Technological developments, an aging population, changes in people’s preferences, and an increasingly globalising economy influence the entire working process.
Author: Rauno Piirsalu, Ministry of Social Affairs, Working Life Development Department, Chief Specialist
In the digital era, changes occur increasingly fast and companies and workers must keep up with the pace of these changes in order to remain competitive – forcing both to redefine the concepts of 'employer' and 'worker', as well as what is meant by 'working'.
Technology, including data, equipment, cooperation networks, communication environments, the Internet of things and cloud technology allow working in a new way, constantly keeping us busy and improving our work performance. Now and increasingly more in the future, technology forms one of the most important bases for an organisation, which enables all other activities.
As a result of globalisation and rapid technological developments, the world is becoming a single market where country of location, language, culture, or currency type no longer play a major role for the companies doing business. In the future, where workers are situated will matter even less – companies can search out and find workers with suitable knowledge and skills from all across the world. On the other hand, globalisation forces companies to optimise their activities in order to survive the harsh conditions of competition – to decrease costs, increase and improve the efficiency of their work, and obtain the necessary knowledge and skills. It has been forecasted that by 2020, there may be 825 000 job vacancies in Europe in the field of information and communications technology.
In a few years, those who came of age around the turn of the century and later will make up half of the labour force. For them, using information and communications technology and its opportunities is self-evident and they want to live and work under modern conditions. They, as well as younger generations, have already made several changes to organisations. A future worker may be anyone, irrespective of age, if they are ready to adjust their ways of thinking and conduct themselves to the changes in the labour market.
In addition, the expectations and preferences, as well as conduct and practices of employers and workers have changed over time. The way in which we communicate, cooperate, search for information, learn, teach, use technology, and create content has also changed. In the case of many jobs, diverse communication possibilities and cloud services enable the choice of suitable times and places for working. Communication networks and cloud-based working environments allow companies to put together and make use of virtual and international teams that are continuously changing in time.
Most workers no longer find that they have to be confined to an office to create value. Both younger and older employees expect work to be balanced and have flexible conditions. For example, in the United Kingdom, the rate of self-employment is the highest it has been in the past 40 years. Those who work in an office believe that they spend too much time at work, e.g. nearly half of the fathers in the USA find it difficult to balance work and family life.
Until now, flexibility in terms of work has meant obliging some groups of employees in organisations, but at present, it is thought that we will undergo significant changes in this area during the next decade. It is believed that there will be fewer organisations with a strict hierarchy where work is performed in a traditional manner in the future; meaning, where employment contracts prescribe full-time work and an obligation to work in an office. According to the estimate of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), non-standard forms of work already make up nearly a third of all employment. There are an increasing number of organisations that comprise a network of people who are flexible in performing their specific duties, working wherever and whenever it is suitable. In these organisations, work is not done in a traditional way in which an employer oversees the work of an employee, but rather in a contracting authority-tenderer or contracting entity-supplier manner that is based on trust.
Workplaces are becoming places that are mainly meant for cooperation meetings. It is evident that increasingly more companies want to save on transportation costs, as well as costs related to office space. Companies that have tested these changes have already achieved positive results related to work efficiency and cost savings, mainly thanks to a smarter use of office space. Absences from work and employee turnover have also decreased.
The common wish among all labour market participants is greater freedom of choice and independence in performing their work. Previously, workers had a stable and linear career, which did not change for a long period of time. Nowadays, work is more divided, specialised, and complex. It is likely that people’s working lives already include several consecutive or simultaneous short-term employment relationships. For example, in the 28 European Union member states, the percentage of 25-34-year-olds who work in one place for ten consecutive years decreased from 17.5% to 12.5% in 2000-2014. In the USA, the average employment relationship of people aged 25-34 lasts three years, whereas for 55-64-year-olds this is 10.4 years. Nowadays, work of a similar or different nature is also performed simultaneously under several employers – there are many different variations and that is the future of work.
In order to continue the discussion on the topic of the future of work during Estonia’s Presidency of the Council of the European Union, the Ministry of Social Affairs will be organising an international high-level conference the 'Future of Work: Making It e-Easy', held in Tallinn on 13-14 September. The main goal of the conference is to introduce the practical solutions that would make adapting to the future of work considerably easier. The conference brings 400 participants and more than 30 speakers from across the world to Tallinn.