A notable number of the expert respondents made the case that by 2035 advances in the digital public sphere could boost economies and ease the transition to a new world of work. They often mentioned the benefits they expect that better digital spheres might bring to economic development and people’s transition into new kinds of work and into old kinds of work that have been transformed by the rise of the internet. The nature of jobs will also change, they believe, because remote work will become a norm, technology will evermore-deeply move into the workplace as aids to (or replacements of) workers and more people will become eligible for more kinds of jobs.
Tammy Katsabian, postdoctoral researcher at the Labor and Work-life program at Harvard Law School, observed, “Just as smart technology has been used to influence other basic distinctions in the workplace that we could have not imagined 50 years ago, 14 years from now the basic logic in the capitalist economy that seem inevitable – owners and products, workers and suppliers – can also be changed. Technology will enable it to be more flexible, communal and collaborative in its nature. In other words, the future utopian workplace will be a type of new innovative collaboration.
“The future utopian workplace will be flexible in its organization and based on multiple connections. It will be less formal. It will resemble a collaborative greenhouse of innovation. In this manner, the capitalist view of traditional hierarchical relationships between employee and employer will be transformed. Furthermore, smart technology will be used differently to challenge the basic employee-employer dynamic. This will enable new and old actors to participate and influence conduct in the workplace in a manner that will benefit workers, customers and society as a whole.
“This reality is not irrefutable. The utopian workplace will be based on two current trends that smart technology has brought to modern life and workplaces. The first is the flexibility and blurred nature of the well-known traditional distinctions in the workplace, and the second is fast and multiple online connections. To understand the potential of this type of revolution, all that is required is to examine the numerous collapses of classical distinctions that smart technology has created so far, as well as the new connections and definitions it has enabled.
“Over the course of the Web 2.0 revolution, information and communication technology (ICT) has already changed our basic concept of working time and space and enabled people to connect to work easily from a distance, communicating with employers, peers and clients in varied time and space. Similarly, the emergence of platform economy and platform-based work has changed the traditional relationships between employee and employer and generated more complex, flexible and numerous relationships between platform owners, suppliers (whether defined as independent contractors or employees) and numerous clients who can now easily and directly reach a worker through such platforms.
“Big data has also altered work. It has enabled employers to easily enter the private and professional spheres of employees, process all the data therein and gain a relatively accurate image of their private behavior and habits. Because of this, previous basic distinctions between the private and public realms of employees have also blurred.
“Finally, the use of artificial intelligence and robots in the workplace – both as workers and as supervisors of human workers – has challenged the classical understanding of the workplace community, and furthermore, it has created new connections between people and AI.
“Thus far, most of these trends have been used as part of the capitalist system to benefit employers who own technology. However, technology itself is neutral, and the flexibility, blurriness and numerous connections that smart technology creates and enables can be used by workers for the good of society. We just need to get it right.
“In the utopian future, workers and trade unions will have a genuine right to access technology in the workplace context. The importance of equal access to technology is slowly being acknowledged worldwide, as part of the wish to develop digital rights. Alongside this, diverse labor rights have evolved.
“Already in Germany today, trade unions have the right to influence – and in certain cases even veto – the emergence of smart technology in the workplace in cases where it might negatively influence labor rights. This right tends to view technology suspiciously and limit its conduct, thus technology is compelling us to evolve another basic labour right: positive access to technology. This can be used in a manner that will empower the workers’ role in the workplace as well as the participation of other relevant sides, such as clients, human rights organizations and environmental organizations. Furthermore, it can lead to new versions of workplace community and management.
“A platform can, for instance, enable clients not only to directly access workers but also to ‘supervise’ workplace conditions and ensure that suppliers enjoy basic rights, including a decent salary and genuine rest time. Moreover, the ability to use big data in the workplace will be provided to the workers’ representatives, who can use it to acquire knowledge on the general voices and needs of the worker community in the workplace. This knowledge can be used to have a general notion of wage gaps in the workplace, or even in a specific sector that contains several workplaces, with the different roles and shifts considered. In addition, big data can be used to acquire knowledge on the possible and actual influences of the workplace on the environment.
“ICTs will be used to enable workers to work from a distance, as well as to enable new actors such as trade unions and human rights organizations to participate in the workplace’s ongoing conduct. Thus, for instance, ICTs can enable environmental organizations to participate and influence the workplace’s outcomes when they may influence environmental issues.
“Finally, the future designs of robots and AI can be programmed to consider the needs of these numerous relevant sides – not only employers’ needs but also those of workers, clients, and society as a whole (e.g., women’s rights and environmental issues).”
Terri Horton, work futurist at FuturePath, LLC, shared this future scene: “It is 2035, and the unfolding of the future of work is dynamically underway. The workplace and how we work – fundamentally transformed by technology, artificial intelligence and the pandemic of 2020/2021 – is fluid, equitable and inclusive. It is 80% remote and facilitates the integration of work-life harmony for most.
“While most work alongside and are managed by algorithms, there are several opportunities for human collaboration, culture and community-building embedded into the worker experience. A significant amount of work takes place in the metaverse. Holograms transcend hybrid workspaces, meetings, conferences and client events. AI Alexa-style managers driven by a human-centered culture lead with empathy and emotional intelligence, prioritize well-being, performance, growth and development, engage workers and empower them to thrive.”
Kenneth A. Grady, a lawyer and consultant working to transform the legal industry, said, “The pandemic has been the cataclysmic event pushing change. Employers and employees have proved that for many jobs, work can be detached from physical location. We have just touched the surface of the benefits of this change. Although some businesses will retreat to traditional work-from-the-office structures as the pandemic recedes, others will push forward with work from home.
“The impact can be significant. Where people choose to live, what constitutes a commute, changes to congested cities and thousands of other items all will see the effect of people untethered from offices. As remote work increases, pressure for better digital tools and online spaces will increase. In the competition for the best employees, perks such as fitness centers, free cafeterias and massages could give way to better work-from-home tech. Being able to change jobs without changing where one lives, allowing children to stay in the same school, could become a new measure of work satisfaction.”
Don Heider, executive director of the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University, wrote, “Recently the Business Roundtable (representing CEOs of America’s largest corporations) made a significant change, shifting from stating that the primary point of a corporation is to maximize shareholder value to stating that corporations must consider how they treat customers, how they treat their employees and how they support their local communities while at the same time increasing shareholder value. In the U.S., technology seems inexorably linked with for-profit companies, thus only if companies take this statement seriously can there be progress made. Using ethical decision making as a guide, companies can transform themselves into organizations that truly help people rather than simply trying to maximize profit. If venture capitalists and private equity firms also begin taking ethical behavior into account, this could be transformational.”
An American innovation lab’s director emeritus commented, “I think we have to understand the effects on the pandemic and technology’s reaction to it. Although I don’t agree with him a lot, I think this quote from Marc Andreessen is pretty smart: ‘Permanently divorcing physical location from economic opportunity gives us a real shot at radically expanding the number of good jobs in the world while also dramatically improving quality of life for millions, or billions, of people. We may, at long last, shatter the geographic lottery, opening up opportunity to countless people who weren’t lucky enough to be born in the right place.’”
Jeremy West, senior digital policy analyst at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), wrote, “In 2035, the online world will be far more interoperable, making digital life even faster and easier to navigate. You will not have to leave your music app to buy concert tickets for the artist whose song is playing, for example, or to brag to your friends that you just got them. The experience will, in other words, be more like what Chinese ecosystems such as WeChat already are, but without all the functionality necessarily being owned and controlled by the same entity as it is in the case of WeChat.”
Stowe Boyd, managing director and founder of Work Futures, wrote, “I’m sharing a glimpse at the future of work in a persona vignette set in 2028 titled ‘Carla Paredes in the Cab’:
- Fact 1, it’s 2028.
- The protagonist is a woman – Carla Paredes – 27 years old, certified in various augmented-reality classifications, like drone pilot, school backup, hotel front.
- Considered college but in 2021 took an aptitude test and was offered drone pilot training; she worked for a few years driving trucks and delivery vehicles remotely until more-autonomous delivery systems were perfected – highways, doors, warehouses, etc. – and people were no longer needed.
- Worked as school backup but lacks education to do more than herd kids around.
- Worked as hotel ‘front’ – the front desk, concierge and bell desk, but those jobs were trimmed as travelers grew used to fewer personnel in hotels and relied on AI-based services.
- Considered working as a sex ‘surrogate’ – inhabiting a sex ‘bot’ – and passed the aptitude test, but took a social augmented reality editor job, and is now being retrained as remote home care admin.
- En route in a driverless car.
- Heading to a retraining day.
- The day is mediated by personal and professional AI.
- The retraining is a month-long experience negotiated by a worker’s council, a government labor agency and her former workplace.
- She had been working as a contracted editor filtering fakery on a social AR service. Her actual employer is a work platform partly owned by her workers’ council and otherwise funded by the government’s Right to Work Bill of 2021, administered by the state of New York.
- The emergence of workers’ councils came after the job riots of 2023.
- She’s now being retrained with new AIs as a remote home care administrator a la CareHome.”
Ellery Biddle, projects director at Ranking Digital Rights, predicted, “The movement for workers’ rights in various areas of the tech sector – click labor, gig work, digital-first delivery work – is growing and may be much stronger and celebrating big wins by 2035.”
Maja Vujovic, owner/director of Compass Communications in Belgrade, Serbia, said, “The gig economy already has all the technology it needs to thrive. What it lacks is a more flexible legislation and an upgraded fiscal framework worldwide. Gig workers are connecting all the dots and are being empowered to espouse their unsolicited entrepreneurial status. As proprietors of billions of smart devices, computers, vehicles, drones, etc., they already own the means of production or service.
“If we keep our eyes and our minds open and our star innovators’ greed in check, gig work will prove the most viable way to reduce and, in time, rectify economic inequalities everywhere. Such workers will have negotiated better terms of work by 2035. This will turn the present-day precariat into a stable class with a highly adaptable and thus sustainable business model. Comprehensive apps will sprout that will be able to tackle many diverse gig categories simultaneously. They will automate micro-taxation and provide finely customizable gig alerts cutting across sectors and industries.”
Robert Cragie, senior principal research engineer with Gridmerge Ltd., predicted, “Post-pandemic, the attitude to workplace will change, with both positive and negative effects. A positive effect could be the revitalisation of communities in rural areas that have long suffered from the drain to cities and the build-up of other local spaces that focus on a different dynamic. Collaborative work hubs based more on locality than profession can provide a stimulating environment for many workers, allowing interaction between people from different professions who would not normally speak to each other. As the focus is more on the local, there would be a better sense of community, and if there are local issues it is likely people would work together to resolve them. This could translate into politics whereby more of our political representatives come from the grassroots instead of the elite.”
Jeremy Foote, a computational social scientist studying cooperation and collaboration in online communities at Purdue University, responded, “I would love to see an internet that advances people from the Global South and other groups left behind. The internet’s affordances of open, borderless education combined with jobs that can be performed online can be transformative. An internet that enables people to participate more fully in the global economy is an incredible boon to the world.”
A professor of public administration based in the U.S. South said, “The move to broader adoption of work from home (WFH) will likely reshape cities. If WFH becomes a norm it may be the impetus for better high-speed connectivity to penetrate communities that do not currently have good access. Small towns in places such as in the Midwest may become more attractive places to live due to lower costs of living, lower population densities and the like, also boosting economies across the country.”
An executive with an African nation’s directorate for finance for development wrote, “By 2035, universal access to all online services will be a reality. Access to energy and the internet for all will be funded in all countries to enable online lifelong education and access to an online specialist for universal medical assistance.”
A user-experience designer based in Boston predicted, “By 2035 work from home – or wherever you want to work – will be the norm. Office buildings will be reinvented to serve a better purpose. The changeover to having millions more digital nomads who work wherever they want to work, no longer tied to a physical location, will give workers new freedoms. It will also interrupt workforces because if labor is cheaper in one part of the world than in other parts, the cheaper regions will get more business and more jobs. This will be somewhat driven by how well-educated and trained a local populace is, but that offset will gradually disappear as education also becomes increasingly digital and more equitably distributed. Online voting will make democracy more accessible to a wider range of people. Medical attention in the form of virtual visits will make medical care easier to obtain.”
A consulting business communications analyst commented, “Trends to watch tied to business, but also to be widely implemented in other sectors:
- Adoption of graph databases and data standards, taxonomies and ontologies, for example, XBRL, a global framework for exchanging business information; global LEIs [legal entity identifiers] offering standardized legal reference data; and authentication APIs that allow people to manage user identity.
- Cryptocurrencies in the global-remittance space and central bank digital currencies.
- Alternatives to credit reporting-based wealth profiles such as Equifax, Experian and TransUnion; plus, the availability of digital doubles and alternate personas.
- Hyperlocal, data-driven journalism.
- Exascale graphics processing units (GPUs), quantum networking and quantum computing.”
A technology professional based in North America predicted, “In 2035 the continual rollout of electronic payment and ordering will foster innovations in the delivery of goods and services. It will lower costs and increase competition while raising flexibility in employment and other markets. It will be hindered by poor security, theft of financial assets and slow-moving government initiatives.”
Melissa R. Michelson, professor of political science and dean at Menlo College, shared this scenario: “It’s 2035, and it’s time for the annual meeting. Before the pandemic, folks flew in from around the world to attend – allowing for the benefits of a face-to-face gathering, but with significant impacts on the climate due to the use of fossil fuel-based transportation. During the pandemic, meetings were held virtually, mostly via Zoom, but this was unsatisfactory. Folks had issues with their connections, and Zoom fatigue made meetings tiresome. Aside from formal sessions, there were few and dissatisfying ways to network informally as had previously taken place in hallways, at receptions and at meals.
“In a new and improved digital world in 2035, we will have found a way to gather to change ideas and conduct business virtually in ways that are engaging and that allow folks to make new connections and socialize. Now that digital meetings are so productive and enjoyable, we’re able to move forward in our professional lives without burning fossil fuels or negatively impacting the planet. And we can sleep in our own beds at night.”
Amy Sample Ward, CEO of the Nonprofit Technology Enterprise Network, said, “I would love to see digital tools enabling accessibility in a diverse way through everyday life. Digital wallets via devices that are affordable and accessible used for ease, as well as a way to navigate around physical disabilities that could make carrying a wallet or getting out cash or credit cards difficult. Options to navigate a customer service situation like going to the post office, buying dog food, or shopping for new shoes via devices as desired for folks with diverse challenges with waiting in line, carrying heavy items, handling loud or overwhelming situations, or otherwise to make the experience more efficient. Even a general acceptance that digital forms of participation are equal to (and not a lesser or additional request) non-digital participation, from work to education to social life.”
Amy Gonzales, an associate professor of communication and information technologies at the University of California-Santa Barbara, wrote, “Ensuring that job searches, education, health care and other everyday activities do not require that people have access to the internet will be important to mitigate inequalities caused by widespread ICT adoption.
“We must create and protect information redundancies (i.e., use both ‘paper’ AND ‘plastic’); a new and improved digital realm should still also retain many of the organizational processes of a non-digital realm. Unlike many other information innovations widely adopted over the past 100 years (phones, radios, televisions), the upkeep costs of digital computing are much higher. Thus, we must not assume persistent digital access for all, especially not expecting that everyone can accomplish activities that require a large screen or substantial amounts of data.”