The 21st century has been a tumultuous one for businesses and employment, fraught with once-in-a-generation recessions and once-in-a-lifetime global events, as well as an unprecedented technological boom that has utterly changed our working landscape for good. The concept of the workplace has been suffering an existential crisis between these totemic events, with 20th century office models no longer fit for purpose. So, what does the future hold for the workplace, and for those that populate it?
Remote Working and Its Impact
Of course, the single biggest event to rock businesses in the last few years has been the coronavirus pandemic, which saw global business grind to a halt and UK workers legally required to work from home where possible. Remote working technology was already slowly being adopted into mainstream workplace culture, but the pandemic accelerated its adoption significantly. Even as restrictions are lifted, remote working is here to stay, with new figures suggesting a permanent future for hybrid working contracts in businesses across industries.
The reasons for the popularity of remote working amongst many employees lie in the redressing of the work-life balance, with long and expensive commutes transformed into additional time for rest, family and personal development. The adoption of remote working also presents benefits to businesses, which can look forward to spending less on office overheads. Remote work is not without its teething problems, with communication and business development sometimes difficult, and digital security a growing concern. But these issues are part and parcel of the development process.
Adoption of New Technologies
Alongside remote-working infrastructure, leaps in the development of AI technology have heralded a new age of machine-assisted work, across industries. Automation has already been a pressing concern for those in manufacture, out of concern for threats to employment. That same threat is now extended to administrative staff in offices, where machine-learning applications are beginning to take over repetitive administration – with particular utility in legal practice.
Assistive software is nothing new for workers, with useful applications in the form of HR management software and smart file-sharing services in constant use in the contemporary office. Indeed, many tasks, including HR, require human intervention to be carried out and monitored safely. Nonetheless, questions arise about the future of humans working alongside algorithms.
Employee Treatment and Wellbeing
Even as technology improves and begins to encroach on existing employment opportunities, the need for staff is greater than it has been in recent history. Across the West, a “Great Resignation” has been taking place in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic; many employees are re-examining their relationship with work and taking a stance regarding heavy workloads, poor benefits and wage stagnation despite record growth for many companies. The pushback is setting the stage for a reset of company approaches to employee wellbeing – from comprehensive mental health support and benefits to a fairer schema for setting salaries.