In this century:
- Global population is predicted to reach 9bn
- The human race already needs 50% more planet to support its current ecological footprint
- It is predicted by some that 80% of the population will live in cities
- We will reach (may have already reached) peak oil
- Remote surgery, driverless cars and fully automated hotels may be commonplace
- Globally, the number of mobile devices has already overtaken (in 2013) the number of people
So will the future of work change our lives?
If we have to accommodate more people, find alternative sources of energy, stop driving to work, handle increasingly fast-changing technology, and stop buying and using so much stuff, our working lives will change.
It is clear already that the world is changing: the internet, cloud computing and mobile devices are altering the face of work; we are living longer and our expectations are higher; and technology is constantly pushing the boundaries of what is possible.
Work is a very different animal to when I left school. We still don’t have the paperless office (habits die hard but maybe the millennials will finally see it through), but we do have global reach, bootstrapping start-ups taking advantage of online opportunities and genuine mobility and flexibility when it comes to most of our jobs.
The fact that many businesses have not yet caught up with this yet is a mute point: it does not make sense that so many of us are working to industrial age models when we have long since entered the digital age.
And when your work is wherever you are, you don’t need a car, you just need a connection; superfast broadband, wireless hotspots and blue tooth all help us communicate, yet even these may seem out of date when 4G and then 5G are ubiquitous.
So, is the planet saved?
Well, not quite. However, there are opportunities in the way we work to reduce our negative effects on our home: using less office space, exploiting technology, making fewer car journeys, being more efficient, exploring renewable and increase recycling, etc.
Technology, for example, doesn’t just offer different ways of working; it can offer different ways to light and heat our buildings and charge the battery’s on our numerous devices, even our cars by harnessing natural power like sun, wind and sea.
And do these changes ensure economic growth?
The capitalist model we have adopted seems only capable of functioning through constant growth, so the idea that the Earth’s population is estimated to grow by nearly a third by 2050 to 9bn should fuel this growth, surely?
If we know that our current trajectory is going to irrevocably harm the planet, it is patently going to be an even bigger problem with 2bn more mouths to feed and hands to fit with mobile phones. And telling the latest additions to the population that they can’t have what we have enjoyed, that they have to do it all differently is not going to be easy.
That said, what we have had since WWII has not made us happier – all the materialistic wealth created since the ‘forties has not made us any happier. And actually the younger generations growing up now are not scared by having less; they have seen what over-work and materialistic longing has done to their parents and are looking for a life with more balance, more enjoyment, more family time and less stress; they are also prepared to give up material wealth to achieve this.
So this is a great opportunity for us to stop wanting to have and start wanting to be; to see that wanting stuff just leads to wanting more stuff; to enjoy our work as part of who we are and balance it with the other, equally important, aspects of ourselves – family, friends, community, interests. In this way, all the aspects of our lives feed into our identity and development and sit better with the world around us. When we ask will the future of work change our lives, the answer should be a very positive and resounding ‘yes’.