Future of work

Advances in technology and changes in society are making work more creative, more female, and more fun.

With our value system changing from materialism to experientialism, work will change dramatically in the 21st century. Instead of viewing work as a way to gather cold hard cash to buy things we don’t need to impress people we don’t like, we will think of it more as a stage to express ourselves and realize our passions. A Harvard Business Review columnist, Tammy Erickson, summed this idea up in the phrase: ‘Meaning is the new money.’  

Some great examples of B corporations

Some great examples of B corporations

Here are some key ways work will change in the 21st century:

Automation Age

From AI to robots, much more of what we used to do will now be done by machines.


As our culture shifts from being based on materialism to experientialism, people will be less concerned about how much they earn: they will be less inclined to work long hours to earn more money to buy goods they don't need to impress people they don't like. Instead, they will be more concerned about the experience of work. Smart employers will realise this and improve the experience of working for them. We will see this in the rise in importance of happiness at work.

Sharing economy

As seen in the rise of Airbnb etc. We are shifting to a "smartphone economy" where people work the hours the want.

Experience economy

Where "meaning is the new money" workers prefer a stronger sense of purpose. To reflect this shift, and attract the best talent, businesses will judge their success in more meaningful terms than just money. You can already see this happening in the rise of benefit corporations. First created in 2010, in Maryland in the US, and better known as ‘B corporations’, these companies are not concerned with maximizing shareholder value alone, as traditional companies were. Instead, they measure success not only by the profit they create, but also in terms of their impact on society and the environment. Following a similar ethos, the B Team was founded in 2012 by two business leaders, Sir Richard Branson and Jochen Zeitz, to encourage more businesses to put people and the planet on a similar level to their profits. 

3D printing and the Maker Generation

3D printing will change much of what people require from businesses, and the structure of society. The old distinction between consumers and producers will change, and we will see the rise of a new era of physical creators, which we think of as the Maker Generation.


As our society shifts from male-dominated to a far more equal footing, women are changing the workplace, making it less linear, systemic and "left-brained", and more understanding, empathic, and "right-brained".

Offices will change, as we come to think of work, according to a workplace expert called Jeanne Meister, ‘as an “experience” rather than merely a place to go to every day’. There will be three new models for the new workplace. 

The Hotel California way of working

A Google office. People didn't have offices like this in the 1970s.

A Google office. People didn't have offices like this in the 1970s.

The ‘Hotel California model’: you can come into the office any time you like, but the facilities and the time you have there will be so good, you can never really leave. 

The offices of the search company Google and the shoe retailer Zappos are great examples.

At Google’s campus in Mountain View, California, for instance, there are bikes, pool tables, gourmet coffee stations, smoothies, a lap pool, and volleyball courts – and all free to use.

Zappos also has free facilities, like a nap room, for instance, but it is the company’s radical culture that really turns the idea of work on its head. In the old world, work was that place you had to go in between spending time with friends and family. But in the Zappos version of the new world, work is where you go to see your friends and, as some employees genuinely call their co-workers, family. 

The Martini way to work

Another new way of working is the ‘Martini model’, with reference to the 1980s commercial.

The strap-line was ‘anytime, anyplace, anywhere’.

Our favourite ad featured a waiter in a white tuxedo in Cannes, taking drinks down to the beach and into the sea, to deliver them to glamorous people sitting, ankle-deep, at a table there.

In this technology-enabled version of the future of work, you will work the Martini way – ‘anytime, anyplace, anywhere’. It is the way many millions are now working, wherever and whenever they want. 

Third Place working: the co-working revolution

This is an image from a co-working company called  Wework

This is an image from a co-working company called Wework

There is a problem with the Martini way of working, and it is giving rise to a third version of the future, which we think of as the ‘Third Place’ work model.

Although many people say they want the Martini model, in practice mobile workers often miss the social strokes that happen in a regular workplace: the friendships, for instance, and someone asking how your weekend was on a Monday morning. As a result, many are now taking their private working lives back into public places that offer Hotel California-like benefits.

Consider Fueled Collective, for instance, an 18,000-square-foot co-working space in New York, that, besides the desks, water, and wifi, also gives out free ice cream and has a whiskey room and free-to-use ping-pong tables.

There has been a significant trend for these Third Place co-working spaces in recent years. In the US, there were 40 of them in 2008, 300 in 2011, and 800 in 2013. Picture how those numbers would look on the sort of graph a cultural forecaster would use, and you can clearly see the beginnings of an S-curve.

Less work, more holidays

Besides why and where we work, how much we work will also change. As our focus shifts from quantity of stuff to quality of life, we will choose to spend less time at work, and more time at leisure. After all, when you have more than enough, and you know that every extra penny is going to deliver ever less happiness, why bother sweating for more when you could be enjoying what you’ve already got? That could translate into longer holidays, fewer working hours, and a radically shorter working week. If you earn enough in four days, or even three, why not make every weekend three or four days long? Or, instead of taking an increase in pay, perhaps more of us will prefer to take regular sabbaticals instead. We have heard plenty of anecdotal evidence of this, but have not come across any quantitative evidence of this happening yet. 

What does all this mean for you, your company, your future?

For advice on what this means for you and your company, and for smart ideas on how you can adapt to thrive, get in touch.