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What will the future of work look like

What will the future of work look like?

By Dr Jeremy Aroles, Assistant Professor in Organisation Studies - October 2020

Academics have been researching the so-called ‘new’ world of work for quite some time. In fact, research into new working practices has occupied an important place in both organisation studies and the sociology of work for over 30 years, with many scholars making predictions regarding what the future of work might look like and what this would mean both for organisations and employees.

Together with colleagues from King’s Business School and University Paris-Dauphine, we reviewed this vast body of scholarship in order to map out the key themes that frame the literature. This led us to make a number of predictions regarding the future of work practices, which was published in the journal New Technology, Work and Employment.

This review paper draws from prominent research into new work practices from the past 30 years. These new work practices refer to a wide range of work activities based on flexibility and diversification, from remote work to collaborative entrepreneurship and digital nomadism. We highlighted four key dimensions.

Working practices

There are a number of practices and topics that fall into what we perceive as work, but what is key here is that the type of employment we see generally is changing. This includes increases in entrepreneurship and freelance work, which of course aren’t as traditional as the previous office-based roles commonly associated with professional life.

It’s expected that we will see an increase in new and different modes of employment. This will come from rises in zero-hour contracts and other forms of unsecure employment; growth in popularity of online labour platform workforces; the development of crowd-based and collaborative forms of entrepreneurship; and the increased emergence of new spatial work arrangements such as co-working spaces. The likelihood is that a larger portion of typical employment will fall outside the normal realm of a ‘formal organisation’, and further blur the boundaries between work and private life.

The workplace

What we perceive as a workplace has also drastically changed over time, and continues to change. We’ve seen rises in those who work from home, especially in recent times, with many forced to do so because of Covid-19, and increases in hot desking and shared offices with companies such as WeWork.

Home and virtual offices are likely to be key components of the new world of work, with home workers and those who work from non-traditional workplaces (such as restaurants and coffee shops) becoming the norm, and those who work on the go, sucha s on their commute, increasing.

Individuals and organisations

Standard nine to five, five days a week employment has drastically decreased in most workplaces, and gone are the days when you had to clock in and clock out at exactly the same time each day. This is largely due to changes in how and when people work, the increase in flexible working hours and changes in the type of employment organisations are seeking. In terms of the relationship between individuals and the organisation, there has been an increase in flexibility of employment, which includes both full-time and part-time workers in organisations, co-employment (employment mediated by a recruiting agency) and contract work (short- term, project-based, hourly-paid). Hybrid forms of work, such as digital nomadism, are also continuing to rise.

Power and control

Power relationships between those who are in management and employees are likely to endure in the new world of work. In fact, it is likely that management and organisations’ power will increase due to the precarity, lack of security and short-term orientation that lie at the heart of these new work configurations. This ‘new’ world of work would then simply repeat asymmetrical power relations and inequalities that characterise current work activities, exacerbating further disparities, inequalities and precarity in employment.

Impact of Covid-19

Globalisation, economic volatility and technological changes have acted as catalysts for a number of changes to the wider workplace in recent years. The impact of Covid-19 has called into question this globalisation, created further economic volatility, and forced millions of workers to work from home and further utilise technologies. It’s likely that Covid-19 won’t necessarily drastically change what is likely to be the new world of work, but simply further accelerate the transition into this new world of work.

It is important to continue engaging with these four dimensions to understand the ways in which changes to the world of work occur at different levels – micro, meso and macro, but also social, economic or political – and unsettle work practices, their spaces and tempo, forms of collective action as well as power relations and dynamics.

For more information on Dr Aroles and his research interests click here