Managing uncertainty is the key to planning for the future of work
Modelling for a variety of futures is an important step in understanding the implications of global and regional workplace trends on areas of business such as company culture, real estate portfolios, workplace models and the role of the office.
The way we work is changing – rapidly. Companies and organizations have many questions.
It’s easy to want to jump right in and find solutions to these questions
But in doing so, we run the risk of trying to solve for a future we aren’t certain of through the perspective of a past that is already out of date.
Instead, modelling for a variety of futures provides a framework to guide decision making.
Scenario planning is a hugely effective tool to jump-start this process as it helps us shift the perception of the present and understand what the future may hold.
Through scenario planning we can begin to identify the factors which will impact the workplace in the future and to provide insights into how work practices could change over the next decade. Companies and organizations can use these insights to inform their strategic planning around the role of the office, company culture, real estate portfolios and workplace models so that they are future-ready.
2030: Four visions of the future
Our workplace experts collaborated with colleagues across five continents and from different disciplines to come up with four credible scenarios for 2030.
These scenarios are based on two critical uncertainties that our experts felt would have the most impact on future workplaces: knowledge and skill equity/inequity, and hyper-localization and globalization.
Scroll down and explore a summary of these scenarios and the possible implications for real estate, people, technology and business operations and processes. Then, share your feedback on our interactive poll. We’d love to know what you think.
Strong micro communities
Welcome to a world full of micro communities that are self-sufficient and autonomous on a good day, vulnerable with limited opportunities on a bad one.
People live in small, tight-knit ecosystems. They work close to home and no one commutes. Co-living and co-working arrangements are the norm. The sharing economy dominates over traditional ideas of ownership. People band together to take care of the environment around them. Each community has hyper-specialized skills and knowledge such as technology, agriculture and pharma hubs.
Buildings: Spaces are multi-functional
Market landscape: Longer leases become the norm
Standards: Companies invest in green buildings
People: Employees value clear, structured schedules
Technology: AR/VR is widely used in lieu of physical contact
Business: The gig economy thrives
People's default view is that they are of the world. Their relationships are far-reaching, and their loyalties don't lie within geographical boundaries.
Corporations connect the global population and are the main proponents of upskilling the labor force and providing universal education to ensure that AI and humanity complement each other.
At the same time, governments work together to ensure digital and virtual infrastructure is cohesive across the world, and the global population has the option to live and work from anywhere. It’s borderless mobility. It’s multi-location teams.
Buildings: Corporations don’t own real estate
Market landscape: Space is a service
Standards: Benchmarks are global
People: Workplace connections fulfill personal and social needs
Technology: Data is the new currency
Business: Companies with strong environmental credentials dominate
Rise of the silos
People live in localized siloes and are territorial. The disparity among communities is stark, and the boundaries between them are impermeable. There is a distinct lack of social mobility, people are unable to improve their standards of living because of a lack of access to skills and knowledge. This leads to high levels of unemployment concentrated within specific communities.
Wealth is extremely fragmented, causing exploitation and disparity. There are no global efforts to address environmental concerns and some communities bear the consequences of climate change more than others.
Buildings: Cellular offices make a come-back
Market landscape: Building quality varies by location
Standards: Disparate application of environmental standards
People: Hiring biases go unchallenged
Technology: Open source is rare
Business: Organizations control local wages and growth
The haves and the have-nots
Corporate wealth outstrips that of national economies. Types of jobs and industries are specific to each country and concentrated in specific cities.
Corporations continue to put their top decision makers and core competencies in a few countries, concentrating knowledge, skills and wealth. AI is developed and implemented variably; infrastructure and access to upskilling is limited in some countries. Disparity among countries become more severe.
Buildings: Flagship headquarters are back in fashion
Market landscape: Real estate premium varies drastically
Standards: Global standards categorized by typology and location
People: Competition for jobs is high
Technology: AL has varying impact depending on location
Business: Complex intra-company relations become the norm
If you want to know more about these possible futures and their implications for the future of work, please click on the link below to download our full findings.Download full report
Take the live poll
Scenario planning does not predict the future. Rather, this exercise gives us a platform to imagine – then plan. We are not saying that any of these scenarios will actually happen, though are seeing workplace trends that point in certain, familiar, directions.
At AECOM, we want to build back better. We want to help global organizations enable their workforce to work effectively as individuals and teams over the next decade and beyond.
This scenario framework is just one way that we are helping clients make decisions about their future workplaces, and what the journey to get there might look like.
Our workplace teams use the four hypothetical futures to help clients navigate uncertainty, mitigate risks and explore future eventualities. Scenario planning is a process, which has to be meaningful and relevant to each individual organization. So, we help clients consider external factors that lie beyond their control by tailoring this scenario planning methodology, helping them define their central question so that they can further understand their specific business needs and develop their real estate strategy.
Ideally, this framework should be used in conjunction with other methods such as workforce surveys and pulse polls that help companies look inwards to deepen and extend understanding of their own workforce. At AECOM, we ran an internal competition asking our employees to consider what they thought the workplace of the future would look like across the topics of technology and connectivity; people and culture; and workspaces and office. We have written about how the winning results have informed our Fast Forward to the Future policy.
Together, these methods help us understand the complexities of the challenges before us and where workplace trends are going – so that companies can create agile, workplace strategies that are future-ready, no matter what lies ahead.
To explore how these scenarios could impact your company's real estate strategy or for more info on AECOM’s workplace offer, please contact article authors and workplace specialists June Koh and Zoe Humphries.