I was sent this article recently. It seems to have a few Internet sources, but most reliably comes from the Workforce magazine/website (Subscribe ). Its a long entry, so I have split it into two parts. The second part can be found here.
From e-mail to health care, and from artificial intelligence to the end of HR as we know it, here are forecasts of how different the world of workforce management will be 10 years from now.
Workforce-management decisions aren’t made with crystal balls. What they do demand is a clear sense of the landscape on the far horizon. As a human resources executive, you probably know what health care will cost your company next year.
But you’re far less certain whether or not legions of workers will be full-time telecommuters five years from now, or if defined benefits will even exist in 2013. Fortunately, there are forward-thinkers and trend-spotters out there who make it their business to suss out the future for us. Our visionaries don’t always agree with each other, as you’ll see. Still, their predictions of what factors will alter the world of workforce management are provocative, and may serve to inform and intrigue all of us who manage people.
It has taken less than a decade for electronic mail to emerge as the heart and soul of corporate communication. Yet while e-mail has made it faster and easier for people to swap words and data, it also has unleashed inbox overload and a seemingly endless stream of spam. Future e-mail systems will attempt to remedy today’s problems–but also add new capabilities. One possibility is that senders will have to match a predetermined list–either by name, company, or IP (Internet provider) address–or find themselves blocked. In addition, better anti-spam programs will help sift out the junk. Powerful information-management and collaboration tools are also likely to emerge. They will link associated messages and track message streams more efficiently. Internet pioneer Vinton Cerf predicts that automatic language translation will take hold. Finally, unified messaging will allow workers to check e-mail, voice mail, mobile messaging, and fax machine from a single inbox.
Despite declining membership and overwhelming odds, labor unions aren’t in danger of dying any time soon. They do, however, face the future with these grim facts: Membership dropped from 20.1 percent of the labor force in 1983 to 13.2 percent in 2002. The decline in U.S. manufacturing cost union members 1.5 million jobs in the 1990s. The Bush administration has eliminated collective bargaining rights for large numbers of federal employees. Still, more than 500,000 workers formed new unions last year. Union members make on average $150 a week more than non-union workers. Pharmacists and physicians, faced with alarming shifts in the medical marketplace, will join unions in growing numbers in the coming years. But to retain their power, unions must reverse the shrinkage, experts say. “Unions have been doing a better job than ever,” says Kate Bronfenbrenner, director of Labor Education Research at Cornell University. “It’s just that the bar is a lot higher.”
|Business Goes to Kindergarten
All signs indicate that corporate involvement in public schools–already redefining kindergarten-through-high-school education–will continue to increase over the next decade. Alarmed by under performing public schools and students poorly equipped for the job market, business is getting directly involved. Corporate sponsors are popping up on campuses from Washington, D.C., to Stockton, California, as a new generation of students prepares for college, and for jobs such as auto mechanics, Internet specialists, and hotel workers. School-to-business field trips start in kindergarten. Internships, meetings with
top executives in office settings, and even paychecks are available for older students. “We’re saying, ‘See, there is a reason to go to school,’” says Knute Momberg, director of Stockton’s Weber Institute of Applied Sciences and Technology. The school has more computers than students, and GM provided the new cars that teens take apart in squeaky-clean service bays.
In Europe, snooping at employees’ e-mail isn’t only considered bad form. It’s often flat-out illegal. And as American companies increasingly enjoy their reputations as global trendsetters in business practices, they may have to reverse some key employee policies, says Andy Boling, a partner and employment-law expert in the Chicago-based law firm Baker & McKenzie. One obvious area is workplace privacy, where U.S. companies may be compelled to reduce their monitoring of e-mail and Internet use. “Multinationals are finding that it’s too cumbersome to have one set of privacy policies for Europe, another for Hong Kong and Australia, and a third standard for the United States,” he says. With U.S.-based employees communicating increasingly via e-mail with their European counterparts, Americans also will begin to covet their liberal vacation policies and parental-leave benefits. “These things may not be implemented here to the extent of the privacy regulations,” Boling says, “but American workers and organized labor may increasingly look to Europe as the standard.”
|Companies Won’t Sleep
In a quest to reach new customers in foreign time zones and to speed up production and services, more and more companies in the future will be open for business around the clock, seven days a week. Already about 24 million Americans work in the 24/7 culture, according to Circadian Technologies, a Massachusetts-based consulting firm. While the 24/7 worker used to be an assembly-line worker, today he or she may well be a college-educated computer-tech-support specialist working nights in San Francisco, providing Japanese-language advice to a customer who calls from Tokyo during his lunch hour. The migration to a 24/7 workplace will make human resources managers’ jobs far more complex, says David Mitchell, Circadian’s director of publications. “You may have to offer nighttime child-care providers, who watch kids while they sleep,” he says. “And you may have to be much more creative in terms of scheduling–for example, if you’re running a call center for a retailer, you may have to have more staff
on hand right after the 2:30 a.m. infomercial.” Employers also will have a trickier time dealing with disability claims, since some mental health conditions may be exacerbated by a shift to nighttime work.
Making computers think more like people is an idea that persists. In the workplace, software already predicts customer behavior and machine failures on the factory floor. These capabilities will continue to evolve. As the Web and data warehouses grow, artificial intelligence will solve problems that are beyond the reach of the human brain. AI’s strength is that it can uncover patterns and spot problems amid a mountain of data. That might translate into detecting financial fraud by examining billions of transactions, says Pepperdine University business professor Owen P. Hall Jr. Meanwhile, agents and bots–tiny pieces of software–will use real-time data to make decisions about how to maximize the efficiency of trucking fleets, machinery, and network resources. “AI will bring advances but also usher in ethical concerns,” Hall says.
|The Simmering Malaise
For several years, employees have had a very tough time. They’ve lived with the fear of downsizing. They’ve watched benefits and retirement savings shrink. And they’ve been forced to work harder and longer, with fewer opportunities for promotions or raises. Even when the economy eventually recovers, experts say, pervasive dissatisfaction and anger aren’t likely to evaporate. Only 25 percent of workers feel a strong attachment to their employers, and 4 in 10 feel trapped in their jobs, according to Walker Information, an Indianapolis-based research firm. Walker vice president Marc Drizin says employee loyalty was on the decline even before the economy stalled, and that pattern is likely to continue. “I think most organizations still don’t understand why you need to be good to your workers,” he says. Employers who ignore workplace discontent run the risk of periodic productivity slumps as skilled staffers depart for higher-paying positions whenever the labor market surges. Smart companies that make employees feel valued will gain a crucial competitive edge.
In the coming years, most cubicle-dwelling employees probably won’t have a room–or a door–of their own. There is an office movement toward more shared work space coupled with private desk areas, especially in creative industries, says Gervais Tompkin, a lead designer with the San Francisco-based Workplace Practices Group at Gensler Architecture, Design and Planning Worldwide. What’s more, workforce managers will play a key role in office design, serving as a critical link between the personal and professional needs of workers and the vision of architects, he says. “When we analyze what makes our best designs successful and keeps those clients coming back to us, it is the active involvement of human resources managers early on in the process,” Tompkin says. He isn’t prepared to predict the demise of doorless cubicle kingdoms, but says that he is seeing changes. “I personally could never operate with a closed door because people need to interrupt me at will since our work is so collaborative. Lawyers, on the other hand, will always need a way to shut out the world because their work is by nature mostly one-on-one.”
|Defined Benefit Plans
Attracting the best and brightest employees in the future will become nearly impossible without a defined benefit plan. Stewart Lawrence, a senior vice president of The Segal Company in New York, predicts that companies without retirement plans that provide guaranteed benefits will be passed over for employers that do. “Employees now understand the volatility of defined contribution plans and are looking for a balanced program with both the upside potential of a defined contribution plan and the mitigation of downside risk of a defined benefit plan,” he says. Major employers such as Microsoft, Wal-Mart, and Cisco Systems currently don’t offer defined benefit plans because they have been able in recent years to recruit effectively without them. This will no longer be true. As the workforce
ages and labor shortages increase, Lawrence says, companies will have to offer retirement plans that provide a floor level of retirement income.
|Telework Has a Part-Time Future
By the year 2010, more than half of American wage earners will spend more than two days a week working outside the office, reports the Sulzer Infrastructure Services firm in London. Today, 28 million people “telework” under formal company policies–a leap from 4 million in 1990–and millions more work informally out of the office one or more days a week. As inexpensive broadband Internet access and mobile technologies take hold, the number will increase, says Toni Kistner, managing editor of Net.Worker, a division of Network World magazine. “The technology has steamrolled ahead, making it
cheaper and easier to work from anywhere.” It will be rare even 10 years from now, however, to find people in any profession who telework five days a week. When teleworking took off in the 1990s, people talked about how the workforce would be dispersed and offices would shut down. That hasn’t happened, Kistner says. As the economy improves, companies may reduce their real estate, encouraging employees to share offices. That will create open work spaces that accommodate a flexible part-time telework environment. But there will always be a central location where people come to work, she says. “Some people need to come to the office to stay connected.” In professional jobs, teleworking is already common. With technological upgrades and guidance, the trend soon will take hold in fields such as nursing
and call-center management. New kinds of work that combine technology and service also will be more feasible as technology improves, says Sirkka Heinonen, senior research scientist at VTT Communities, the biggest technological research center of the Finnish government. As the number of senior citizens in the industrial world rises, for example, many will want to live at home as long as they can. “Some kind of telework service providers to monitor these people at home will likely grow up around this need,” she predicts. “These won’t be traditional nurses, who are always on-site, but they will be telepresent and will probably visit [patients] physically from time to time.”
|Consumer-Driven Health Care Reigns
Despite exploratory moves toward consumer-driven health care, most American companies aren’t exactly blasting into this new benefit area–not quite yet. Ten years from now, however, the notion of health-care dollars that employees can spend as they see fit will be routine, say benefits experts. Consumer-driven plans take many forms. All are designed to make employees more aware of, and responsible for, the cost consequences of their health-care choices. Roger Vaughn, president of Aon Consulting U.S., says that employees will benefit from the hard bargains that employers drive with health-care providers, so they won’t have to bear the expense of buying health care on the open market. And thanks to the Internet and a push for greater openness about corporate finances, employees will be able to see exactly what health care will cost them, and they’ll also be able to make comparisons to other plans, Vaughn says. The other critical pieces for the success of consumer-driven programs are “education, advocacy, and assistance,” says Richard A. Travers, CEO of Travers, O’keefe, a New York-based benefits consulting and brokerage firm. Those elements aren’t entirely present yet, but five years from now they will be, and “we’ll be well on our way,” he says.
Child care is and will continue to be a major, often heartrending subject for working parents. As the national workforce ages and the number of women of childbearing age levels off in the next five years, the demand for child care may lessen. But access to quality child care will continue to be a major issue for working moms and their employers. Susan Seitel, president of Work & Family Connection, Inc., a Minnesota-based consulting firm, says one of the major problems for working parents is what to do when the babysitter is sick or doesn’t show up, or the regular preschool is closed for a holiday or vacation break. She expects that an increasing number of companies will offer backup-care arrangements that employees can use in the event of emergencies. “Employees often are willing to
pay a fee for the care, so all the company may have to provide is the space,” Seitel says. A related trend may be the rise of contractors that provide innovative activities for company-sponsored day care, such as theater classes for kids, she says.