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TREND 7: The changing future of work

What do the 2020s have in store for investors? Big-picture thinker David Dowsett sets out the ten trends he foresees emerging over the next decade, along with their investment implications.

TREND 7: The changing future of work

WeWork may be collapsing under the weight of its own hubris, but the core principle that young, mobile and connected workers now decisively reject the old-style office environment holds true.

Offices that seat workers in standardised cubicles and desks ‘battery hen’ style, allowing no scope for creativity and no space for collaborative working, now seem comprehensively outdated.

Bandwidth, 5G and the enterprise software revolution will mean that a worker’s physical location will never have mattered less.

Organisations that respond to this reality smartly will see the highest corresponding rises in productivity. Knowledge workers will be liberated from the daily commute.

Of course, the manufacturing labour force faces an entirely different, and more threatening, revolution. Robotics and AI will make standard manufacturing operations increasingly automated.

The solution lies not in the provision of a universal basic income, but in wholesale retraining and reorientation.

There are clear risks in this approach and those countries that fail at the challenge will suffer significant voter dissatisfaction and unrest, but such transitions have been successfully achieved before as we have progressed from being a basic primary economy.

The UK has already seen manufacturing employment decline from 40% to 15% of the workforce over the past 40 years.

The skills valued in workers whatever section of the economy they are in will, in my view, be those that emphasise more human qualities. Interpretation, flexibility, empathy and imagination will be key traits of the successful 21st-century employee.

The necessity of this transition and the retraining it requires will become evident in the 2020s.

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