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The Workplace of the Future

Like most children, I visited my dad at work a few times. He worked at the general post office in Manhattan. You know, zip code 10001. There were no computers, no monitors, no fax machines, no printers. Just typewriters, adding machines, and rotary telephones. My dad wore a pocket protector filled with pens and pencils. There were no bright colors; everything was drab ... except for the white shirts.

Management was conducted by discipline, by attendance, by various output metrics, and of course, by walking around.

Who, at that time, could have envisioned the business environment of the modern world? And what gives me the crystal ball to do the same thing now and predict the business world of the future? A career in high-tech, plus I'm a Silicon Valley management consultant-type who likes to think about this stuff and occasionally gets a look at what's coming.

But you wouldn't believe what business will be like in the future. It's really, really weird stuff. Check it out:
Five Predictions for the Business Environment of Tomorrow

  1. Democratic management. I may not like it, and I certainly don't think it makes sense, but our increasingly litigious, politically correct, and entitlement-based culture will bring us closer to democratic management where employees have a say in decisions. How will it work? I have no idea, but technology will make it manageable and provide individuals with information to make informed choices. Ayn Rand will turn in her grave.
  2. Flat organizations. Again, I may not like it, but I can see it coming like a freight train. The Internet, social networking, and Gen-Y will together result in flatter organizational structures than any management consultant would have thought possible. How will it work? Again, I have no idea, but it's coming and it's certainly going to be challenging.
  3. No computing. The human-computer interface will all but disappear. No computers, no faxes, no printers, no keyboards, no 2D monitors, no white boards. Everything will be 3D, virtual reality, voice recognition and synthesis. Walls will be combo active-touch displays, media boards, and advertisements. Searches will use intelligent agents, not algorithms like today's searches. Robotics and sensors will be integrated into everything.
  4. No business travel. 3D virtual reality meetings will all but eliminate business travel. There'll be no snail mail. The postal service will be privatized and compete directly with FedEx and UPS, but only for shipping; mailing documents will be unnecessary. Beaming technology could change everything, if and when. People will have cyber-implants for telecommunications and video display.
  5. New look and feel: invisibility cloaking. My dad's workplace was drab; many companies wore uniforms. Soon we'll see the peak of mass differentiation - no two people or office environments will look the same. But then, nanotechnology will change the look and feel of everything. Colors and textures will be unrecognizable by today's standards. Invisibility cloaking will enable things to disappear, while virtual reality will make things out of nothing.
If any of this freaks you out, join the club. It freaks me out too. But guess what? This vision may be tame - the truth may be even weirder. What do you think the work environment will be like 20-30 years down the road?
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