Interview with Martijn Boomsma on the future of our work.
At first glance, you might think you need a crystal ball to predict the future. You can never know exactly what twists and turns it has in store for us. A war might erupt. A pandemic could break out. Perhaps there is a natural disaster that throws everything into disarray. Nevertheless, there is plenty we do know about the future, says Martijn Boomsma of Hatch, who helps companies pave the way toward the future. We talked to him about the future of our work.
We are getting older
"For example, we know for a fact that we are getting older," Martijn says. "The average age in Europe is going up from 40 to 46. In North America, it is going from 37 to 41. In South America from 27 to 41. In Africa from 19 to 25. In Asia from 22 to 40. That has to do with our increasing welfare: we live longer and are having fewer children, so the average age jumps up quickly. A significant percentage of the world's youth lives in Africa, so that is where many new and innovative ideas are coming from. At the same time, development and culture increasingly come from the East, where you'll find the biggest cities."
Businesses, products and concepts have a shorter lifespan
"We also know that the life expectancy of businesses is dropping fast, unless a company manages to reinvent itself again and again. The same goes for products and concepts. Whereas you could depend on a successful product for fifty or sixty years in the past, you're lucky to get twenty years out of it these days. Product launches are happening faster as a result. Just think: it took fifty years for 20% of the population to adopt flush toilets in their homes, while everyone was using WhatsApp within a year without any advertising whatsoever."
Anxiety, stress and burn-out
This paints a tumultuous picture of a world where everything is changing all the time and ever faster. "This causes many people to feel anxiety, discomfort and stress, which can in turn lead to a burn-out. Many businesses have already begun to take this into account by centering their long-term vision not only on earning a profit, but also on the wellbeing of their employees and on protecting the environment. These are long-term processes whose effects are not always immediately clear, but which are definitely being initiated."
Some businesses, for example, offer their employees vacation days as well as study days with a special study budget. Employees can use this opportunity to enrol in a course or training programme that might not even be directly related to their job, but which does energise or inspire them. Then there are businesses that use the money they save on renting office space to spend quality time with their employees, so everyone can still get together regularly to relax and catch up during e.g. a lunch, dinner or fun activity.
Hybrid and asynchronous working
"It is already clear that we are transitioning towards a hybrid form of work. This creates a new challenge: how are people coping with their new-found autonomy and how are they incorporating their work into their private life, instead of the other way around? I talk to some people who have ten online meetings every day and who are completely buried under their workload. Then there are those who feel free to go for a walk during the day, have coffee with someone or pick up their kids from school. They never want to go back to the way things were."
"The key often lies in how a company is set up. You can let people work from home, but still demand that everything gets done at certain times between 9 am and 5 pm. There is a shift happening there. I predict a move towards asynchronous working, where it will no longer be necessary for everyone to be working on the same project at the same time. This is made possible with the use of technology and by implementing certain collaborating tools. People won't even have to live in the same country any more. We're already seeing major corporations with international teams of people in different countries and time zones all working on the same project."
Self-employed professionals and freelancers
"We are gradually moving towards a so-called gig economy, in which people work on specific projects or tasks. They are free to decide when to do their work, as long as they get everything done on time. A business can use either self-employed people or payrolled employees for this. That is not particularly relevant. What is important, however, is the autonomy, self-direction and freedom that this work method offers. It also allows us to maintain a better work-life balance."
"A hundred years from now, we will look back on this time the same way we now look back on the Industrial Revolution. 'Remember when people had burn-outs and were always working, yet they had no money left at the end of every month? Two billion people on the planet could not make ends meet!' That is how we will look back on what is happening now. In a way, we have only just adopted this work method of sitting behind a screen all day and exercising in order to stay healthy. We are now discovering that staring at a screen all day is not good for our mental health or creativity. People have already begun rejecting this approach to work."
"The future of the computer is not a screen. That might be hard to imagine right now, but just look at the smartwatch, Alexa or the Metaverse. These technologies are in their infancy at the moment, but before long we will be using them by ordering them to draft articles at A4 size, 500 words, logo on the left, sent to the same team as last time. On our way home, we won't even have to bother turning on the central heating in our home; that happens automatically, based on our location. When the energy prices are high, the temperature will automatically be lowered a degree or two."
Jobs of the future
"This automation also has its downsides. Everything will be stored on a large server: what kind of person you are, how reliable you are and whether you may take out a loan or can pay for something you want to buy. That, in turn, will give rise to new professions, such as the 'Exception Manager.' Their job is to manually make exceptions for people to prevent the system from screwing up, as happened with the Dutch childcare benefits scandal."
We are already seeing a growing desire among younger generations to have meaningful work. "More and more, it is about purpose. Employees want to feel a connection to a company's purpose and get a say in how the business is run. If a business fails to anticipate this development and remains solely focused on earning as much money as possible, it will lose the war for employees. As the population ages, those employees will remain scarce for the foreseeable future."
- We are getting older: this results in persistent scarcity on the employment market organisations need to adapt to keep their older employees
- The life expectancy of businesses, brands and concepts is going down, unless they continuously reinvent themselves
- Businesses are therefore paying more attention to the wellbeing of employees
- We are moving towards a gig economy, which is all about autonomy and freedom. Businesses can use self-employed professionals or payrolled staff
- We work on tasks in an asynchronous manner as part of coalitions of opportunity, together with people of different nationalities, in different locations and different time zones
- Hybrid working is here to stay
- To ensure colleagues can still get together regularly, businesses are investing in social activities at the company's expense. These give people a chance to chat and catch up
- A hundred years from now, we will look back on this time as we now look back on the Industrial Revolution. Burn-outs will have become a thing of the past and we will all have a much better work-life balance
- We will no longer have to spend all our days staring at a screen
Interviewed by Wyke Potjer from Hetkanwel.nl