Future of Work: your world in 2020

Written by
Changeboard Team

30 May 2010

30 May 2010 • by Changeboard Team

Future of Work research consortium

Since October 2009, the Hot Spots Research Institute led by Lynda Gratton, professor of management practice at London Business School, has been spearheading one of the most fascinating experiments in co-creation ever conducted between management, academics and executives. Between October 2009 and June 2010, a wise crowd of over 200 experts, executives and young people from across the world came together. Their Challenge was to think, talk, share, argue and converse about the world of work they believe will emerge over the next two decades.

They represent 20 organisations from around the world including Absa (the South African bank), Nokia, SAP, Nomura, Tata Consultancy Services (in India), Thomson Reuters, the Singapore Governments Ministry of Manpower, together with two not-for-profit organisations, Save the Children and World Vision International. The executives took the conversations to their teams and brought the thoughts from their wider community, from more than 30 countries.

We worked virtually in an elaborate, shared portal and monthly webinars and live in a series of workshops in Europe and Asia. Lynda Gratton also wrote a weekly blog, www.lyndagrattonfutureofwork.com, which a wider community commented on.

What forces will shape the way we work?

According to Lynda Gratton, there are five major forces that are fundamentally changing the way that work will be done in 2020.

  1. Technological developments will see more than five billion people connected by mobile devices, the Cloud will deliver low cost series, an increasing amount of work will be performed by robots, and self-created content will join the digitalization of books to create an unprecedented amount of information in the world knowledge net.
  2. Globalisation will continue with the BRICs becoming an ever more dominant force in the world economy with a growing emphasis on adding value as well as low cost manufacturing. A greater number of people will chose to move to the megacities of the world and talent pools will be created in areas across the globe where the population is connected to the world knowledge net.
  3. Demography Europe is ageing fast, and in some countries more than 50% of the workforce will have retired by 2020, creating an extraordinary outflow of knowledge. However longevity will rise dramatically, creating an appetite for older workers to continue to contribute. In other countries, particularly those with undereducated women, birth rates will soar. There will potentially be five generational cohorts in the workforce as the Baby Boomers retire, Gen X take leadership positions, Gen Y become managers and entrepreneurs and the next generation – called tentatively the Regenerative Generation – join the workforce.
  4. Societal trends we predict that trust in organisations and other institutions will continue to fall and workers will look hard at the proposition they are being offered. More people will work as freelancers and expect some autonomy. Family size will continue to diminish with friends and what we have termed the ‘regenerative community’ playing an increasing role in society.
  5. Low carbon needs and the increasing cost of energy will put pressure on corporate carbon footprints. We anticipate significantly more work will be done from home or from local centres, thus reducing office and commuting costs.

In reality these five trends will work together, for example the combination of advances in technology and growing globalisation will have the effect of significantly increasing the use of tele-presence, webinars and other communal tools.

We anticipate these five forces, separately but mostly in interaction with one another will have an impact on most aspects of corporate life. Here are our five key predictions about work in 2020.


In an increasingly open, transparent and connected world increasingly leaders will be looked upon to work in a collaborative manner. We can expect their behaviours and actions to be more closely scrutinised – so the development of authenticity will be key. Leaders will increasingly be called upon to be members of teams, most of which will have a diverse group of people and this will put an emphasis on their skills of inclusion. Many of these teams will also be virtual so we can expect the capabilities to lead virtual teams to come to the fore. Finally, in a connected world the capabilities of the leader to develop strong and diverse networks both within the firm and outside to the key stakeholders and advocates in the sector will be crucial.

Organisational structure

We can anticipate the trend to regional and global structures to continue, with a growing emphasis on virtual structures. Work will increasingly be performed in fixed-term project teams with members from both within and outside the organisation playing active parts. The ecosystems around the corporation will hold more increasing amounts of value as more work is done with joint ventures, small entrepreneurial partners and individual contributors. We also anticipate the growth of open source innovation where corporations partner with a range of stakeholders in order to innovate and develop new products.

People practices

The major emphasis here is on flexibility. Employees will increasingly expect to work from home and to work flexible hours. We also expect a greater customisation around payment systems, with employees choosing from a menu of options. The rapid changes in technology will require new skills sets to be developed rapidly and we anticipate e-learning, blended learning and simulations to play a key role.

People competencies and talent

Expect Gen Y to begin to make their needs heard in terms of engagement. This generation place a high emphasis on development and learning as a key reason to stay, they also want significant levels of mentoring and coaching. We anticipate that the combination of globalisation and technology will create talent pools in unexpected places and creating a global recruitment drive will be key.

Corporate culture and values

We anticipate collaboration becoming a key corporate value, driven by the need to build teams and to work in ecosystems.

Organisational implications and required actions

During the course of the research we identified future proofed examples and shared them, developed a comprehensive survey to diagnose how future proofed organisations are today and had fascinating Results from 500 executives round the world. We also took a look at all the actions needed to be taken for the future and categorised them into three degrees of difficulty (see Human Capital Networks article posted 30 April 2010):

The tidal waves

These are inevitable, energetic, relatively well understood actions with good practice already developed in most companies.

The tricky

These are also inevitable actions, but not so well understood and requiring the creation of new competencies and practices to bring the action about.

The taboos

These are the most complex of the actions, more difficult to understand and often flying in the face of well established norms, practices and managerial assumptions.

Questions for Phase 2 of the Future of Work research

The insights from this innovative co-created research had a profound impact on those executives who participated. Here is how Eric Brunelle from SAP described it:

"One of the key topics on the HR agenda of our customers and their chief HR officers is the workforce and the work of the future. The impact of megatrends like ageing population, Gen Y, globalisation and social networks, to name but a few, will be much more powerful than what many companies understand today. Therefore, there is an urgent need for a greater awareness in that space. By bringing together representatives of leading companies across the globe, the Hot Spots Consortium on FOW within phase 1 is creating a lot of momentum and awareness.

"Phase 2 will be the call to action, in other words how we as a team will turn the research and discussions into points of action for our organisations, customers and partners. Many thanks to Lynda and her team for driving this. I would have no doubt recommending other companies to join."

Phase two of the Future of Work Consortium

We are now preparing phase 2 of the Future of Work (FOW) Consortium, with a number of companies already on board. This phase will ask these companies to specifically focus on:

1. How do executives support the development of a talent pool and leadership cadre which is future proofed?

2. What are the means by which organisations can build and support the communities, networks and ecosystems which are so crucial for the future of work?

3. How do we build teams around collaborative working in a world which is increasingly virtual?

4. What are the implications for those functions and groups tasked with delivering the future of work in particular the learning, organisational development and human resource functions?

During the course of the research, participants will be exploring, piloting and experimenting with a variety of analytical diagnostic and design thinking tools. We expect to use a wide variety of creative tools including observational techniques, creative methods to define and assess needs and Challenges together with mock-ups, scenario stimulation, touch points, body storming and role playing.  

Each participant will also have the possibility to work on an individual project, which will be part of a set of learning objectives. The individual projects from across the world will be clustered together in a series of broad themes which act as a mechanism to share ideas and knowledge in a focused way and create a process of Peer-Assist.

For knowledge or skills which cannot be found inside the Peer Assists, the group could go to the Swap - a market place where executives can exchange and share knowledge and skills. 

By creating a participative and co-creative process we aim to turn executives around the world into thought leaders by providing them with the tools to help them shape the future of work.

About the Human Capital Network

The Human Capital Network was established by the London Business School Alumni Human Capital Club as a discussion forum that promotes open debate on the cutting-edge issues in strategic organisational change and talent management. ~

We publish the cutting-edge research on organisational development and change, provide an online discussion platform on our blog http://humancapitalnetwork.blogspot.com and run the Organisational Development Speaker Series at London Business School.

Our distinguished speakers provide perspectives from industry, management consultancy, academia, and trade bodies. Through the presentation of best practice case studies, new research and group discussion, our three interactive panels will help you identify and tackle the key Challenges of organizational change. 

The past events of the Organisational Development Speaker Series covered such topics as employee engagement strategies for the downturn and beyond and building change-ready organisational cultures. The next event of the series will be held in September 2010.

The Human Capital Networks events are designed for senior OD and change practitioners and attract LBS alumni and external guests alike. Attendees of our past events represent a varied mix of industries and organisations, ranging from small entrepreneurial innovators to FTSE 250 blue chips, greatly contributing to the quality of panel interaction and the after-panel networking.

For any enquiries please contact Oxana Popkova, the chair of the Human Capital Network on opopkova.mba2006@london.edu.

About Oxana Popkova

Oxana is a principal, organisation & people, with Molten Group and a chair of the LBS Alumni Human Capital Club. Oxana advises companies on best practices in organisational effectiveness, change management, talent management and learning & development. Oxana completed her MBA at London Business School in 2006.

About Lynda Gratton

Lynda Gratton is professor of management practice at London Business School. She is considered a leading authority on people in organizations and actively advises companies across the world. She wrote several books that have been translated in many languages. 

In 2007, her book: "Hot Spots" - why some teams, workplaces and organizations buzz with energy and others don't, was published and led to the creation of: "The Hot Spots Movement". In 2009, Lynda published her latest book: "Glow - How you can radiate energy, innovation and success".