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Talking mirrors and high-tech specs: The future of work in Australia

Talking through panes of glass to 3D images of colleagues might soon be everyday for many working Australians. How will new tech change your working week?

Rewind 40 years and the movies predicted that by 2022, we’d be driving flying cars to the office and working alongside robots.

While the reality has been less dramatic, it’s likely the past couple of years have changed the way many of us will work from now on.

With futuristic technologies changing the way we communicate and receive information, coupled with new attitudes towards flexible working weeks and hybrid workspaces, the future of Australian work is unfolding rapidly.

Changing how we think about work

The future of work in Australia is much more than gadgets and gimmicks, says futurist and presenter of The Next Billion Seconds podcast Mark Pesce. The factor that may make the most difference is how we think about the job as much as how we get it done.

“Managers have been fixated on output,” Mark explains. “The big swap we’re seeing is output to outcome. So, we’re going to have outcomes-based planning; outcomes-based organisations.”

Simply put, this means that traditional attitudes to work and workers have been more focused on how many hours we spend in the office and less on what someone brings as an individual. Moving forward, managers and companies may start to place a greater priority on things like initiative and innovative ideas, even if they’re not delivered within traditional hours.

This shift in attitude could mean our working weeks will become shorter, and that project-based careers and gig culture emerge as the new norm. And it’s a change that’s been coming for a long time.

While our grandparents may have worked their way up in the same company, retiring with a healthy pension after 40 years of dedicated service, that scenario is no longer realistic, attainable or desirable for many Australians.

Research from the Australian Institute of Business shows the average person will have 12 jobs over their working life, with younger people likely to change jobs more often than older generations.

This dynamic labour market means we’ll need portable skills we can take from one workplace to another and use across different industries. But that doesn’t necessarily mean we’ll all be job-hopping every few years.

Mark says it’s just as likely that companies will create ways they can use skills across different areas of the same business in an effort to keep staff.

“Working for the same place forever was a post-war, aspirational thing,” says Mark. “The world we’re in now is about building up a core set of skills. By the time your kids are at work, there’ll be organisations that have come up entirely in a hybrid era, or were able to make the transition really successfully. Those organisations will be able to take skills and find great ways to use them.”

The new kind of worker

If full-time, in the office, 9-5 jobs were the norm until recently, what can we expect our working days and weeks to look like in the next few years?

“In 2019 most workers came into the office every day,” says Mark. “Right now, there are 3 different classes of worker: the remote worker, the hybrid worker and the office-based worker.”

  • Remote workers work exclusively from home.
  • Hybrid workers work at least part of the time away from the office on a regular and flexible basis.
  • Office-based workers work exclusively from the office.

The outcome of different types of employees, suggests Mark, is an exciting opportunity for companies, as they’re pushed to reinvent their processes to get the best outcomes from these different ways of working. But it’s not an easy concept for many companies or managers to grasp.

“There’s a lot of tension around this. And it’s not so much a technology area, but actually a human area of developing smart ways of managing the mix.”

Connecting people in better ways

One of the biggest changes businesses are facing is that meetings between people now often take place on screens. While some industries don’t suffer from a lack of in-person interaction, others are flailing – and that’s where savvy tech comes in.

“There’s been a phenomenon of Zoom fatigue, which is where your brain is trying to fill in all of the details you’re not getting because you aren’t in the same room as the person you’re talking to,” says Mark.

These details include things like body language and eye contact, which in some industries can be vital to success.

Exciting technologies – which already exist but aren’t widely available yet – might be able to fill those gaps as they become cheaper and more user-friendly. Some examples include:

The Looking Glass – Made to look like a picture frame that can sit on your desk, this holographic light display allows you to create 3D images from portrait photos on your iPhone and send video messages, without the need for a virtual-reality headset. These video messages offer a more realistic view of the person delivering the message.

Google’s Project Starline – Tipped to be the future of video conferencing, this “magic pane of glass” uses 3D imaging to make users feel like they’re in the same room as the person on the other end of the call. Although special equipment is needed, Google’s aim is to make the tech more affordable and accessible so it can benefit everyday businesses and people.

Information-gathering and new technology

Being able to type a question into Google or ask Siri something can still feel like a futuristic gift for those of us who remember the days of encyclopaedias and microfiche. But artificial intelligence (AI) – through our smartphones, cars, even our home alarm systems – is now an everyday part of life. So what’s next?

Many businesses are looking at ways to increase access to, and speed of, data. Typing a question into Google may soon be as obsolete as quills and ink. Fast forward a few years and we might be able to access information in an entirely new way, thanks to emerging technologies like augmented reality (AR) glasses and other devices.

“There’s a lot of promise and potential in augmented reality spectacles in terms of being able to provide a layer of information to us as we work, that helps inform us as we’re working, that’s going to change things and empower people,” says Mark.

While first-generation augmented specs offer users the ability to take photos or stream music, predicted future styles backed by Apple, Facebook (now called Meta) and other tech leaders could give us direct or hands-free instructions while we work.

Excitingly, research also shows potential for big improvements in areas like workplace health and safety, and training, when using AR and other extended reality (XR) technologies.

The global future of work

Research by global consulting firm McKinsey suggests huge changes in work life over the next few years. They predict that:

  • by 2030, 17 million workers will have changed occupation in the US alone
  • 20-25% of workers in advanced economies will work remotely for 3-5 days every week
  • business travel will decrease by up to 20%, making e-commerce and virtual buying more important.

How to prepare for the future

While it’s impossible to know what’s coming next in tech, there are ways we can better prepare ourselves for what might change in our work lives as we head into the coming years.

  • Be open to new ideas. While it can be scary when things change quickly at work, change is inevitable. Don’t be afraid to ask for help if a new way of doing things is proving tricky.
  • Consider the past. Think about the way we communicated 10 years ago, to how we talk to people now. From landlines to text, we’ve come a long way very quickly. Knowing you’ve adapted a lot over your working life can help make new changes feel easier.
  • Talk to younger colleagues. It might sound cliché, but often younger generations adapt to new tech faster than others. If your work mates are excited about how a new piece of tech or system could change the way you work, get involved and ask for a demo.

First published January 2022
 

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