Career Advice From A To Z: “F” For “The Future Of Work”


Yogi Berra said “it is difficult to make predictions, especially about the future”. What will the future of work be like? I am not an economist but I have been interviewing thousands of candidates in the past 10 years who want or have to change job. I have also talked to a similar number of decision makers in companies who tell me about their challenges to find and keep talent.

I daily hear from knowledge-workers what they like and dislike about their jobs and companies and how they would like to work in the future. And in times were talent is rare, employees will determine what the future of work will look like – not the companies anymore.

What will tomorrow’s workplace look like? Here come the top 3 predictions:

  1. “Flex is key”: Work in the 20th century has been mainly “full-time, exclusive employment relationships where people are paid for the amount of time they spend at a common location, organized in stable hierarchies where they are evaluated primarily through the judgment of their superiors” (McKinsey). Tomorrow’s knowledge workers want more flexibility in every term. ‘Flex time’ or ‘the possibility to have a home office’ is the number 1 thing I hear today from my candidates. There is no longer a clear distinction between work and private life: we are connected 24/7 and for many jobs, it does not make a difference if we respond to a customer from our work station Monday 4PM or from home Saturday 9AM. The term ‘work’ will be defined differently and today’s means to measure it will no longer be valid. John Seely Brown, Independent Co-Chairman of the Deloitte Center for the Edge, takes it to the extreme with his statement “A tremendous amount of my work is done in my sleep.” (Aspen Institute). Future work contracts might no longer state weekly hours as long as the job will be done and salaries could be linked to results only. We will work from anywhere in the world and only drop by for meetings. Office space and rent will be reduced, fix work stations belong to the past, we will work in virtual teams and cross-boarder. Sabbaticals and off-times will be normal, a permanent work contract a relic. We will turn to a true ‘management by objectives’
  2. “Management has ceased to exist”: With higher turnover, less loyalty and 60-80% ‘Just In Time Workers’, the way we manage people and knowledge must fundamentally change. In the future, talent will be fluid and move in and out of companies. If generation Y don’t like what you tell them, they will simply not return from their lunch break (I heard this story from two contacts last week). The protection of intellectual property – a key component of competitiveness in the near past – will have much less importance. ‘The Information Age’ was yesterday as today as information is omnipresent at all times and any place with wifi connection. Not information will secure your competitive edge tomorrow but how you use it. The challenges for tomorrow’s managers will therefore no longer be to define rules and control that procedures are followed but to create an environment for their teams to get the job done, to form context and meaning. Management must turn from top-down to down-top. It has to empower employees and treat them like partners, clients or alliances
  3. “The end of corporate companies”: Every week, I see senior leaders with 14, 16 or 22 years track record in the same company. They have been loyal and accepted every job the group asked them to. Yet at one point of time, the company verticalizes, horizontalizes or restructures in another way and they are made redundant. Alcatel Lucent, IBM, Air France all announced massive layoffs very recently, SMEs create jobs. It is a question mark how companies with 100,000+ employees will adapt to the new world compared to fast moving SMEs or start-ups. An agile speedboat can easily steer around an iceberg – the leviathan Titanic could not. Thomas W. Malone, Director of the MIT Center for Collective Intelligence writes “We should probably expect that the main way that this transition will occur is with new companies—startups—that are different from the beginning, rather than old companies that are transformed.” (The Future of Work, Harvard Business Review Press). Futhermore, big companies often do not offer a work place for 50+: one of my friends, running the country operations of a corporate company with 250 people, told me “average age here is 40”. Big corporate companies might be the big losers of the 21th century labor world and will have to move fast to attract and keep talent (The “Orange World”/ PriceWaterhouseCoopers).


Peter Drucker wrote “all we know about the future is that it will be different”. The world is changing more rapidly than ever yet the meaning of work has not changed: ‘give sense to life, get access to social contacts, build status, structure our days, find self fulfilment and pay the rent’ though the individual importance of each might shift. Let’s continue to work hard for our employers and for our careers and everything will be fine (at least let’s hope so…).

Jorg Stegemann
Jorg Stegemann - Headhunter, Certified Coach and Business Writer - is the CEO of Kennedy Executive Search. Apart from running our company blog, he writes for Forbes, BBC and other media.
  1. Fred Reply

    Very interesting article which reflects exactly the changes we’ll have to go through.

    But will it be really useful to answer on any day- and night-time to business issues?
    Wouldn’t it be a proof of contemporary management to respect privacy and “time-out” periods?

    • Jorg Stegemann
      Jorg Stegemann Reply

      Fred –

      Thanks for your comment. It appears that not only the term “work” will be defined differently but also “privacy”. Generation Y do not see a difference between work and private life. And actually, when I wrote on this Saturday night, I stopped in between to send a short email to a candidate.

      Another explanation can be that with a changing economy and increased competition, service becomes more and more important. Clients are not willing to wait for 3 work days to get an answer to an email.

      What are your thoughts?


      • Fred
        Fred Reply

        I completely agree. I even believe that it will be often easier for 50+ managers to handle generation Y employees than for Y Managers to handle 50+.

        Management has become much more complicated than 20 years ago, not only in complexity of the issues but also in staff members “management” – but on the other hand it has also become much more interesting…

  2. Martin Reply

    Dear Jorg,

    Again, one of your article with deep sens and totaly correct – the future of work will be different and it depends of each one of us to understand it!

    But…50+ managers must not be basically hugely frustrated if:

    – They are flexible.
    – Understand the new management from down-top.
    – Understand that “confidence” will be a key word.
    – And they live with their time and not against.

    And it’s possible to get then interesting jobs!

    Waiting on the next one.

    • Jorg Stegemann
      Jorg Stegemann Reply

      Thanks, Martin!

  3. Cornel Reply

    To point 2:

    Why can an anthill be functional?

    No managers!

    This is an important reason, but not the only one. Let’s look at the ants:

    – They do what they are born to do – following their talents
    – They don’t wait for orders
    – They look for work to be done
    – Those who discover work just do it
    – Those having no actual work help others
    – They communicate on the same level, not top-down, not bottom-up

    Look for employees with these 6 characteristics, and your task is to clear the way. They’ll do the rest.


    • Jorg Stegemann
      Jorg Stegemann Reply

      Great comparison. I believe in management but I also believe in autonomy and communication on the same level. Thanks!

  4. Charbel Reply

    Very interesting !

  5. Frédéric Reply

    Very good thoughts! Big companies may be less attractive to top talents in the future but will still be for investors, can still pay a lot for top talents and have the required budget/power to excite 50+ executives. So, between 50+ people and large companies, it might be a hugely frustration relation in the next decade!

    • Cornel Reply

      Big companies may be able and perhaps even willing to pay a lot for top talents, but are they able to motivate the top talents? If they manage to hire top talents, they force them into the standard structures, boring them with standard tasks.

      Top talents need big challenges and a lot of free space to make own decisions on the ways to solutions.

      Do not deliver milk in a Ferrari!

      • Jorg Stegemann
        Jorg Stegemann Reply

        Good points, Cornel, I like it!

  6. Tim Reply

    Sure, the flexible work environment and other points are well put, but this was really well put:

    “The challenges for tomorrow’s managers will therefore no longer be to define rules and control that procedures are followed but to create an environment for their teams to get the job done, to form context and meaning.”

    That’s certainly a different leadership profile than what I see most organizations hiring for today. This is a must read.

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