Looking back is much easier than looking forward - when Management Today published its first issue in 1966, Britain was debating decimalisation, the average weekly wage was £14 and workers were enjoying a 'golden age' of employment and easy-to-find jobs.
As our Future of Work special report has demonstrated, we've come a long way since then, but it's safe to say that the changes over the next 50 years will be ever more profound. Of course, no one can predict them with any accuracy - the future is not a mere extrapolation of the past. But each year CEBR, one of the UK's leading economics consultancies, predicts where the British economy will rank in 15 years' time. As things stand, it forecasts that in 2031 the UK will be the world's sixth biggest economy with a GDP of £4.7bn (compared to £3bn now), and that it could even overtake the German and Japanese economies during the 2040s.
But how might we get there? What will our world of work look like in the 2040s, or even by 2066? Here are three hypothetical MT scenarios for you to chew over.
MT SCENARIO 1: THE ROBOTS WIN
In this scenario, artificial intelligence, automation and the 'internet of things' are exploited to the full to meet businesses' exclusive focus on profits, revenue, and growing market share - not dissimilar to what companies focus on today except industries will consolidate around a handful of huge, global and monolithic data-driven corporations that rule their sectors and exert power and influence in every sphere of public life. (Sounding familiar yet?)
Robots walk the streets with us, work at the desk next to us, serve us dinner. Automation will move from routine manual and cognitive tasks to non-routine manual and cognitive ones. Automation will breed further automation, as humans will no longer fit into the new systems and processes.
There is minimal separation between humankind and intelligent machinery - humans must adapt to the needs of technology, not vice versa. It is now difficult to distinguish between who people are and what they do, because of how effectively human capacity is enhanced and blended with technology.
For those of us still in jobs that haven't been automated, the terms and conditions of our employment will be precise, data-driven and cut-throat. Technology forces workers toward an ever-increasing amount of specialised knowledge. Sensors and data analytics will measure and optimise employee performance creating a cadre of super-stars that ascend the ranks faster than anyone else.
All of which will lead to unprecedented polarisation of the future labour force. High-achievers will enjoy greater opportunities for self-actualisation and hyper-specialisation, while those whose jobs have been eliminated will compete at the bottom to provide personal services to a wealthy elite.
MT SCENARIO 2: THE WORKERS WIN
Employees and customers drive the change in this scenario, forcing brands and employers to focus on sustainability, wellbeing and social responsibility. Organisations abandon revenue and market share as KPIs, and are ranked instead according to their transparency, accountability, social and environmental impact. Flexible and remote working within family-friendly hours is the norm, with employers investing heavily in collaboration technology and conferencing solutions to avoid having employees travel.
Co-creation is king as brands team up with customers, employees, suppliers, third sector organisations and other stakeholders to develop their products and services.
Organisations are self-led and horizontal, with democratic decision-making. But it's not quite a workers' paradise for all that - in the absence of hierarchy, tensions flare between the five generations that make up the 5G workforce. The younger workers - who played school sports where everyone got trophies regardless of where they finished in the competition - resist any form of meritocracy, while the less developed social skills of Generations Z and later create frequent disputes. But with the average period of employment now measured in weeks rather than years, such rows are usually shortlived and blow over as quickly as the protagonists move on.
MT SCENARIO 3: THE LEADERS WIN
In this world, it's the bosses that come good, using their skills to combine technology and human capital in ways that benefit employees, stakeholders and society as a whole. So employers embrace automation in order to improve efficiencies, but also to free up humans to engage in more meaningful, creative and fulfilling work.
Small is beautiful in this scenario, in order to maximise operational flexibility while reducing costs. Nimble and agile micro-organisations reign supreme, focused on scaling up not through physical assets, but by leveraging networks. All non-core activities and tasks are outsourced, allowing organisations to focus on value networks instead of value chains. Freelancers and entrepreneurs dominate the employment landscape, employed by cloud-based companies that are temporary in nature and continually morphing in order to stay relevant.
Reward in this world of work is based on finely tuned performance metrics, but organisations collaborate to share workers - fractional employees - in order to balance their need for job security, flexibility and self-actualisation. Well, it might happen...