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Future of Work: Part 3 -- How We'll Work Mark Swartz, M.B.A. M.Ed.

About the Author

Mark Swartz, MBA, M.Ed., is Canada's Career Activist. His insights reach millions yearly as the Workopolis.com Career Advisor, as author of the best seller "Get Wired, You're Hired," also as a professional speaker and coach on career/work issues. A former Toronto Star careers columnist, Mark's advice is forthright and practical. For Canada's biggest directory of free career articles, and for personalized coaching, please visit www.CareerActivist.com.

If you thought the last decade has changed your workplace, just imagine how things will be shifting in the next ten years. Not just in terms of where we toil (whether in an office, from home, or as mobile 'road warriors'), but also in other critical areas. For instance, will you be an employee, or one of the growing ranks of contractors? Unionized or left to your own devices? Better able to balance your life, or working harder than ever before?

A number of trends are emerging as we move toward the year 2005. Some of them are quite promising: corporations embracing diversity; the recognition that social responsibility can pay off financially as well as ethically; and efforts to acknowledge that workplace stress has reached dangerous levels in many instances.

Other trends do not bode so well for many of us. What follows are some of the key developments to watch for in the coming years.

24/7 Workplace: With the advent of cell phones, pagers, beepers, faxes, e-mail, voicemail and Blackberries, business can be conducted all day and night -- from home, the car, your office, or (heaven forbid) on vacation. The 40 hour work week is going the way of the Mastodon. Expect to see this trend of being 'always available' accelerate with the advent of WiFi (Wireless Fidelity, A.K.A. Internet access anytime, or as my geek pals say, 'the interoperability of wireless Local Area Network products based on the IEEE 802.11 specification'). Coming soon to a Starbucks near you!

Tougher Working Conditions:Been thinking of slacking off for a bit? Think again. Now that China, Mexico, Brazil, Russia and India have jumped into the age of knowledge work and industrialization, companies worldwide are facing unprecedented competition. And while Canadians are putting in more hours than they did as recently as a decade ago, David Dodge, head of our Central Bank, is warning of a 'productivity deficit.' That's business-speak for 'make your employers do even more with less,' just like they're doing in the U.S.

So watch for slow growth in full-time jobs as employers try to squeeze existing workers for all they're worth. Also: more buyout packages for older, expensive employees; increased discrimination against candidates who are 40+, in favour of younger, cheaper, less 'baggaged' folk; cautious hiring -- with so many talented, unemployed job seekers, organizations can continue to be picky; a rise in unpaid overtime; and finally, downward pressure on wages and perks, as fears of outsourcing and downsizing hover like a storm cloud on the horizon.

Offshoring:Surely by now you've heard all the clamor. Hundreds of thousands of North American jobs being shipped to countries with cheap labour. Not to mention some with deplorable working conditions, or governments who arrest, and occasionally kill, union leaders. For employers, it's the ultimate way to contain costs and secure flexibility. For us here at home, it's both boon and nightmare. When the U.S. ships call centre jobs and auto-production to Canada (a process called 'near-shoring'), we all benefit. Not so when companies like Roots pack up their manufacturing and move it far afield, like they did a few months back.

Self-Employment:Have you been checking out the headlines trumpeting Canada's amazing job growth these last few months? A closer read reveals an astonishing fact: 66% of June's new jobs were actually people counted as 'self-employed.' A remarkable figure, given that the rate of self-employment in Canada for the past 20 years has averaged between 15-18% of the total workforce. You'd almost think the election had some sort of influence over what got conveyed to the public. That's a bygone now, though. For the future, expect more people to work as consultants, contractors, jobbers and entrepreneurs. Many will undertake this voluntarily, while for others it'll be the career path of last resort. In any event, the loss of benefits and relative security will pose challenges for millions. Watch for some sort of movement to unite the self-employed in terms of better health care coverage, purchasing power with suppliers, and government support in times of economic downturns.

Outsourcing:If you're in human resources or IT (Information Technology), you've already been affected by the move to outsource your role. Why should a company be saddled with full-time employees when you can hire a firm like Ceridian or EDS to act as your de facto in-house staff? Employers get to reduce their payrolls, hire just-in-time, and get precisely the expertise they need. Employees who get bumped out to outsourcing firms often get tax breaks for self-employment. For many, it's a debatable offset to the lower pay, and uncertainties of contingent employment.

The Decline Of Unions:At present, approximately 30% of working Canadians are covered by some form of collective agreement. This figure may start shrinking as jobs in manufacturing move offshore, governments cut back on staff, and schools continue to be under funded.

Part-Time Telecommuting:By 2010, over half of U.S. wage earners will work more than two days a week outside the office, says the Sulzer Infrastructure Services firm in London. Currently, 28 million Americans ''telecommute'' under official company policies--up from only 4 million in 1990.

Shared Workspace:If you think working in a cubicle is bad, wait until 'hoteling' hits your office. This is the new fad that helps employers cut real estate costs. Instead of having your own office, you get to use one certain hours on specific days. Don't bother hanging up pictures of the kids and spouse -- it'll only confuse the person who's in your seat later that afternoon!

Less Privacy:In a post 9/11 world, security is an increasing concern at many organizations. Simultaneously, technology is giving us a bunch of new ways to keep track of people at work. Some firms are starting to use cameras, keystroke logging and network monitoring, raising privacy concerns. Next on tap is biometrics, where your fingerprint, retina imprint or voice pattern will be logged into your employer's database for identification purposes. Scary, eh?

In sum, we can expect considerable shifts in the workplace of the future. Could be that companies will adopt a more diversity positive, socially responsible, stress accommodating mode of operating. Or it might be that darker forces prevail, with longer work hours, lower wages, the omni-present fear of being downsized or outsourced, and longer waits to find another job because of rising unemployment. In any event, when we look back on things 10 years from now, one thing is for certain: we'll barely recognize the landscape we left behind.

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