Predictions for the Digital Workplace of the Future


In his book Customers the Day After Tomorrow: How to Attract Customers in a World of AI, Bots, and Automation, Dr. Steven Van Belleghem points out that enterprises must not only attract and retain customers for today and tomorrow but for the day after tomorrow. He claims too many enterprises are spending more time and resources on today and tomorrow than they are on the day after tomorrow and putting themselves at risk of becoming irrelevant.

Who is thinking about the day after tomorrow? If we look back to recent decades, we see a great history of innovation, insight and rapid action that spawned new enterprises and industries.

In 1998, Google was founded as the preeminent internet search engine and, within ten years, became a verb in American vernacular. Google has leveraged its culture of innovation into Alphabet, Inc. which is now the parent company of numerous Google innovations. Alphabet epitomizes thinking about the “day after tomorrow.” It is worth noting that not every innovation coming out of Alphabet has been successful. Remember Google Glass? Of course, this idea may have just been ahead of its time – or maybe we will see it again in a more user-convenient model.

In 2000, when the U.S. government unleashed the full capability of GPS (it had been around as a Department of Defense tool for a while), did any of us anticipate being able to forget how to read a map? Or being able to summon a car service and pay ahead of time? Just ten years later, we could track our iPhones, our children, our cars and even ourselves if we went hiking into the wilderness.

Also in 2000, AT&T introduced two-way text messaging for mobile phones that arguably was the most important innovation to accelerate the evolution of the smartphone. All of this was happening just six years after a McKinsey study for AT&T predicted the market for mobile phones would peak globally at 900,000 units. By the second quarter of 2017, the number of unique mobile subscribers surpassed five billion.

In January of 2001, when Wikipedia launched, it brought with it the beginning of user-generated content, an idea that spawned Friendster (2003), Facebook (2004), YouTube (2005) and Instagram (2010). Today, users upload 300 hours of video on YouTube every minute and watch five billion hours of video on YouTube every month. Experts predict that more than half of viewers under the age of 32 will not subscribe to a pay-for-TV service by 2025.

While many companies were busy ignoring e-commerce through the 90s, Jeff Bezos founded Amazon in 2005 to become – just 14 years later – the largest e-commerce site in the U.S. and the world’s largest provider of cloud computing. Today, Amazon has a 47 percent market share of all online sales in the U.S. and a market capitalization of close to $1 trillion.

These are the most readily recognized “day after tomorrow” success stories, but there are probably just as many instances of failure we can learn from as well. Despite the fact that Kodak invented and built the first digital camera, its strongly held paradigm that cameras require film and its lack of agility to exploit the new technology led to the ultimate bankruptcy of the company. And despite the fact that Swiss watch manufacturers had a dominant global share of the watch market in the late 1960s, they lost over 60 percent of their market to quartz watches by the 1990s. In 2015, China shipped almost 700 million watches versus Switzerland’s 25 million.

Entering the Experience Age

A look back shows that history happens in remarkably consistent “ages” that typically last 30 years.

  • Industrial Age: 1870-1900
  • Enterprise Age: 1900-1930
  • Product Age: 1930-1960
  • Digital Age: 1960-1990
  • Service Age: 1990-2020
  • Experience Age: 2020-2050

This means we are about to enter the “Experience Age” – and those enterprises that focus on it will undoubtably be the winners of the “day after tomorrow.” Talent hits the target no one else can hit; genius hits the target no one else can see. Unless we are looking to the future and the next age, we are highly unlikely to hit the mark.

As loyalty to enterprises and brands gives way to loyalty to experience and convenience, the workforce of tomorrow (or the day after tomorrow) will give more credence to the workplace experience than it does today.

Over five years ago, IBM’s Bridget van Kralingen wrote “the last best experience that anyone has anywhere becomes the minimum expectation for the experience they want everywhere.” If today’s consumers can purchase goods using an Amazon Echo by speaking their order, why can’t they buy a car the same way? Carvana is approaching this model as it builds a system to allow online ordering with pick up from a giant vending machine that dispenses used cars.

What does this mean for us as we define the workplace of the future? It means we have to radically rethink the experience of working for our enterprises. As loyalty to enterprises and brands gives way to loyalty to experience and convenience, the workforce of tomorrow (or the day after tomorrow) will give more credence to the workplace experience than it does today. The experience of work may even trump traditional motivations, such as compensation, company pride and company reputation. After all, enterprises such as Twitter and Google would not consider opening a new office without high-end cafeteria services, variable height desks, recreational activities integrated into the office space and open floor plans with a variety of meeting/work places.

The Future of the Workplace

So, what will the future workplace look like? Here are some of my predictions:

  • The workforce will be a hybrid of human labor and digital labor.
  • Most of us will have artificial intelligence (AI) assistants to help us through the day.
  • HR organizations will include anthropologists, behavioral scientists, psychologists and data scientists to win the war for talent.
  • Sensors and dashboards will display key information on our forearms.
  • Communication will be via subcutaneous devices powered by our bodies.
  • Those same devices will be used to collect time and attendance and even used for activity-based costing and billing processes. And automatically customize a conference room or office to your personal preferences.
  • Predictive analytics and advance warnings of failures with automatic dispatch of fixes will bring an end to reactive customer service.
  • The same radar used in autonomous vehicles will be used to move materials around manufacturing floorspaces, distribution centers and warehouses.
  • Wi-Fi devices will enhance security and workplace safety.
  • More and more enterprises will use algorithms for Netflix and Amazon-style advanced, autonomous decision-making.
  • Enterprises will begin to use AI for everything from travel planning to ordering materials and managing facilities.

There are two things I know for certain. First, the pace of change will never be this slow again. In 2003, humans could create more data in two days than the amount we had created since the beginning of human history. It is predicted that by 2021, that cycle time will be one hour. Consider how much we rely on smartphones in virtually everything we do today – and the first smartphone hit the market just a little over 11 years ago. Second, we have moved from a “digital first” paradigm to a “mobile first” paradigm and now we are moving into an “AI first” paradigm. That means we will experience a whole new level of innovation over the next ten years.

Dr. Van Belleghem describes one of the emerging innovations as the “invisible interface.” He says the greatest thing about Uber isn’t that you can order a car service to pick you up and take you to your destination, it’s that you don't need to stop and pay when the ride is over. It’s this type of invisible interface that will create incredible experiences in the workplace of the future. Some enterprises are focusing on creating seamless user experiences. Others are creating Chief Digital Officers or Chief Customer Experience Officers to focus on innovations for the future.

So, let me ask you: what is your organization doing to investigate and prepare for the day after tomorrow?