June 12, 2024

What will the office of the future look like?

Over the past five years, our workplaces have probably changed more rapidly than at any time in history. But how will the office of the future look? We explore.

Remote working: back to the future?

The push for flexible working has been going on for a while now—as far back as the 1960s, German companies began allowing employees to work flexible hours to beat commuter traffic. However, flexibility really only became the norm for most workplaces during the pandemic, when lockdowns and social distancing forced people out of their offices and into their homes.

Now that most white-collar workers have had a taste for work out of the office, they want more. An ACTU survey found that 81% of Australians wanted to work from home all or most of the time – so long as they had adequate support.

 

Overall, around 37% of Australians now work from home. This represents a massive change from pre-COVID times when only 12% of people reported working from home most days, and another 10% worked from home at least one day a week.

While some employers are ‘clawing back’ people’s flexible working time, many others see it as a tool to attract and retain the best employees. So, the more of an ‘employees’ market’ it is, the more likely we are to see remote working as standard.

Some employers, especially those in professions and highly technical work, have even started using remote working as a tool for overcoming labour shortages. By allowing people to work from anywhere, they can access skills not readily available in their local area.

The borderless, and at least partly remote office, is already here for many companies – especially some of the larger ones. We think it’s a trend that will impact more organisations in the coming years, especially smaller ones, as they look globally to compete for talent. 

 

Freelancing to become the norm?

Another real change we’ve seen over the past decade has been a massive rise in contracting and freelancing – so much so that, according to one report, freelancers now make up more than a third of the Australian workforce

This isn’t just ‘gig economy’ workers that rely on delivery apps and low-paid work. We’re increasingly seeing highly skilled workers going freelance, selling their services to a range of organisations rather than just one employer. 

When combined with the rise in outsourcing, this has pushed a lot of work that was once done in-house by generalists into the hands of experts who work on a contract rather than a salary basis.

We believe that this is very much the way of the future, with organisations increasingly looking to focus on their core competencies. At the same time, they will move other functions out of house.

 

The rise and rise of generative AI

It’s impossible to talk about the future of the workplace without also talking about AI.

ChatGPT—the first widely used large language model (LLM) built on generative AI—only became public in November 2022. By the start of 2024, it had more than 180 million users and 1.6 billion website visits.

Studies have also revealed that more than 57% of American workers have tried ChatGPT, and 16% use it regularly for work. 

But we’re still very much in the infancy of the generative AI revolution, and it’s likely it will have a massive impact on the future of work.

Already, we’re seeing some of the world’s biggest companies implementing AI in their operations. Companies like Google and Amazon use it to power their customer service interactions. J.P. Morgan Chase and Goldman Sachs have deployed AI throughout their organisations, including to help with fraud detection and investment strategies. 

As the technology takes off and gains acceptance, it’s likely that some jobs will disappear. Yahoo! listed 16 occupations it believes will be replaced by AI, including translation, entry-level writing and proofreading, data entry, legal research, and even accounting. However, it also noted that we’re likely to see new ones emerge and that existing ones are likely to change.

Yahoo! also notes a Goldman Sachs report that found any job losses tend to be offset by newly created jobs. For instance, when the internet displaced hundreds of thousands of jobs in fields such as postal work, print, video stores, and travel, it created hundreds of thousands of new jobs in things like web design, digital marketing, app development, and data science.

Another factor to consider is that AI is likely to change how we do our jobs. For many of us, it may be able to significantly reduce the amount of time spent on administrative and routine tasks. That could, in turn, free us up to spend more time on high-value strategic work.

 

What this means for us… 

We’ve already seen the workplace undergo remarkable changes over the past five or so years. In the next half-decade, we believe it will change just as rapidly.

These trends mean our workplaces are likely to become more global, with in-house teams pairing up with specialised freelancers, contractors, outsourced service providers, and AI.

As a result, the workplace of 2029 will be so different from the one of 2019 – and even of 2024 – that parts of it will be almost unrecognisable.

Our job as HR professionals, managers, and business leaders is to stay on top of the trends and figure out how to use them to our advantage rather than being left behind. 

If you’d like to know more, get in touch. 

 

say hi to our author

Merilyn founded Catalina Consultants in 2012 on the belief that all organisations, regardless of size, should have access to top quality bespoke HR services. She enjoys working closely with her clients and believes that the best results are built on relationships of rapport, trust and authenticity. Growing up, Merilyn had her sight set on stardom and dreamed of becoming an actor. She also sang and played the piano, but ended up studying accounting and HR. Whilst she hasn’t won her Grammy just yet, she still loves a good karaoke night. Merilyn loves to travel with her family, with South Africa being one of her most memorable destinations.

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