Collection No 6

Future of Work

The Alternative Futures of Work

Predicting how surprising future scenarios might impact a worker’s needs.

While we cannot fully predict the future, we can imagine it and prepare. When we think about the future it is natural to think about events that are a continuation of today; these are the probable futures. But surprising futures, initiated by unforeseen events, are also possible and as such are worth our consideration.  In this piece we explore the implications of several alternative futures on the workplace and the workforce. In order to center our examination on people—who together create organizations—we apply Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs as our evaluative criteria. Through the lens of human needs and aspirations, we examine the impact of various possible realities on the future of work.

Future scenarios adapted from Management Futures: The World in 2018, published by the Chartered Management Institute (CMI) in 2008. Find the original report on CMI’s website.

THE WORLD IN ENVIRONMENTAL CATASTROPHE AND ECONOMIC RECESS: A gigantic earthquake destroys several large cities in Asia, leading national governments to withdraw large sums from financial markets. This, in turn, leads to the collapse of major stock markets globally. /PHYSIOLOGICAL

THE SHRINKING WORLD ECONOMY: The economy of a major population collapses due to social unrest. The world market shrinks dramatically as global business becomes unstable. /PHYSIOLOGICAL

THE WORLD STOPPED: A series of terrorist attacks wipe out several major hubs of business travel in countries around the world. Global business slows down considerably as business travel jams. /PHYSIOLOGICAL/SAFETY

THE WORLD UNDER CYBER ATTACK: A virus diffuses through corporate firewalls and deletes huge quantities of business and private data. Hundreds of businesses lose their organizational memories, intangible assets, and intellectual property. /PHYSIOLOGICAL/SAFETY


THE RELIGIOUS WORLD: World religions sponsor global business corporations, and access the power to drive business markets. There is a clear distinction between insiders and outsiders. Religiously motivated “business wars” and “business crusades” are fought. /PHYSIOLOGICAL/SAFETY

THE WORLD DIVIDED: A group of important emerging countries becomes strong enough to create their own version of the Internet. They keep full access to the “common Internet” but gain the power to cut off countries, organizations, and individuals at their own discretion. Network access becomes a competitive factor. /PHYSIOLOGICAL/SAFETY/BELONGING


THE SHRINKING WORKFORCE: As developing and emerging nations grow economically strong in the global business arena, immigration patterns shift. The Western world loses significant parts of the workforce. /PHYSIOLOGICAL/SAFETY/BELONGING

THE ELDERLY WORLD: Life enhancement technologies proliferate and prolong life – people routinely live to be 120 years old. Dealing with complex health issues and daily routines become a major challenge as the world ages. /PHYSIOLOGICAL/SAFETY/BELONGING/SELF-ESTEEM

THE WORLD OF KNOWLEDGE AS A COMMODITY: Intellectual property rights are abolished, making knowledge and knowledge production lose their value and become a commodity. Businesses struggle to define new outputs that replace the concept of knowledge as an asset. /PHYSIOLOGICAL/SAFETY/BELONGING/SELF-ESTEEM

THE BRAIN-ENHANCED WORLD: Businesses routinely use chips in order to enhance the abilities of their employees (e.g., mental chips, memory enhancement chips, and knowledge chips). Some also use them to monitor and control behavior. Neurobiologists find a way of influencing neural timing and employing time in our brains more efficiently (speed the mind, slow the time) in order to increase productivity. /PHYSIOLOGICAL/SAFETY/BELONGING/SELF-ESTEEM/SELF-ACTUALIZATION


THE WORLD DIGITALLY UNITED: Conversational User Interfaces allow natural communication with computers and enable everyone to use and control technology through language, gestures, and facial expressions. Humans no longer need to “learn” how to use software. It is the end of separation between the technology literate and illiterate. /PHYSIOLOGICAL/SAFETY/BELONGING/SELF-ESTEEM/SELF-ACTUALIZATION

THE WORLD RE-DEFINED: The new generation refuses to engage in what they perceive to be “meaningless jobs” on a mass scale. Work is perceived to be an expression of character, and not something for employers to force through pre-determined business processes. Entire industries are left unable to fill job vacancies, while others are flooded with applicants. /PHYSIOLOGICAL/SAFETY/BELONGING/SELF-ESTEEM/SELF-ACTUALIZATION


THE WORLD RULED BY EMPLOYEES: Shareholders are not automatically entitled to all profits an organization produces. Power shifts into the hands of employees. Many organizations are designed as “guilds,” where the mission is to support employees above other objectives. /PHYSIOLOGICAL/SAFETY/BELONGING/SELF-ESTEEM/SELF-ACTUALIZATION

THE WORLD RUN BY ROBOTS: The first fully functioning robots possessing artificial intelligence are established in management positions. Robots are not necessarily physical robots, but also include software robots developed from sophisticated decision support systems and rule-based decision-making tools, like those already used in fund management. /PHYSIOLOGICAL/SAFETY/BELONGING/SELF-ESTEEM/SELF-ACTUALIZATION

THE WORLD OF SHRINKING WORK: Organizations parcel out small pieces of jobs online, such as transcribing podcasts and labelling photos, to people around the world. Company jobs lose their breadth and are eradicated over time. /PHYSIOLOGICAL/SAFETY/BELONGING/SELF-ESTEEM/SELF-ACTUALIZATION




Zarmina Penner

Zarmina has expertise in medicine, medical informatics, business, and integrated health sciences.

Mark Weedon

Mark is an associate creative director in the Munich studio and a self-described perfectionist. Although a traditionally trained industrial designer, Mark’s passion is the convergence between both the physical and digital experiences.

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