woman wearing virtual reality headset
While it's impossible to predict the future, Gartner's placing a bet we'll be seeing more of these seven technology trends in our workplaces in the near future PHOTO: Samuel Zeller

Predicting the future of work is clearly impossible, but during one of the final sessions of the Gartner Digital Workplace Summit in London, Gartner VP Matthew W. Cain and Gartner research director Helen Poitevin outlined some future directions for the workplace and made recommendations on how enterprises can prepare for that future.

While the two said precise predictions were impossible, one thing they were sure of: the world of work and the skills we will need to have in 10 years will bear little resemblance to work as we understand it today.

"The change will be massive and we need to understand what is happening in the workplace. It is hard to steer a technology strategy unless we know how work is changing,” Cain said.

“We have to work out what the roles and responsibilities are and will be needed to deliver those outcomes, and what skills and tools we need to do it.”

7 Trends Shaping the Future of Work

If work is changing, so too are the technologies around it, as are the number of technologies that will be used to complete any task. According to Cain and Poitevin, the technologies that will become mainstream in five years are already in use in some enterprises. Organizations should pay attention to seven in particular when planning.

1. Artificial Intelligence

Anyone working in a modern organization will have come across artificial intelligence (AI) in some area of their workplace. What is not so clear is what broader impact AI will have on the workplace.

A wide spectrum of analysts and executives believe AI will create many jobs, and just as many who believe AI may destroy jobs and redesign the digital workplace.

Whatever way you look at it, and taking a broad spectrum of jobs into account, very few jobs will remain untouched by AI. What will happen, though, is the automation of routine work tasks.

Cain and Poitevin noted that at least 30 percent of the majority (60 percent) of worker's activities could currently be automated. They predict AI will focus on this automation of routine tasks. 

Verdict: There will be no escaping AI.

2. Robobosses

Related to this is the emergence of robobosses. If you break down what managers do daily, its clear AI or bots could perform at least some of it.

“They hire, fire, carry out job performance reviews and manage projects. If you deconstruct what managers do every day, there is a great opportunity to automate many of those elements. It’s not that AI replaces managers, but rather that they will complement managers,” Cain said.

Workers are already reporting to algorithms in some cases, where the algorithm has replaced human managers to a certain extent.  Poitevin used Uber as an example here as well as a San Francisco-based QA web and application testing firm vendor.

Verdict: Robbobosses will become common, but will not replace higher management functions.

3. Workplaces Become Smart

Workplaces will also continue to become smarter. As they get smarter, applications will start to manage and supervise smart buildings. These apps will assign parking spaces, automatically assign workplaces, while smart badges will gather information about your experience with the building. The two said this will support 'digital dexterity.'

“When you work in a digital work space you improve digital dexterity. You are sending a message to the workforce that it’s a good thing. This is good for the organization as digital dexterity will be a key attribute soon,” Cain said.

Verdict: Expect a smattering of smart buildings, as the cost will deter wide-scale proliferation. 

4. Virtual Personal Assistants

As we grow more ambitious with machine learning algorithms and more familiar with automation possibilities, Virtual Personal Assistants (VPA) will enter the workspace.

Enterprises still lag consumers in adopting VPAs with consumers already using Alexa, Siri and Google in their daily lives.

Rather than the single personal assistant found outside of the workplace, enterprises are more likely to employ a number of VPAs for tasks related to training, calendar management and more. These assistants will also start 'talking' and coordinating with each other. 

Verdict: In the very near future, so many VPAs will flood the workplace, it will be difficult to decide which one should help with what task.

5. Changing Duties

Jobs and duties will constantly be changing as a result of all of the technological changes. Whether this means elimination of jobs or not is not entirely clear. The current issue is not whether there will be change but what those changes will be.

Verdict: Job roles are already changing, but the pace will increase as more technologies come into play.

6. The Gig Economy

The concept of the 'gig’ economy is nothing new. There has always been a gig economy in certain professions where work was farmed out to freelance workers.  However, Cain and Poitevin see platforms emerging that match people with work tasks, or freelancers with freelance jobs.

Gigs can be broken down between internal and external. External ‘gigs’ will be rewarded with money; internal, or enterprises ‘gigs,’ will be rewarded with career advancement.

Internal gigs will require a redesign of platforms, as freelance workers bring their own technologies inside the firewall.

It also means matching jobs with skillsets in the enterprise using enterprise information to assess the ability of workers to fill roles. This will become a lot more common as more workers get pulled into the ‘gig’ economy.

Verdict: A growing number of 'gig' based workplaces will emerge dependent on an organizations' needs and its ability to protect its assets.

7. Digital Dexterity

Digital dexterity is about the ability and willingness of workers to use existing and emerging technology. Technology is playing a bigger part in everyone's workplace — not just the so called "knowledge workers" and the ability to use these technologies will be key.

“IT needs to get better at scanning, piloting and adopting new technology as more and more technology is arriving on the scene,” Cain said.

“As we move to a SaaS-based economy this is going to be increasingly important and will require an expansion of the IT charter so that it includes rapidly embracing new technology."

Verdict: Digital dexterity will add to the list of hiring requirements and IT will grow more agile in response to workplace needs.