What is the future of work? 50 companies on how work is shifting

We asked more than 50 businesses, from startups to Fortune 500 companies, What is the future of work? The results paint a picture of a collaborative, innovative working world.

For a great section of history, work has been about subsistence — shelter, food, money. But now, as we begin to experience a world shaped by new technologies where there is enough wealth to provide for the subsistence of all, work will shift — it will become about something entirely different — it will become about meaning.

Studs Terkel’s 1972 oral anthology, Working, through its interlayering of voices across industries, demographics, and outlooks, is witness to the theme of meaning arising organically again and again. Nora Watson, at the time a 28-year-old staff writer in health care publishing, said:

Jobs are not big enough for people. It’s not just the assembly line worker whose job is too small for his spirit, you know? … You throw yourself into things because you feel that important questions — self-discipline, goals, a meaning of your life — are carried out in your work. You invest a job with a lot of values that the society doesn’t allow you to put into a job. You find yourself like a pacemaker that’s gone crazy or something. You want it to be a million things that it’s not and you want to give it a million parts of yourself that nobody else wants there. So you end up wrecking the curve or else settling down and conforming.

We define Nora’s grievance as the working world’s considerable meaning gap—a disconnect between what people seek in work and how jobs manifest themselves. Forty-five years later, two-thirds of the U.S. workforce remains unengaged in their work and workplace. What’s more, management and performance still lag—only 21% of employees strongly agree their performance is managed in a way that motivates them to do outstanding work.

The most important question that will face the working world in the next decade is how companies will support people in expressing and finding meaning through work. One of the most important questions we will ask as designers is how we can shape places that support meaningful work.

How far will society go to divorce work from income? What structures will communities put into place in order to help people spend their time working in ways that offer fulfillment to themselves and value to the world?

We asked more than 50 businesses, from startups to Fortune 500 companies, What is the future of work? Their responses begin to paint a picture of a meaningful working world—and what parameters of culture, hierarchy, technology, and design will bring it to fruition:

How companies will align themselves with society

In the future, there will be three worlds of work. The Green World, social responsibility dominates the corporate agenda with concerns about changes in climate and demographics, and embedding sustainability becoming the key drivers of business. The Orange World, where companies begin to break down into collaboration networks of smaller organisations and specialisation dominates the world economy. The Blue World, where Big company capitalism rules as organisations continue to grow bigger and individual preferences trump beliefs about social responsibility.
PwC’s The Future of Work—Journey to 2022

What success looks like

Work has become more about results, less about face time — as a result we have lessened unnecessary commuting times.

– Diane K. Danielson
Chief Operating Officer | SVN Commercial Real Estate Advisors

How workers are changing

Companies will be able to secure top-tier consultants at half the price; and, experienced consultants are able to drive work independently — without the constraints of a large firm, but often leveraging their pedigree (Top MBA programs and stints at premier firms) to provide same value.

– Mindi Ellis
Director of Corporate Communications | Ex-Consultants Agency

The drivers of change in the workplace

According to Randstad’s Workplace 2025, the top reason for building an agile workforce is a notable talent shortage, beating out globalization in terms of driving agile change. Meanwhile, 38% of employees say they feel more secure as agile workers than as permanent employees.
Randstad Workplace 2025 Study

The ideal company culture

Culture is shifting from being heavily based on making the office fun to work-life balance. Employees want more freedom in their work to have a better life.
Cally Martin
Marketing Specialist | Jobs2Careers

Peers are more important than ever. When employees feel recognized and connected with their team members, our research has found that they are significantly more likely to stay with the organization.
Ketti Salemme, Senior Communications Manager | TINYPulse

What working from wherever really means

Initially, “working remotely” meant having a home office and wearing your bathrobe & fuzzy slippers all day. Over the years, working remotely has come to mean being de-tethered. My “office” is now on my phone and remote no longer means an office off-site somewhere with four walls. It’s ducking into a Starbucks after my kids’ soccer practice and getting some work done on my laptop before I go home. After my wife and I put the kids to bed, I’m back online, planning my next day and completing any remaining tasks.

In the future, I think we’ll continue to see more of this type of de-tethering. Office — home — and our working lives will continue to blur. However, the need for human interaction will undoubtedly remain. The speed of emerging technologies also means that at times we’re looking for “old school” collaboration — brainstorming, diverse thought and opinions, and the camaraderie that only happens in interactive teams committed to offering the best possible products and services to their clients and customers.
James Goodnow, Director | Fennemore Craig

The importance of transportation management

Many employers are beginning to embrace telework and flex hours, and are doing so specifically as part of mobility-related workplace policies. An example of how this is working is in Austin, Texas. The city’s leadership has encouraged employers in Central Austin to incorporate TDM (transportation demand management) strategies, with a goal of reducing the number of commuters driving alone during peak rush hours by 20% by the year 2020.
– Kate Harrington, Content Director | FindaFax

Authentic choice regardless of position or hierarchy

Innovation is impeded when choice & access are limited across the organization. Recent improvements in workplace design benefit senior leadership, but not the entire organization. 47% of C-suite workers report having adequate choice in the workplace, compared with just 15% of administrative workers.
– Gensler’s 2016 Workplace Survey

The parameters of a gig economy and an on-demand workforce

It’s growing, and by 2020, half of Americans will be part of it — doing freelance work and independent contracting. While some may think of the gig economy as a Millennial trend, 24% of people aged 55–74 were employed in an alternative work arrangement in 2015, more than any other age group. Furthermore, Uber says more of its drivers are over 50 than under 30 and that about a quarter of its drivers are 50 and older. (Farrell 2016).
Austyn Rask, Generational Expert | BridgeWorks

The impact of all these variables on the design of spaces for workplace

Co-working is a shared office space so that you can get so much more work done. As more people seek to understand the importance of wellness, there may be new interest in understanding how one can have a co-wellness center where people can meditate, unplug, rest, recharge, study, and connect with new people regular. If such kind of space also partnered with co-working spaces this can easily translate into company perk and co-working space perks.
Monica Kang, Founder & CEO | InnovatorsBox

The open office is definitely on its way out and currently offices are solving the problem by introducing huddle rooms and phone booths to enable their employees to work more efficiently, focus and have more privacy.Since newer generations of the workforce view the workplace as a combo of work and relaxation, more and more companies will continue to provide this in the future. Individual and group relaxation spaces, game areas, common areas, water cooler and coffee machine areas are an important piece of the puzzle in the future office.
Estera Dezelak, Content Manager| Visionect

Wellness is a clear winner. People spend most of their waking hours in the workplace. With the limited time available for the engagement that millennials want, landlords and employers can provide the in-demand amenities through active and wellness zones. Corporations are measuring productivity to justify returns on investments in health and wellness. A Harvard study shows that fresh air is related to a geometric increase in cognitive thinking. In commercial real estate, employee productivity and wellbeing are directly influenced by the physical workplace. Simple changes like improved air quality, improved mobility, biophilia, and access to natural daylighting have been proven to increase workplace productivity. For a knowledge services industry, this is a huge boost in business value. Wellness is more than just physical activity — the social community aspect also helps team integration.
Brad Pease, Vice President | Paladino and Company


KSS Architects is a full-service architecture, planning & interior design firm in Princeton, NJ, and Philadelphia, PA. Since our founding in Princeton in 1983, KSS Architects has matured, growing in size, abilities, and ambitions. Our clients are leaders in the fields of business, industry, education, development, cultural and social impact.

Show your support

Clapping shows how much you appreciated KSS Architects’s story.