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5 Workplace Trends for the Future

The workplace as we know it is transforming rapidly, and there’s a good chance that most of us will be dealing with a very different work environment sooner rather than later.

We’ve compiled a list of the five most significant developments in the business world as predicted by industry experts, and included examples of the impact they may have.

It looks like things might get a little tough, so we’ve also thrown in some innovative tips for dealing with these changing times. All things considered, there are likely to be some interesting times ahead for us all.

Read ahead and let us know what you think; we’d love to get your thoughts on this.

1. Don’t count on having an office to go to

Already we’re seeing a rejection of the traditional office workspace with some major companies allowing up to 85% of their workforce to work remotely. Whether it’s a café or a home office, technology is making it easier and easier to work pretty much anywhere. The cost savings for companies can be huge and the flexibility it offers workers is appealing.

The nature of the work environment is also transforming. Virtual tools under development, such as the reality-shifting Meta2, will let us connect deeply with our surroundings so that any location could provide an interactive work experience; even if we work in different places, virtual reality and augmented reality will make it feel like we are still in the same room.

This sound like it should be good for everyone, but does it really offer a win-win? While flexible locations and “virtual” interactions mean no commuting and a chance you’ll make that recorder recital, they may also introduce some demanding expectations.

Consider: Today if you have a teleconference call at home you can throw on a jacket (and maybe lipstick) and no one needs to know you’re wearing pj bottoms or that the dog is licking your toes. Tomorrow, a hologram of your client will pop up and your client will see you wherever and however you are: needless to say, that could be embarrassing.

Of course, you will probably have the option to “turn off” such an intrusion, but when your voice mail is replaced with a hologram-mail of your client pleading “Help me…..you’re my only hope…” there will strong be pressure to respond.

So what’s the best way to prepare for the new virtual workspace?

Our advice on this one is to go with the flow. Assume you will be seen at short notice so keep a long coat and dark glasses to hand (aka The Matrix), and make sure the interior lighting is dim enough to blur those wooly socks and piles of empty coffee cups.

You might also want to have a “dead zone” installed – a spot where the wi-fi and telecoms never seem to work for some “inexplicable” reason. At least that way you can be sure of having a way to escape those unwanted, or potentially embarrassing, virtual client calls.

2. The Freelance Economy will rule

There has been a clear shift from fixed employment costs to variable ones as companies staff up and down as needed. By 2020, freelancers are expected to make up 50% of the full time workforce and this trend is helped along by a huge increase in the number of talent-matching platforms available.

This all sounds like the Millennial Dream – pick and choose hours and pay, and only work at things you like doing. It must be bliss, right?

Well…… not necessarily. In reality there is a flip side which includes low job security, unclear health care options and constant pressure to deliver. To top it off there is the challenge of competing online for projects against experts in countries where $5/hour provides a comfortable life while you live where $5/hour barely covers a Starbuck’s addiction.

There’s lot of good advice to be found for freelancers, such as managing costs, building a client base and developing expertise. However, I believe you’ll need to think more creatively to survive as a freelancer in the future.

For instance, why not take up communal living with a well-rounded group of friends – a doctor, a dentist, a chef, an accountant and a comedian would be a good start. This way you’d have shared costs and, more importantly, access to otherwise expensive resources if finances get “tight”.

Oh, and another thought; it couldn’t hurt to start saving those organic potato peelings. With your multiple degrees you’ll be able to work out how to distil fine vodka for sure! Perhaps that will be your niche contribution.

3. You will have to have a personal brand

We all have pressure to be visible on a wide range of social media and in many cases it’s an expectation. Managing how and where we are represented is all part of developing and promoting a personal brand.

There’s been a lot of focus on teenagers managing their social media output, but adults tend think they have it all under control. After all, as long as nothing too stupid is posted how damaging can it be? This flawed reasoning leads to problems time and time again.

What sorts of problems? Well, there are so many it’s hard to know where to start. Take as an example that anything online or in the cloud can be hacked, as many recently “exposed” celebrities have found to their dismay, as well as several  senior executives in the entertainment industry.

It’s not just hacking that can reveal more than you’d like, though. Anything posted or even sent privately can be made public (as certain politicians have found to their chagrin), and poorly considered tweets or posts can alienate or annoy people (no, I am not interested in the color of your new toothbrush or another “cute” picture of your cat), even if that’s not their intent.

Then there’s the whole question of how much you want to reveal outside your immediate circle. There’s always been a fine line between a close business relationship and friendship, and this becomes even harder to manage when social media gets involved (“Hey, I saw the great pictures of Johnny’s bar mitzvah on FB”: subtext, “Why wasn’t I invited to your son’s bar mitzvah?”)

Finally, there is the difficulty of maintain the integrity of anything you place online. As an example, take today’s real-time editing tools, which allow you to realistically re-enact a video in real-time. It would be a piece of cake to switch out that new puppy in your family video and replace it with an AK-47, and then substitute words and facial expressions to say pretty much anything. Tools such as these will just get better and cheaper and easier. At some point everyone will be able to make anything look real.

How can you get around all of these challenges? Well, there are several things you can do. For instance, you could restrict and tightly control everything that is posted online and lock down all privacy settings. It’s a good start, but if someone wants to manipulate your brand, they’ll probably find a way to do it.

How do you get around this, then? We suggest that you follow any advice you’d give to teens and double it, avoid being too stupid or annoying online, and hope that no one likes or dislikes you so much that they want to tamper with the content of your social media.

Oh, and maybe you should buy a rabbit’s foot – you’ll need all the help you can get.

4. Clients (and others) will be watching you

The good news for corporations and law enforcement is that soon pretty much everything you do and everywhere you go will be recorded. Already a battalion of machines has monitored your buying habits and can pinpoint the precise moment you’re most vulnerable to a sales pitch. Banks, helped by Chip-and-Pin and social media, collect vast amounts of data about you and your family. Meanwhile, a plethora of apps can monitor your physical location at any time. Everyone, of course, is willing to sell the information they’ve captured.

We’re not going to discuss the pros and cons of this far reaching scrutiny except to point out that clients will potentially have access to a lot of information about you on top of the all the stuff you’re already aware of. What does this mean for your business operations, you ask? Potentially lots!

Let’s say you manage a large marketing account for Heineken and strongly promote their beers – but secretly you only ever consume craft IPA’s. How would you feel if they discovered your dirty little secret? How would they feel?

This is a trivial example, of course, but the point is a serious one. Your suitability for a role, the way you are perceived by a client, your professional integrity – these things will be assessed based on information about  you that you may not even have access to yourself. If your clients have a big enough company behind them, they can find out a lot more about you than you can find out about them.

So, how do can you get any control over what is recorded about your movements, lifestyle and buying habits?

Probably the only way you can be sure of controlling these factors is to hide the real you. This could be done by developing a new persona and using an avatar to represent most of your on-line interactions. You could also use a postal box for deliveries, and buy as much as you can with bitcoins. This will (hopefully) make the real you much harder to track and identify, although it could also lead to some very unhealthy paranoia.

Watch out, though, that clever little Avatar you set up might just upgrade to an AI and insist on its own identity, inadvertently leading to an identity crisis. Oops, can the real Slim Shady please stand up?

5. Your clients may not be human

You’ve all heard about AI’s; clever programs that will probably only meet with you digitally, but which may otherwise be indistinguishable from (some) human clients.

At this point you’ve probably started thinking about Scarlett Johanssen (Her), Alicia Vlikander (Ex Machina), or maybe even Marvin (Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy). Don’t get too excited just yet, though. Your first virtual client will probably not match up to these examples.

Breaking open the language barrier will blow the potential of AI wide open but it’s taking time to do this. We thought Siri and Cortana would revolutionize machine speech but they have their limitations and misunderstandings. Microsoft took a bold step recently with its chatty bot, Tay, which had some significant, er, problems and had to be pulled. So far we’ve not got the digital conversationalist that science fiction has been promising for decades.

Still, we’ve made impressive progress in just a few years. More importantly, Microsoft, Facebook and IBM are just a few of the heavy weights committed to building truly conversational bots and teething problems aside, they’re making huge investments and rapid strides. This all means that a conversational AI client is definitely on the cards.

What, however, does this mean for you?

First of all, although the AI client may seem very “human”, it will not be. Even if your client is easier to chat to than your spouse and you feel like you’ve somehow  “connected”, you’ll be kidding yourself. Your AI client doesn’t have family, religion or vices, and doesn’t enjoy sports or other sensory experiences. So if your relationship with your AI client starts to feel personal, get a grip – it isn’t.

Your AI client will be smart, focused and clear about its objectives. It will not be influenced by whether you are interesting, persuasive or personable, and if you are swapped out tomorrow with Katie the actuary, your AI client of many years won’t even blink – literally.

So how on earth do you one-up an AI client – and all the other AI entities that will undoubtedly start to pop up?

There is only one thing you can do; develop and refine a wonderful sense of humor. This will probably be the single thing you can shine at relative to that know-it-all virtual being and, gratifyingly, it will confuse the silicon out of it.

Who knows, this great sense of humor  may even help you look at the funny side of things when you’re replaced by an AI several years down the track.

Maybe…….

Conclusion

There is no doubt that the work environment will undergo huge changes in the next 10-15 years, of not sooner. The massive investment by market leaders in the development of chat bots and virtual / augmented reality will soon start to deliver results and changes will quickly follow; many we’ll adapt to easily, some will have huge benefits, and others will introduce some sticky challenges.

Whatever the outcome, it’s important to be aware of pending developments and their potential impact so that you can align you work practices with the coming changes. As they say, forewarned is forearmed, and  preparation is key to surviving and thriving in the workplace of the future.

Inaport, from InaPlex, delivers CRM integration and data migration solutions for leading CRM systems including Salesforce, Microsoft Dynamics CRM, Sage CRM, Infor CRM (previously Saleslogix), Goldmine and ACT. It has a range of connectors and maps for quick results, and its straightforward approach provides a wealth of powerful functions. To learn more please book a free webinar, download a free 30 day evaluation license, or visit the InaPlex website.

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