What 5-Year-Olds Today Will Expect From the Workplace of 2029

6 minute read
Paul Miller avatar

Virtually every senior executive I meet is preoccupied with millennials. What does this strange “new species” want, think, feel and expect, they wonder.

This is because those in their early 20s represent the first generation ever to enter the workplace knowing more about a key aspect of the workplace than their more experienced colleagues -- namely technology.

Networks, flexibility, meaning and values are just as important to this new intake as the pay-check, and employers have been shaping their physical and digital workplaces to adapt to this generational shift. Use your tech here as we are “cool with that” -- and who cares about a corner office overlooking the river anyway? Want to work one day a week from a co-working space with your friends from business school and another from home? Totally fine.

But while adjustments are creeping along to accommodate the millennials, let’s fast forward a little. What about the five-year-olds currently at school, who’ve been swiping through iPads for three years already? What will these kids want, demand, need when they enter the workplace in 15 years’ time aged 20 -- in the year 2029?

Here, I must thank the World Future Society for their fascinating predictions that helped me as I considered this intriguing question.

Here are the top 5 “must haves“ for any 20-year-old joining your organization in 2029:

1. 'Don’t ask me for loyalty to you, I am only loyal to myself'

The digital natives of today already see their current job, whatever it is, as a transitional experience -- a stepping stone to the next challenge. By 2029 this disconnect between employers and employees will have grown so much that the idea of a “job” will seem like a relic term from the Industrial Revolution.

The 20-year-olds will work hard on projects assigned to them but they will regard the relationship with you as similar to hitching a ride with an Uber car: affectionate, clear, respectful and transient. Reputation will matter hugely to the new worker -- both theirs and yours -- but this will be a meeting of equals.

2. The blurring between work and life will be complete and the separation of the two will be impossible to spot

The 24/7 rapid shifting between work and non-work will have permeated so far into normal living that when our five-year-olds of today start work it will be impossible to tell when they are working on your assignment, when for other work providers, or when just connecting with friends and family. They will not view weekends and evenings as being any different from those parts of the week the industrial period dubbed “9 to 5.”

This melding of work with everything else in their lives will be natural and fluid, based on preference. Models like TaskRabbit, the home and personal assistance platform, will be ubiquitous as our new workers design their days, weeks, years, lives around what excites and inspires them.

3. Working for you will have begun a decade earlier

IBM has a new platform for teens called “Yet to be Blue,” designed to engage school-age children with the IBM brand. And many of the brightest teens and younger will have developed relationships with you from when they were 10. Partly educational for them and partly for you, these early years connections will produce ongoing exchanges through which teens join a range of projects that are built into their school or online learning programs.

The shift when they get a deeper role with you at 20 will be hard to spot as many will already have been on your payroll in some form for a decade. Interestingly, their working relationship with you will stretch potentially over 80 years, given longer life expectancy and the ability to work digitally. They start at 10 and leave at 90.

4. Brand and values will be critical factors in attracting new hires

These 20-year-olds will gravitate towards brands that resonate with them, based on what organizations do, produce, give back, and how they work and feel. If you love deep-sea diving, for instance, why not connect your skills with a company producing diving gear or offering dive training -- to help them, use their products for pleasure, and all the time enjoy the people you meet both online and while diving yourself.

Learning Opportunities

Young new workers will seek out what inspires them and, while the quality of projects will matter a great deal to them, so will the nature and culture of the organizations they work with. At any one time, a 20-year-old will have several different companies they work for, maybe with projects linking from one company to another. Calling this employment, or a job or position, will seem like an echo from an industrial age they used to hear their “millennial” parents talk about.

5. The new hire will be part human, part synthetic and part robotic - and will expect you to supply upgrades for their personal software

Caution! This last point is going to sound like something from science fiction ... but this is where the digital renaissance of work is leading us.

The new hire will offer a package. This will consist partly of natural-born biology, as has always been the case, but in this new era the natural will have been supplemented by a synthetic biology implanted at various stages throughout their lives. Just as we now treat iPhone upgrades as part of what we bring to the office, so these personal operating system upgrades will become part of us, adding to our value and revenue-generating potential. Instead of a phone in the hand this will come in the form of “biology” within us.

In addition, we will either have had distinct robotic components added to us ourselves or we will be accompanied by robotic friends in our work. This composite will make for higher performing 20-year-olds, and part of what will attract individuals (plus their new bits and bobs) to work for you will be the ability and willingness of your organization to upgrade their systems and software so that they benefit from this investment by you as you enhance their value.

You’ve seen the changes in technology over the last 15 years. Wearable tech, such as watches and Google Glass, is in its infancy, but imagine how far it will develop in the next 15 years.

In 2029, a young 20-year-old worker could have a computer chip implanted in her fingernail that syncs wirelessly with digital contact lenses, in-ear headphones you can barely see or a wristband that monitors hand muscle movements to manipulate digital 3D images. Each of these items is simply a few generations of technology removed from what we have today, if not closer. They could well be the standard-issue “smart wearable” tech that replaces the smart phones we have today.

What are you doing to catch up with today?

For most companies, 15 years is too far away to plan for. But many companies have technology that is woefully behind that which even consumers are using today.

Hopefully this vision of the near future will help senior executives understand the seismic changes ahead and encourage them to pull their organizations’ digital workplaces forward. Falling too far behind today will mean becoming an ancient relic for the future’s young workers.

About the author

Paul Miller

Paul Miller is CEO and Founder of Digital Workplace Group. His book The Digital Renaissance of Work: Delivering digital workplaces fit for the future (co-authored with Elizabeth Marsh), was shortlisted for the CMI Management Book of the Year 2016 Award.