What will work look like in 2030? What can we learn from the Millennials generation who have never known a world without smartphones, Facebook, Wikipedia and ubiquitous Internet access? What are the trends we can observe today that will reshape the work environment of the future? And how can we best prepare ourselves and our organizations for inventing the future of work together?

These questions were put to a group of SAP employees, customers, partners and other organizations during a two-day workshop held at SAP Labs Palo Alto in March 2012. This group of about 30 persons identified trends, profiles of future users, white spots, paths for change and even created a number of low-fidelity mockups of what the work environment of the knowledge worker of the future might be.


The aim of such an exercise is not to forecast what the future will be – although a HANA-powered crystal ball would certainly look fancy. Our objective is to come up with user-centric design guidelines that SAP and the entire SAP ecosystem can use for designing future products and services.

This Future of Work workshop was facilitated by Stanford University’s Foresight and Innovation Program. The methodology used in the workshop (photos here) is a set of surprisingly simple and powerful tools which alternate expanding and focusing the participants’ thinking about the future.

Some of the recurring themes we identified: The freedom to choose when and where to work. Interacting with machines as if they were work colleagues. Learning on the job and all the time. Empowering employees to leverage social networks without putting their employer at risk. Managing human resources in the future. Personalized filtering and curating of information. Creating new employment models – and still being able to explain to your mum what it is you do at work.


But they were only 30 persons in the room, and we have 2 million users here on SCN! So now we would like you to add your voice to this conversation about the Future of Work: do you see those changes at work around you? What is your organization already doing to address the challenges of the Future of Work? How do you prepare yourself for the Future of Work? Heard about a great story about a great product or service that has “the future built into it”?

Here’s how we are going to do it: over the next weeks we will go through a number of topics relevant for the Future of Work. We will start next week with the theme When do we work? From 9-to-5 to Always On. For each topic, we will post background material and a short analysis of what the trends at work are, and what we think possible futures may result.

Let’s get started right away: tell us in the comments below what  trends affecting work you would like to discuss with the SCN community. New technology, societal changes, changes in the business environment, demographics, etc. How does your company go about planning for the future? And more importantly, what would you like the future of work to be?

Update: Here is the up-to-date list of Future of Work posts, with more coming!

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  1. Anne Hardy

    The Foresight and Innovation Program methodology and tools were quite powerful. Thinking about the future is not an easy task. I realized during the workshop how much i struggled with detaching myself from the present to imagine what the future could be in 20 years. The workshop raised fantastic questions for our industry, eg ‘When will we work?”, or “How will we collaborate?”. Of course nobody knows but just triggering the process of thinking about them is so important and so beneficial that we may wonder if we shouldn’t run more of such workshops with customers, partners and others in and out of our ecosystem.

  2. Dagfinn Parnas

    Thank you so much for sharing this thought process you are experimenting with.

    20 years seems such a short period until you in hindsight compare the differences between now and 1992.

    What I find fascinating is that in the future the improvement of effectiveness in production will mean that most people will not need to work in order to sustain human life. How will mankind prioritize to use the excess capacity we will have? Will we be able to agree on certain high reaching goals that everyone rallys behind? Or will we the in-built greed in the capitalist system  have side-effects that one the whole limit the possibilities of the human race.

  3. Julien Vayssiere Post author

    Indeed, 20 years ago in 1992 I had only heard about the Internet from a friend who was at university and could do email. Three years later it was all over the news.

    Check out the uptick on this Google Ngram Viewer diagram of the frequency of words such as Internet, email and “information superhighway” in books.

    One of the tenets of the methodology we used in the workshop is that, although there will always be disruptive changes which we, by definition, cannot predict, most trends affecting the future have a lot of inertia and can be used for foresight planning.

    Demographics is a good example. Many countries (China, Germany, Japan, etc.) see their population age, and may eventually shrink. India on the other hand is very young and the population is set to grow. This has massive implications on the type of jobs that are needed for each type of economy: when one person working needs to support on average many persons not working, it puts a premium on improvements in productivity.

    I am not sure ever-greater productivity will mean the end of work because our lifestyle continuously evolves to create new needs. Agriculture today could clearly support the basic needs of people 1000 years ago, but is it the lifestyle we want? For people in the first world, basic needs today include ubiquitous access to broadband Internet from mobile devices, something which was a fantasy 20 years ago.

    Who will win  the race between creating new needs and improving productivity to serve those needs? My bet is on the human being coming up with new ideas for things he absolutely needs.


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