2025 and Beyond
As you walk into your home office, you set your Computer Anywhere Device (CAD) on your desk. The CAD, about the size of a silver dollar coin and as thick as a credit card, activates when placed on a flat surface. Sitting down, you lean forward and focus your attention on the holograph screen hovering over your desk. In the other room you can hear the faint chatter of your children as they attend school remotely. You speak, “CAD, date and time please.” In a clear voice CAD responds, “February 8th, 2025. The time is now 0900. Would you like to know your appointments and tasks for today?” You briefly think to yourself how far computers have come in just a short period of time. In fact, you think, the constant we face is a world quickly changing before our very eyes.
For the United States and much of Europe, the world has already begun to change as it relates to the way organizations interact with their employees. The field of employment has shifted since the market crash early in the century. By the year 2040 it is estimated several emerging social and technological changes will greatly affect the way organizations view employment and human capital in the Westernized World. You are one of many examples of this shift in employment and the reason you now work from home as an independent contractor and member of several strategic alliances.
Your CAD speaks again, “You have an incoming conference call from Jeff and Dustin.” You turn your attention back to your desk and tell your CAD, “display calls.” The hologram over your desk shifts and images of your colleagues appear. You met Jeff and Dustin in your doctoral program a few years ago and the three of you formed a very successful strategic alliance. Today you are meeting to discuss a pending RFP the three of you are bidding on together in the coming days. Your alliance with your colleagues has opened the door for all of you to compete with much larger organization on projects that you would have otherwise avoided.
The Great Shift – Why Things are Changing
Since the late 1990s through the turn of this century, Americans have begun working longer and we are beginning to see an increase in what we now call the Graying of the American worker. Job-sharing, consulting, coaching and strategist positions have been growing amongst the Boomer population and Generation X, for the first time, is taking over the reins of leadership. While the country is growing older, fertility rates are dropping amongst American women which ultimately will create a deficit in human capital to replace retiring workers. If that weren’t difficult enough on businesses trying to fill positions, immigration is also on the decline in America creating an even greater deficit in available workers. As a result of all these trends, we are beginning to see demand and acceptance of more flexible, freelance and collaborative opportunities in an increasingly less secure world.
These emerging social and technological changes are forcing companies to move toward the use of short-term, independent contractors and consultants. With advances in technology and availability of WiFi in nearly every location, employees no longer need to pay to drive to an office setting every day nor will organizations need to continue supporting expensive office space. In fact these alliances, through advances in technology, open the door for workers who are no longer limited by geography, thereby permitting them to live anywhere they choose. Smaller offices and fewer employees working in those locations permit businesses to focus on finding and keeping essential employees while outsourcing the remaining positions to independent contractors. With these changes, businesses will be better able to shrink overall expenses and employees will no longer see themselves as being employed by a single company. Employees are now able to work anytime and anywhere they choose as long as they are able to meet their job objectives.
Amongst the emerging trends, strategic alliances appear to be making the most progress. The future of employment appears focused more on an individual’s talent. In fact, it is estimated that most jobs of the future will require higher education, advanced skills and high-tech training. The twenty-first century organization will require an ability to share ideas, knowledge, resources and skills across organizational, generational, and cultural boundaries from within and outside of the organizational system.
Much like our opening scenario, the organization of the future will likely be an aggregate of individuals working together in an alliance rather than as employees. These alliances could last a few minutes or as long as necessary. The greatest challenge to the newly minted contractors will be learning how to think of themselves as a business rather than as an employee. Businesses of all sizes will begin to link themselves with other organizations to meet a common purpose. As product and services grow in complexity, so will the formation of strategic alliances increase. These alliances will produce benefits for all parties involved; bringing value to the partnership through skills, connections, and resources.
Closing in on 2025
The year 2025 is closer than you may realize. Technological and social changes are moving at an alarming rate and while many may see the opening scenario as fantasy, the trends say otherwise. Strategic Alliances will breed a greater competitive advantage, create influence and consolidate resources and expertise within a given organization and in a future that requires less human capital to produce a product or service. Now is the time for organization to begin examining the impact of a shrinking workforce. Strategic alliances will likely be the formal response to much of the forecasted deficit in human capital. Such alliances will begin to fill the gaps in personnel, skills and experience while supplementing and strengthening the organizations existing strategies. Organizations which adopt this future view of human capital will face some particular challenges. For one, organizations will likely become flatter and only certain essential job functions will remain within the organization. There will be a greater level of shared information and even evaluations will come from co-workers rather than the traditional top-down leadership review. In fact, we very well could be witnessing the end of much of hierarchies we’ve grown accustomed to since the early 1800s.
Trends indicate organization of the future will rely heavily on alliance and collaboration. In 2011, The Economist Magazine reported some 250,000 firms paid over $1.3 million to independent contracts. This number is estimated to continue rising as companies seek to reduce overhead costs related to payroll taxes, healthcare and inflation in general. These alliances offer organizations an instant source of human capital whenever the need arises and for as long as required without the traditional long-term overhead costs. Alliances will require classically trained managers to change their view of leadership including much of the command and control many are accustomed to. To achieve success, this will require executive leadership to not only sponsor but fully embrace these alliances as a way of life and ultimately long-term success for the organization. Outside of executive buy-in, these alliances must create benefits for all parties involved.
This shift in organizational structure can take time to adopt yet it is believed that these alliances will be the most effective way to obtain a competitive advantage in the future. However, organizations may experience managerial resistance in adopting strategic alliances. Success is reliant on the commitment of the organizations leadership. It is necessary for organizations to address the fears of management and leadership in an effort to overcome delays in adoption.
The days of an abundant workforce are coming to a close. This shift in demographics will require organizations to view their structures far beyond the traditional business school training. Outsourcing and strategic alliances are quickly becoming the norm whether we embrace it or not. Experts claim that there is a lack of future-readiness in the U.S. of employers and employment. Great challenges are ahead of us and the best way to address them is take the long-view and plan ahead for a new economy, new organizational structures, and a mobile diverse workforce like we’ve never seen before. These changes will require rethinking the view of hierarchies, traditional employment, and what it means to be self-employed. Technology will play a key role in the adoption and success of the organization of the future. With few government regulations on self-employment in place and organizations willing to embrace strategic alliances and independent contractors, the days of traditional employment may very well be numbered.
Back to the Future | 2025
The conference call with your colleagues went very well. As their holographic images fade from before you, you sit back and smile. “CAD,” you say, “Open RFP Alpha457.” Your CAD responds, “Opened. What would you like me to do?” You begin to dictate to CAD and so another day as an independent contractor in this new world economy begins. You smile and remember a time when you used to work in a cubical farm and you think to yourself, “I’ve surely come a long way from those early days in the working world.” You hear your kids in the other room again and you think about their future. They will never experience what you know to be a traditional working environment. You begin to wonder what their future world will be like twenty years from now. Those thoughts will have to wait as your CAD reminds you of a lunch appointment. You pick up your CAD, place it in your pocket and head out the door.
Philip A Foster, CEO of Maximum Change, Inc. is a Thought Leader in Business Operations, Organization and Strategic Leadership. Facilitating change through the design and implementation of strategies, strategic foresight and planning! He holds a Master of Art in Organizational Leadership from Regent University where he is completing his Doctoral Studies in Strategic Leadership (Anticipated December 2013). Philip is a prolific writer, international lecturer and serves as Adjunct professor at Middle Tennessee State University, Murfreesboro, TN.