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Future of work

Globalization, demographic change and rapid technological progress have fundamentally changed and continue to change our society, culture and economy. The way we work is also affected by this upheaval. This article shows how the working world of the future is already taking shape and what opportunities, but also challenges, will arise as a result.

The world of work is facing fundamental change

Globalization is having a significant impact on world affairs today. Companies and their employees also operate worldwide, maintaining contacts and trading relationships far beyond their regional or national sphere of influence. This internationalization of companies is made possible by digitalization. It is changing the way millions of people work. Increasing networking between employees and production facilities spread across the globe and ultra-fast transmission rates are making communication and cooperation easier, but also more complex. Planning and decision-making processes are based on an almost immeasurable amount of information. Workflows and implemented digital services are needed to bring order to the new chaos. However, those who manage to do this can use all the opportunities to work more efficiently and increase productivity.

What is Future of Work - the working world of the future?

The term 'Future of Work' is used to discuss the changing world of work and the associated effects on our society. This change is primarily triggered by new technologies and media that are being integrated into the world of work and transforming it at the same time.

One of the most visible consequences of all this is the increasing automation of processes. This means that repetitive, mechanical tasks will be carried out by machines to an even greater extent in the future. Humans will become supervisors of processes or will be used for more demanding tasks in the production chain. This increases the demands on the individual. Constantly new developments in technology and now also in the field of artificial intelligence pose greater challenges for employees and employers alike. Constant change requires a willingness to learn independently and throughout life. However, mastering more complex tasks naturally goes hand in hand with higher pay and career opportunities.

The new developments demand flexibility in work, in working models and with regard to the employer. In Germany, the average length of service was 11.2 years in 2015. Although lifelong loyalty to a company is being replaced in part by fast-moving employment relationships, this is particularly true for younger employees who have started their careers in a working world characterized by the "future of work". The reasons for this are greater mobility in terms of where they live, but also "soft" factors such as the desire for a good work-life balance. As a result, employers need to develop flexible and attractive working models, such as flexible home office options, in order to retain their employees in the company in the long term.

Why Future of Work at all?

Digitalization has completely reorganized our society. The internet has arguably become the most important medium of our time: It enables us to exchange ideas, shop, consume content - and, last but not least, do our work. We can do all of this around the clock, whether from home, while commuting, in a café or at our actual workplace. However, the fact that we can now do many jobs from anywhere is replacing our physical workplace, sometimes more, sometimes less, with a digital one.

Traditional professions are particularly affected by digitalization because companies no longer file data physically, but work with databases on which work materials, documents and customer data etc. are stored. As a result, processes are being shifted further and further into the digital realm, with the result that professions that originally required a presence in the office can now also work from home.

However, the digital world is not just a means to an end, but has itself become an object of work. Web designers, software developers and data protection experts are just a few of the professions that work with, in and on digital content at various levels.

All these changes and innovations are paving the way for a completely new world of work. The term "Future of Work" partly overlaps with the term "Industry 4.0".

What does the future of work look like in concrete terms?

Given the multitude of innovations, it's hard to predict. However, there are some new working models that at least give us an idea of what we might be dealing with. Of course, it is highly likely that ubiquitous network availability, the spread of cloud solutions and the increasing sharing economy will give rise to new and flexible working models.

The development of the platform economy is also having an impact on the world of work. While companies such as Airbnb and Uber have popularized this business model in the B2C sector, similar innovations can now also be observed in the field of job placement. There are now a number of co-working platforms on which freelancers can offer their services. In this way, millions of virtual teams are already being created in which freelancers work on specific projects and then move on to new topics and teams. However, the resulting greater self-determination demands great flexibility from the approximately 1.4 million freelancers in Germany.

In addition, artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics will continue to gain in importance. In the future, it will often no longer be about how people communicate with each other, but how they interact productively with intelligent systems. And this digital transformation has only just begun.

We recently discussed how the use of two such intelligent systems can become a true symbiosis in a webinar with Staffbase on January 17. Watch the recording here.

What opportunities are arising for companies as a result of the changes in the world of work?

Companies in all sectors must constantly adapt to the upheavals if they do not want to fall behind. After all, those who take too long to adapt and use new technologies run the risk of not being able to keep up with the demands of the market, especially its increasing speed. Companies are therefore faced with the challenge of managing globalization, automation, digitalization and flexibilization in parallel. What companies can take away from these developments is of course very individual. However, one example that is relevant for many is the use of robots as an opportunity to combat an ageing labor market.

According to a study by business consultants Deloitte, up to 35% of jobs in Germany could be affected by automation and the increasing use of robots. However, this is a great opportunity for companies. For example, the increased use of robots reduces labor costs, which can make it economically viable to relocate production capacities that have been moved abroad in the past. In addition, the employees replaced by machine processes form a pool of workers that can counteract the increasing ageing of the workforce. There is already a shortage of workers in many sectors, which will become even more acute due to demographic change. The use of automation is freeing up manpower that is urgently needed elsewhere.

The trends of tomorrow's working world - Work 4.0

There are a number of developments that will have a significant impact on the shape of work in the future.

Automation, robotics & AI

The triumph of automation will continue thanks to ever more powerful machine and IT systems. In Germany, for example, there are 338 industrial robots for every 10,000 employees, which puts us in third place worldwide. However, unlike in recent decades, in future it will no longer primarily be jobs in the manufacturing industry that will be automated. Robotics will increasingly take over manual tasks. In logistics centers, for example, we can already see self-guided vehicles taking over the transport of goods, while picking robots ensure that the items are placed in the right boxes or crates. Humans often only take on control tasks or system maintenance.

At the same time, there are upheavals on the software side that will significantly shape the work of tomorrow. The keyword here is artificial intelligence, which is already establishing itself in more and more service sectors. Whether in call centers, secretarial services or accounting, the majority of many routine tasks can already be carried out by AI-controlled systems - without fatigue and around the clock. More demanding tasks such as tax advice or legal work will certainly also be able to be carried out with the help of algorithms in the future. It is also foreseeable that robots with artificial intelligence will be able to take over work from people in care professions or in the household. This opens up new professional fields.

Soft skills

As automation and AI take more and more work off people's hands, they need to be ready to adapt in order to continue to have opportunities on the job market. It is foreseeable that the importance of soft skills will continue to grow. Where in the past a fixed profession was learned once and this knowledge was only updated later, in future adaptability and commitment will be required. And this will be repeated again and again, as the length of time spent in one field of activity will also be shorter, meaning that the "future of work" will be accompanied by lifelong learning.

Other factors are also becoming more important: creativity, solution orientation, flexibility and a willingness to cooperate often distinguish people from machines. Employees are therefore exposed to higher mental demands and lower physical demands. Further training must be guaranteed by companies. However, it is also the responsibility of each individual to familiarize themselves with the new technology and how it works.

Flexible working

Thanks to fast data connections available everywhere and smartphones or laptops, far fewer people are dependent on an office space at their employer these days. The number of employees working from home or on the move has been rising steadily for years. This independence of location will continue to accelerate as a result of technological change. The advantages for both sides are obvious: while employers save on expensive office space and are constantly informed about the status of their mobile employees' work thanks to digital technology, they benefit from factors such as increasing flexibility and self-determination. Employee satisfaction increases. At the same time, however, there is a growing risk of overwork among employees due to a lack of rest periods. The reason for this is the increasingly difficult separation of professional and private life. Who hasn't answered business emails from their desk at home in the evening or at the weekend? This is where employers come in. Suitable measures such as digital time clocks and time recording can ensure that such stresses are avoided.

Digital workplace

The digital transformation is not only making work mobile, it is also networking the office workplace. This is due to the implementation of online tools that have made traditional programs such as Microsoft Office ready for the internet age. Thanks to them, company employees can share documents and files at will or work on them in parallel. This creates much faster and more direct channels of communication and cooperation, which can also be used to integrate people from outside the company as required. The result is a simplification and acceleration of processes. For example, respondents to a study reported that they had to spend 12% less time on manual activities thanks to digital applications. For 79 percent of them, the systems are also an important aid to better and faster decision-making. What most of the IT programs have in common is that they are based on a cloud solution that can be accessed by authorized persons from any location and at any time. Modern time recording now also works according to this principle. It allows employees' working hours to be precisely recorded digitally, eliminating the need for traditional clocking in. The intranet can also be redesigned with the help of the cloud. Thanks to the ease of use, employees are more informed and can be better integrated into company processes, which has a positive impact on employee engagement and satisfaction. This applies in particular to people working outside the company, who are given greater proximity to the company thanks to the digital workplace.

The distinction between Future of Work vs. New Work

In many cases, "New Work" is used as a synonym for the "Future of Work" discussed here. Although there is a great deal of overlap between the two terms, they are not the same thing: While Future of Work looks at the changes in the entire world of work, New Work places a particular focus on the well-being of the individual in the process of change towards the Future of Work. The aim is to use technological and social change to develop a work culture that is more meaningful and fairer. To this end, the employee is placed at the center of the considerations. However, New Work is also intended to achieve a number of overarching goals. These include reducing inequality and poverty in the world or reducing the waste of resources and climate-damaging processes. Compared to this socio-political perspective, Future of Work focuses much more specifically on the aspect of work. What both models have in common, however, is that they predict drastic changes for the working world of tomorrow.


The working world of the future will be determined by a whole range of factors. In addition to the rapid technological development with its increasing automation, it is above all people themselves who will help shape the new world of work through changing preferences and more self-determination. Shorter job tenures, the increase in freelance, flexible and mobile working models and the growing importance of soft skills are just some of the effects of this development. However, as flexibility and the opportunities associated with the digital workplace increase, uncertainties can also arise. For example, employees may feel left behind on the path to the future of work or even fear losing their jobs. This is where employers need to provide security and show prospects. Openness and a willingness to learn are crucial to the success of both corporate and private training. When openness and a helpful company come together, the working world of the future offers a variety of new opportunities.