and the skills required for the future of work. At the same time, we are seeing growing discussion of the possibility that, within two to three decades, automation may render full time jobs a thing of the past, creating a world where employment could be just one of many pastimes we pursue as hobbies. Below are the most notable ideas and concepts in terms of building future-proof business strategy.

Alternative Employee Reward Models and Systems – In potentially turbulent economic times, it will become increasingly important to find ways to reward and recognise staff. These will need to reflect their individual career stage, desires, expectations, development goals, and personal circumstances. Hence, it is likely that reward strategies will include an ever more diverse range of options. For example, those in the early stages of their career might prefer less traditional benefits, like life insurance and pension contributions, in favour of a greater investment in their training and access to discounts on everything from holidays to house conveyancing. In contrast, those closer to retirement may prefer pension top ups and lump sum payments.

New Economic Growth through Future Employment Sources – The economic and job creation outlook two decades ahead is crowded with huge uncertainty over the extent to which jobs could be lost as a result of automation and the redesign of business activities to take advantage of new technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI).(1) One current school of thought is that new businesses will create economic growth and employment opportunities in areas like autonomous vehicles, healthcare, elderly care, teaching, solar installation, small farms, the arts, and entertainment.(2) The success of these ventures could generate a major expansion of jobs and drive new waves of economic growth.

Fluid Organisational Boundaries – As organisations seek a more flexible and agile approach to navigating an uncertain world, so the design of business is changing, and the boundaries of the firm are becoming more fluid. Increasingly, we can expect the emergence of business ecosystems that see the organisation’s core resource supplemented in several ways with external resources. These include permanent and project level partners, contract labour providers, individual consultants and contractors, and staff on part time and fixed term contracts.(3) Hence, teamwork in such environments demands that we remove barriers between all involved. In such circumstances, alongside new ways of teaming across boundaries, expectations of open innovation and content transparency will continue to rise.

Transparent Organisational Ethics – Organisations can expect to be under increasing pressure to demonstrate the highest levels of ethical behaviour backed up by absolute transparency across all of their activities. Underlying drivers here include cultural trends and attitudes in relation to ethical breaches, increasing evidence of ethical considerations factoring into consumer behaviour, rapid ease of information sharing, and the impact of investigative journalism.(4)

Competition Reimagined – The nature of business competition could change dramatically over the next two decades.(5) The proponents of exponential technologies argue that advances in fields such as information technology, AI, blockchain, synthetic biology, vertical farming, and nanotechnology could deliver unimaginable levels of low-cost abundance that will completely rewrite our notions of business and competition. Most find it hard to imagine a scenario where businesses no longer compete to maximise profits but are instead purely focused on delivering the best products and services, while governments mandate their commercial returns.

Mandatory Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) – By 2035, there could be a billion more global citizens, and this might increase the pressure for organisations to behave in a sustainable manner – encompassing people, the planet, peace, partnership, progress, profit, and our overall legacy for future generations.(6) Given the numerous challenges facing the planet as outlined in the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals, there is a growing sense that this might have to happen through a combination of consumer power, government regulation, and civil society monitoring.(7) Many believe that superior returns could be achieved by businesses of all shapes and sizes that lead the way on CSR, ensuring that it is fundamental mindset and behavioural shift, and not just a tick-the-box exercise.(8)

Demand for Cognitive and Socio-behavioural Skills – In a world where technology can do more of the operational side of human tasks, there is already an increasing demand for cognitive and social skills. These include skills and attributes such as creative thinking, critical thinking, collaboration, and empathy. As the pace of automation accelerates, and the nature of working opportunities evolves, even greater emphasis is likely to be placed higher level skills. These include self-management, self enhancement, working collectively with others, and finding new approaches to frame and tackle opportunities and challenges.

Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality to Replace Work Trips – Over the next 10-20 years, we can expect to see massive advances in the multisensory capabilities of Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) tools.(9) Future generations of these tools can reasonably be expected to be of sufficiently high quality, very responsive, and immersive enough to enable many to eliminate the technical and functional need for travel. Individuals could meet investors, present to existing and new clients, and collaborate with global teams from their desk or living room. Such advance should help improve efficiency and costs. However, for many, they may never replace the importance of the “in person handshake.”

Job Deserts – Some forecasts suggest that over the next two decades, automation, robots, and AI could lead to a net loss of 20-50% of current jobs.(10) This could have a particularly severe impact on those from lower socioeconomic backgrounds. This could in turn lead to the decimation of jobs in certain areas, with the individual citizens forced to travel further and at higher cost to find employment.

Work: From Purpose to Pastime?

Within as little as twenty years, if science and technology achieve the promise which many are investing in, then we may need to redefine traditional notions of “the job” and the meaning it provides to people’s lives. Work in the traditional sense may have become a rarity and just one of a number of pastimes we pursue as a hobby. As such, an individual‘s societal contribution would need to be redefined. So, while some would continue to perform paid jobs, others might be provided with guaranteed basic incomes and services, and make their contribution to society in other equivalent ways. These might include self-development, volunteering, caring for children and elders, exchanging goods and services for free, undertaking creative pursuits, producing food, and addressing the needs of local communities.(11) A future-proofed strategy accounts for elements beyond the bottom line, prioritises humanity over technology, and supports the formation of a very human future.


This article was published in FutureScapes. To subscribe, click here.



  1. Accessed 01/04/2019.
  2. Accessed 01/04/2019.
  3. Accessed 01/04/2019.
  4. Accessed 01/04/2019.
  5. Accessed 01/04/2019.
  6. Accessed 01/04/2019.
  7. Accessed 01/04/2019.
  8. Accessed 01/04/2019.
  10. Accessed 01/04/2019.
  11. Accessed 01/04/2019.


Image: by Tayeb MEZAHDIA


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