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Work 4.0: What will the future bring?

Studien zum Arbeiten Büro der Zukunft

Remarks on the latest research.

Wasn't life just peachy for our grandparents? First they finished school, then they started an apprenticeship, a few went on to university, and finally they joined a company. After that, nothing really changed until retirement. But the transformational changes that have swept through the labour market in recent decades – automation, globalisation and digitisation, to name just a few buzzwords – make similarly linear vocational biographies seem somewhat antiquated. No wonder that many grandchildren have difficulty today explaining to their elderly relatives what they do and above all how they work. And the economic and technical developments are progressing unabated. All the while they produce new demands, disciplines, professional profiles and job market requirements.

So quo vadis, world? How will we work in future? How quickly will our current working styles become obsolete? A variety of research institutes, foundations and government ministries are currently seeking answers to these questions – to make sure we are prepared for current and future challenges in 'Work 4.0'. The following overview outlines the views expressed in three important studies.

Fraunhofer IAO: 'OFFICE 21 – Future of Work'

The collaborative research project 'Office 21' mainly addresses the areas of office and knowledge work. Its aim is to "identify current and future developments at an early stage and to elaborate clear courses of action for the successful design and implementation of new worlds of work in companies." The project website provides a concise overview of the current fields and results of research. Naturally, a focus is placed on the consequences of digitalisation: "Knowledge work is increasingly relocating to a virtual environment. […] highly flexible and multi-local forms of work will become reality for a sharply rising number of people." The short film produced by Office 21 'Worlds of Work 4.0' (currently available in German only) illustrates how researchers believe we will work in tomorrow's world.

Bertelsmann Stiftung: '2050: The Future of Work' & 'Work 4.0'

The report '2050: The Future of Work' summarises the results of an international study. Right at the beginning, the 'Overview of Core Statements' (Pages 8-9) shows which trends are perceived as significant. For example: "Today already, work is mobile and multi-local, and tomorrow it may well be virtual and take place in the metaverse (the collective virtual space). Employers are failing to keep up with this development." Also fascinating is the list of 'Future Professions' (Page 21), which include 'creativity coach', 'metaverse caretaker' and 'specialist for ethical algorithms'. Another publication by Bertelsmann Stiftung summarises the results of 'BarCamp Work 4.0' under the title 'Work 4.0'. Even the editorial states that Germany "must close the [significant] digital gap". The articles mainly investigate the implications of future digitisation for small to medium-sized enterprises.

Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs (BMAS): 'arbeitenviernull.de' & 'White Paper on Work 4.0'

The Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs has also addressed the issue of future research. It even set up an Internet platform dedicated to the topic – arbeitenviernull.de. Launched in April 2015 with the slogan "Arbeit weiter denken" (Thinking ahead about work), the project was completed at the end of November 2016. The results are compiled in the 'White Paper on Work 4.0' and are available online. The paper takes a detailed look at 'Drivers and Trends', 'Areas of Conflict' and 'Policy-making Tasks'.

Summary: Everything remains different.

Anyone taking a closer look at the studies and scenarios will quickly find the common denominator in all of the forecasts: the changes revolutionising the working world are not in the future – they are already in full swing. Moreover, clear details like tools at work are less important. Instead it is a question of structural changes affecting areas such as hierarchies, work time arrangements, education and training, communication and generational inclusion. They also address the potential conflicts that will emerge if we fail to take the transformation seriously or neglect to shape its course.

So what does this mean for the set-up and design of office workspace? The most important buzzwords will be flexibility and modularity. But these requirements already exist today. After all, no one opens an office now and expects it to remain precisely as it is for the next 40 years. The Assmann Office Compass is a great tool for the holistic planning of office furnishings. It includes all of the relevant factors that need to be considered to become perfectly equipped for the future.

After all, there is one task of 'Work 4.0' that we certainly need to complete right now:  we need to develop the strategies and ideas today that will help us manage the tasks of tomorrow. And we have to work out how we can explain it all to our grandparents.

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