It's hard to believe that crystal ball gazers once predicted today's workforce would be overburdened with leisure time. But although looking into the future is notoriously difficult, it still makes sense to listen when Lynda Gratton, professor of management practice at the London Business School, writes about how the world of work will look in 2025.
Selected by the Financial Times in 2008 as the business thinker most likely to make a real difference over the next decade, Gratton is also the author of several successful books on people in organisations. Her current analysis and predictions are based on a recent research project involving 200 executives from around the world.
According to Gratton, the project determined that five forces would shape our working future. The first of these is "technological developments" involving robotics and the digitalisation and processing of information. The second force is "rapid globalisation" and the emergence of a new wave of economies. The third is "demographics" and the ageing population. The fourth - "changes in society and family structures" - will lead to a higher number of families in which both parents work and men take a more active role in childcare. Finally, carbon-footprint concerns will encourage more localised production and working.
So how can workers prepare for this brave new world? "I see three broad shifts in the way we think about working and careers," says Gratton.
She believes employees will have to focus on "developing specialist skills and mastery". Even as they stand out from the crowd, workers will also need to be skilled collaborators, she adds.
"And finally, you, your friends and children will need to think very hard about what sort of working life you want," she concludes. In the future, "quality of experiences will trump quantity of consumption every time".
So how ready are local companies and individuals for these changes, and what steps do they need to take to adapt?
Emma Reynolds is CEO of e3 Reloaded, a Hong Kong-based international "workforce innovation" company. She believes that, while the take-up of new technology is faster in Asia than anywhere else, "presenteeism" is an issue in this part of the world
"We're still using the mindset, practices and principles of the industrial age in the information or knowledge economy," she says.
On an old-fashioned labour-intensive production line, strict control of working hours and processes was necessary. The fact that many local employees can't control where and when they work has a direct effect not only on their happiness but also on their employers' bottom line.
"Only 9 per cent of the Hong Kong workforce is actively engaged," says Reynolds, quoting from the results of Towers Watson's Employee Engagement surveys.
Like Reynolds, Jared King, managing partner with e3 Reloaded, wants to see employees being given more control of how, when and where they work, and see them "paid for productivity, not for face time".
With increasing competition for skilled specialists Gratton talks about, King believes "they will need to use technology, and their employer brands, to connect to these people".
He thinks that to be noticed, talented individuals will have to get their ideas out there, "and develop their personal brand through social media platforms and engage with the same communities as their target companies".
What specialist skills will be in demand? While the importance of innovative IT skills looks here to stay, Reynolds notes the scale of infrastructure and engineering projects across Asia. "If I were a student right now, I'd go into civil or infrastructure engineering," she says.
Employees as customers
e3 Reloaded believes employers need to recognise that their staff want to work in the same way they live for the rest of their lives. It has developed the "four Cs" so that workers could: