The Future of Work

It’s not easy to predict how the workplace will change in the future. However, I know that technology, globalization, and outsourcing will continue to shift the landscape. I often wonder, for instance, if technology in the long run is advantageous or a detriment to society. Every time you blink an eye, there’s a software upgrade on your laptop, a new app to download on your BlackBerry, or a product like the iPad you’re compelled to purchase. For me, 24/7 availability can be overwhelming, but we must embrace tech to stay ahead of the curve.

One way to do that is to use social media effectively. Over the next decade, companies will shift recruitment away from print ads and online job boards, according to a 2008 report from outplacement consulting firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas Inc. Communicate your brand on social media sites such as Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter. Actively manage your profile, keeping it professional, and provide regular updates while establishing boundaries and joining relevant groups to expand your network.

Moreover, workers will be forced to think like entrepreneurs, according to FutureWork Institute, a consulting firm that evaluates workplace trends. The new standard will require innovative approaches, continuous skills development, and a global orientation. Against this backdrop, here are a few predictions to help you advance in the workplace of tomorrow.

Flexibility will be critical. More professionals will work from remote locations–such as home; temporary, satellite, or shared office space; or even another country–through teleconferencing. At the office, you’ll no longer be in an isolated cubicle. You will be part of communal, bull pen-like spaces designed to improve employee interaction and collaboration. Professionals will tote laptops, tablets, and/or other devices from space to space to maximize productivity and efficiency.

That flexibility extends to the type of worker as well. According to the Challenger report, free agents–temporary and contract workers, freelancers, and consultants–have become the nation’s fastest-growing worker segment. They are expected to make up more than a third of the workforce in just a few years, as companies seek the best talent for specific assignments and professionals take greater control of their careers. The report suggests mutual benefits from the arrangement: significant cost savings for companies and greater flexibility and marketability for workers.
With all that competition, you’ll need a broader skill set to distinguish yourself. As opportunities continue to expand in emerging markets such as Brazil, Russia, India and China (BRIC), professionals must develop a wider range of skills. Fluency in foreign languages such as Arabic, Mandarin Chinese, or Portuguese will be a plus. Also, gain expertise in negotiation, crisis management assessment, or another mission-critical discipline.

There’s no doubt that our work environments will evolve. Effectively responding to these changing trends will enable you to build a career for a lifetime.

Annya M. Lott is the Careers Editor at Black Enterprise.