The Workplace of the Future

For more than 100 years, how we work has largely been a top-down approach: senior executives at headquarters (usually in the West) develop a strategy that is pushed down through the management ranks at a steady pace until it reaches the individual contributor population. Work and life are kept separate, where the ideal is to strike some kind of elusive balance between the two.

But all of that is changing. Rapidly evolving technology has allowed communication to flow more concentrically. The younger generation’s entrance into the workplace has disrupted the way we do business as their expectations around access to information and how they work are more immediate. Work and life have become more entwined and employee’s demand for a “seat at the table” has necessitated a bottom-up flow of information.

Rick Von Feldt, Workplace Futurist at consulting company Kolaborative, discusses the workplace of the future.

In just nine years, more change will happen between 2011 and 2020 than any other 100-year period since the 1800s. From the dawn of textile mills and automobile factories, existing leadership structures and the ways in which we work have remained the same, largely because employees have been engaged in somewhat repetitive tasks. The guiding belief has been if we can get employees to be more efficient (switch fabrics on the loom with lesser downtime, tighten bolts faster, file reports with fewer mistakes) then the organisation would run more efficiently, and thus lead to greater financial returns.

But technology has changed all that.

In less than 30 years–one generation–we’ve gone from rotary phones, to push-button, to pager, to flip to smart and now our watches and other hand-held devices have become our personal electronic assistants. If you’re senior enough to be reading this, then chances are you’re old enough to remember vinyl records, 8-tracks, cassettes, CDs, MiniDiscs, mp3 players, and now the cloud.

Rapidly evolving technology has dramatically changed our expectations as consumers, and those changes have penetrated the way in which we work. These advancements are only exacerbated by the generational shifts in the workplace: as the Boomer generation begins their entrance into retirement, generations X and Y are primed for leadership roles, but the Millennials (and next to enter the workforce, Digital Natives) have different expectations on how they organise their workdays and how they want to be managed.

“Today’s leaders can no longer rely on the traditional models that have been passed down to them, which hugely relied on everyone’s ability to do their repetitively tasked jobs more efficiently, then wait because soon enough it’ll be their turn to lead,” says Rick Von Feldt, Workplace Futurist at Kolaborative. “Digital technology has allowed consumers to have what they want, when they want it, and in turn, that has created a new employee population that is not willing to wait. Because they don’t have to.”

Von Feldt points to seven key shifts, or disruptive trends, that have impacted how we work today and will shape the landscape of the future workplace. He urges today’s leaders to understand these changes if they want to remain relevant in the future workplace:

1. Technology

In today’s highly competitive marketplace products and services must be agile. “Built to last” is no longer applicable. Leaders must embrace the mind-set of evolving products, new markets, faster delivery times, changing customer demands, and leading in a multicultural work environment.

2. Digital

We are increasingly living in a digital, data-driven world, and today’s leaders must become adept at data capabilities (data-mining and data predictions) to help tailor products that meet customer needs.

3. On-Demand/Virtual Workplace

Employees are no longer willing to spend hours of their time commuting or sitting in an office. Despite the increase in tech-style company campuses that have on-site cafes, dry-cleaning facilities, and fitness centres, employees are wanting to work virtually. Digital technology has enabled the freedom of choice of work location, and there’s an increase in employee demand to take advantage of this.

4. Global Talent War

Every company wants the best and the brightest, but understanding what motivates today’s high performers requires a shift from traditional HR practices. While compensation will always be important, things like flexibility are gaining traction. The HR of the future will need to enable an environment that can accommodate an employee’s work and life, because the distinction between the two is shrinking.

5. Interconnectedness

Leaders will have more influence than ever before as societies become more social. People are using multiple sources to gather information, they crowd source and develop nodes and super nodes with one another to share and validate data. Successful leaders will need to know how to navigate these various channels to disseminate and gather ideas and information.

6. Global Mobility

The Millennials and Digital Natives have lived in a global environment where different cultures are simply a few keyboard strokes away. Research shows they expect to have at least one or two roles that will require them to work internationally, which is a shift from the previous generations’ work assumptions.

7. Diverse Workplace

There will be five generations of employees in the workplace at one time, and the newer generations will be more adept at technology and working within different cultural contexts. Future leaders will need to be equally fluent in managing across geographies and digital capabilities.

“The future workplace will be one of on-going learning. Future employees will want an environment where the distinction between work and life is diminished and they can be their authentic selves,” informs Von Feldt. “These changes will be more noticeable for Boomers and Generations X and Y as a lot of the traditional norms no longer apply.”

He advises today’s leaders to lean-in. “Choose to be a part of the future. Don’t be afraid to immerse yourself in new technologies. It can be scary, but it is also equally exciting.”

Visit to find out more about the Workplace of the Future. To contact Rick Von Feldt, go to


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