As the workplace adopted mobile technology, office life transformed to accommodate this new future of work. The 2000s saw the emergence of open-office floor plans (and, more importantly, the death of the cubicle) to facilitate collaboration and flexible working arrangements. Also, as emerging tech made tasks easier, some low-wage jobs were impacted: the number of admin jobs, for example, was reduced.
On the whole, though, the 2000s were a healthy, dynamic period for the American worker—it even saw the all-time peak of women in the U.S. workforce!
Then, the 2008 recession hit, and one in five employees lost their jobs. To this day, experts still can’t fully grasp the extent of the crash’s impact.
The end of the 2000s was the lowest point in the history of the American economy, and the work that supported it, since the Great Depression.
The 2010s: We get our groove back
Like the 2000s, the 2010s started out in economic strife, thanks to the 2008 recession. During the first half of this decade, the outlook was pretty bleak because of the state of the economy. But by the latter half of the decade, predictions were becoming more positive, things were looking pretty good (at least economically), and technology continued to radically transform the future of work.
By the 2010s, we were strapped into light-speed digital transformation—the only question is how our work lives would evolve to keep up. Across the board, people were pretty certain smartphones and technology would continue to transform the future of work. Some experts also predicted a rise of nontraditional gigs, like freelancer, podcaster, influencer, and delivery driver. And despite some lingering fears about automation stealing jobs, experts also predicted artificial intelligence (AI) and automation would generate more jobs than they eliminated.
At the end of the decade, employment rates were at a near-record low, and a slew of new roles started popping up on job boards. Personal-device ownership also plateaued by 2016, a signal that internet-enabled tech had saturated the American workplace.
If you walked through an office (assuming the company in question even had a physical office), you’d see evidence of a new future of work: one that’s digitized, automated, and powered by the Internet of Things (IoT). A marketer might be using a software as a service (SaaS) platform to collaborate with a distributed team. A human resources (HR) employee might be conducting virtual interviews. A data analyst might be reviewing an automated data-processing report.
In any case, we were beelining toward a future of work where people used tech to automate tasks and free up time for strategy, design, and other human-powered initiatives.
The Roaring 2020s: Back to the future (of work) once again
Like the 2000s and 2010s before, the start of 2020 looked OK and then quickly took a turn for the worse. Many predictions from experts at the end of 2019 were pretty much null and void.
Before COVID-19, experts predicted more and more employees would enjoy flexible schedules, gig work, working from home, and self-employment. They also anticipated AI would continue to transform the way we worked: “The powers and abilities of machine intelligence are only growing. Tasks that we once thought uniquely human are quickly becoming doable by software.”
These days, most of those predictions still ring true, but for very different reasons. Over half of U.S. workers (56%) currently have a job that’s compatible with remote work and will continue being remote (at least partially) in 2021. This shift has sparked conversations about mental health, the quality of work experience, and the deconstruction of information silos for a more collaborative future of work.
Related read: 5 Productivity Hacks for Remote Working
Alongside employee expectations, the organizational structure is expected to change, too. In a June 2020 blog post, Gartner predicted nearly one-third (32%) of employers would replace full-time employees with contingent workers (e.g., freelance, contract, and agency) to cut costs. They also predicted companies would start collecting data from their employees to monitor productivity while working from home. Maybe Accenture was on to something, after all?
At a higher level, Forbes predicts companies will operate more like startups than enterprises, becoming lighter on their feet in pursuit of hypergrowth. Fortunately for employees, Forbes also anticipates these changes will give employees more opportunities to advance and specialize in their careers, gain ownership over their work and time, and make meaningful contributions to the organization.
No matter what the future of work looks like, UiPath is here to make it better
Really, the biggest lesson is that the only constant is change: nearly every decade for the past 30 years has transformed the way we work, often unexpectedly. Why should we pretend it’ll be any different going forward?
That’s why we’re focusing on building and improving an automation platform that will support the future of work—and the people doing that work—no matter what is looks like.
We’ve bundled our best resources on this topic for you:
- “The Way We Work” white paper
- “Why a Robot Will Be The Best Thing To Happen To Your Career” e-book
- “Making Work Matter” e-book
Remember: this post is the first in a multipart series about the (past’s) future of work around the world, so keep a lookout for future installments.