There were a little more than 14,500 people over the age of 100 in the UK the last time the Office for National Statistics checked in 2015. Those born in the distant past might not appear immediately relevant to a discussion about the world of work, but according to futurist Graeme Codrington – who is working with TalkTalk Business to study the workplace of the future – the “100-year life” is shaping young people’s career expectations.
“I don’t think they have this concept of retiring at 60 because life expectancy is that much longer,” Codrington says. “Even people who have retired recently often return to work as consultants or entrepreneurs. People are getting their heads around the fact that life isn’t a package of ‘study, work, retire, done’. We’re going to be a lot more flexible, maybe have multiple work streams at the same time. That’s a big social shift.”
It’s not just increased longevity that is shaping young people’s outlook. The smartphone might be only a decade old (the first iPhone came onto the market in June 2007) yet mobile technology has already bred a generation of hyper-connected workers who don’t aspire to a nine-to-five office job; instead, they demand the flexibility and work-life balance technology offers.
“If a company doesn’t give them that, it will start to struggle to attract young talent. It will show symptoms of a business not engaging with the world and competitors will come into the market and attack them,” Codrington says. “This is not a clever prediction; we all know this to be true. It’s just going to become more evident.”
So how do businesses respond to these radically different expectations of work, life and play? First of all, they need the hardware to cope. Kristine Olson-Chapman, managing director of TalkTalk Business, says: “Connectivity is only growing. If people want to futureproof their business, the amount of bandwidth they have in their premises is really important.”
She says that TalkTalk Business’s current priorities are increasing data capacity and making the company easy to do business with. “No one really wants to think about their telco solution – they just want it to work,” she says. “But the younger generation is not one type of person outside work and another at work. Increasingly, they’re using apps at work that they use at home. For example, document sharing. If businesses don’t have a business-grade equivalent or enough bandwidth to accommodate these apps they’ll be caught out.”
Codrington agrees. “The communication technology and network infrastructure – all the stuff in the background that makes the whole system work, such as what TalkTalk Business does – will be even more important in the future,” he says.
However, having the right technology only goes so far. An organisation’s culture must also support a more flexible way of working. Olson-Chapman says: “You’ve got to have the right tools and connectivity, but you also need to measure people on quality and output, not on the hours they’re at a desk. That’s what we do here: work is something you do, not the place you do it.” That said, we’re not facing the demise of the “workplace” as such, according to Codrington. It will just look different. “Our inner cities and office districts aren’t going to become ghost towns,” he says. “But five to ten years from now, I think you will be surprised to discover
a workplace with that nine-to-five, old-school culture. Everybody will shift into a more hybrid and flexible environment. Artificial intelligence and automation will take over some aspects of people’s jobs, so in the future there’ll be more human-machine combination working.”
All this means that future workers, far from being isolated and threatened by technology, will be more engaged with it and connected with each other. People will work in ways that suit their personality: at an office or at home, in the day or at night, alone or in groups, and technology will adapt to support this.
“The role of video is going to step up dramatically. And I think virtual reality is going to become huge,” Codrington says. “Ten years ago we couldn’t have imagined how much time we would spend each day looking at a little screen. By the middle of the 2020s we’ll spend a lot of our day with a VR headset, probably in the form of contact lenses or wearable tech, so we’ll be able to ‘enter’ the office without being there. Ultimately, that will help us to have a much stronger sense of connection and engagement with other people.”