“The office of 2033 will become a more social, healthier, more sentient, elastic, digital, personalised, shared and purposeful space”

Who do you turn to when you need someone to predict the future of work? Simple: someone who’s written the book. In this case, Philip Ross, whose most recent book, Unworking: The Reinvention of the Modern Office, presents a manifesto for unlearning the old habits and rituals established for offices that date back to the Victorian era.

Philip Ross, author and futurist
Philip Ross, author and futurist

As this interview touches upon several times, Philip believes we need to create new habits, new rituals, that are fit for an age of digital technology. Ones that embrace design innovation and a diverse workforce.

In his day job, Philip is CEO of Ungroup (UnWork, WORKTECH Academy and Unwired Ventures) and Cordless Group. He is an author, futurist and advisor on the new world of work who specialises in predicting the impact of emerging technology. Not just on the way we will work, but also shop, learn, consume leisure and live.

Much of his focus has been on workplace innovation, advising organisations such as McKinsey & Co, Marks & Spencer, EY, Allen & Overy, Penguin Random House, GSK, Barclays, Macquarie Group, BBC, PwC and Boston Consulting Group on innovation and future concepts.

What are the major factors influencing the future of work?

Digital disruption is already transforming the way we work and the types of jobs that are available. The rise of automation and AI tools will replace some jobs while creating new opportunities. Workers will need to adapt to these new technologies and businesses will have to help staff develop skills that complement them.

Digital disruption has enabled remote and hybrid work, which has forced employers to research and adapt to new trends in returning to the office. Advancements in technology have also given us new tools for collaboration, enabling workers to collaborate more easily from different geographical locations. This trend is likely to continue, leading to more virtual teams and cross-functional collaboration.

In this post-pandemic climate, we are seeing more focus on “user experience”. This allows us a look at work through the lens of people and their typical working day. Businesses that have a focus on user experience have seen an increased level of productivity in their workforce, as well as higher engagement and satisfaction. As a result, employers need to prioritise the user experience in the design and development of digital tools and platforms, and workers will need to develop skills in design to thrive in an ever-changing workplace.

There’s a growing awareness of sustainability and office utilisation, both of which will impact the future of work. We will see a rise in smart buildings that focus on cost reduction and efficiency metrics: data and benchmarking will become increasingly vital for a business to implement in the process of meeting their workplace goals.

Most office spaces are typically poorly utilised and produce a lot of unnecessary waste. We will see a continual change of businesses making changes to create concentrated workspaces that run effectively.

How do you think the work office will change in the next ten years?

If you want to get a handle on the future of the office, then just look at what’s been happening in 2022. This year we have seen millions of workers around the world mandated back to the office by their employers after the pandemic, but huge numbers of them have resisted the order.

Companies have started investing heavily in all types of smart technology, including VR headsets, video suites and even the metaverse, as they try to find ways to enable a remote workforce to collaborate more effectively in a hybrid model.

Employers have started paying unprecedented attention to the mental wellbeing of their workers, not just their physical safety. And designers have started remodelling office space with a focus on hospitality, socialising and the “customer” experience.

After more than a century of rigid working life with the office building at the centre of its universe, professional workers are now moving towards a more flexible anywhere-anytime workstyle.

You call you new book “Unworking”. So how does that tie in?

The term “unworking” means the unravelling of how we work. It means unbundling the assumptions that are baked into the modern office, and unlearning the habits, management styles and workplace cultures that have traditionally defined our behaviour at work.

Company leaders have tended in the past to view office buildings as simple containers for work. A cost rather than an investment. But the office of the future will be much smarter than before. It will provide constant data flows that can inform evidence-based decision-making on everything from HR policies and office redesign to corporate strategy. HR teams should embrace data analytics, spatial intelligence and sociometric technologies that can provide insights into performance in the workplace without spooking employees.

“HR professionals have a key role to play in this new landscape but will need to reframe their thinking”

The future of the office is likely to be more experience-driven, more inclusive, more data-led and more cross-disciplinary than in the past. HR professionals have a key role to play in this new landscape but will need to reframe their thinking – ‘unworking’ all they know to bring a new mindset to the task.

As we look to the future, it’s clear that the office of 2033 will be a far cry from what we have today. With advancements in technology, a greater focus on wellbeing, and a shift towards more purposeful work, the office will become a more social, healthier, more sentient, elastic, digital, personalised, shared and purposeful space. Embracing these changes and adapting to them will be crucial for businesses and individuals alike, as we navigate this new and exciting landscape of work and workplace.

What is a recent example of technology disrupting work that you found interesting?

Something that has interested me recently is translation innovation, as it has the potential to break down language barriers and facilitate communication between people from different linguistic backgrounds.

Cabolo, a real-time translation tech company, provides a range of speech-to-text translation options for various scenarios — including team meetings and in-person meetings — creating an inclusive space for employees to communicate. As the United Nations’ new exclusive technology partner, Cabolo can accurately translate multiple languages while providing scrolling captions, automatic transcription, and tailored translation solutions to globally engaged companies.

What fields of work or industries do you think will accelerate because of technology?

I believe that most if not all industries will be affected by the advancement of technology at some capacity. One of the most promising areas is healthcare, where technology is already transforming the way, we deliver and receive healthcare services. With the rise of innovative solutions, we can expect to see even more personalised and effective healthcare solutions.

Telemedicine is rapidly growing in popularity, allowing patients to receive advice, consultations, and even treatments remotely. This is particularly beneficial to those that live outside of urban centres or have no means of transport, enabling equal opportunity for all.

Additionally, the life science industry is expected to accelerate through the use of various technologies including data analytics, AI and ML, digitisation of healthcare, automatic lab processes, and blockchain technology. These technologies are improving drug development processes, enhancing patient outcomes, increasing efficiency and reducing costs.

Which tech skills will be in most demand over the next 12 months? And ten years?

Despite the rapid decline in Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, blockchain technology has not disappeared. It is not only used for cryptocurrency but also for peer-to-peer payments, crowdfunding, file storage, identity management and digital voting.

Therefore, developers who understand blockchain, and smart contracts, and can build decentralised applications will highly become sought after. Tech giants such as Facebook, Amazon, IBM, and Microsoft are already working on developing blockchain.

Blockchain technology has the potential to revolutionise various industries, from finance to healthcare. With its decentralised and secure nature, it allows for faster and more efficient transactions while also enhancing security and transparency.

As a result, there will be a growing demand for professionals with expertise in blockchain development, including proficiency in cryptography, smart contracts and blockchain architecture.

What jobs do you think AI might replace?

I believe that AI will continue to advance and transform many aspects of our society, including the job market. The impact of AI on the workforce is complex and multifaceted, with both benefits and potential drawbacks. While it has the potential to create new job opportunities and aid our day-to-day activities, it is likely to also replace some jobs that involve routine and repetitive tasks.

Some industries that may be affected by AI include data entry, administration and customer service jobs. We have already seen a rise in AI-powered tools reducing the need for human workers in these roles.

Transportation jobs, with self-driving cars already being developed and tested by companies like Tesla and Uber, have the potential to replace human drivers in many different transportation roles.

The financial industry may also be affected, with the massive amount of data AI-tools can process at any given time. Fraud detection, investment analysis, risk management and trading can be done through complex analysis and produced with no human error.

These are just a few examples; I believe that most industries will be affected in some capacity.

However, AI has limitations. While it may be great at analysing data and making predictions, it lacks the creativity and empathy that humans possess. Instead of replacing human workers, AI is more likely to augment their tasks, making them more efficient and effective.

It is important to note that the adoption of AI is likely to be gradual, allowing time for workers to adapt and acquire new skills. 

Read next: How the world of work will look in 2030 by futurist Nicole Kobie

More “Future of Work” interviews… and get involved!

Philip is one of the many futurists we’ve been speaking to about the future of work:

  • Duena Blomstrom, author and CEO of PeopleNotTech. “Jobs of the future? Chief Psychological Safety Officers will be in, bureaucrats will be out.”
  • Fazilat Damani, Chief Experience Officer at Design for Good. “AI won’t completely replace jobs, but rather evolve them.”
  • Jimmy Lee, technologist and CEO of Nirovision. “The work each individual carries out will evolve to use AI copilots, but I’m hopeful that this makes the work even more productive, creative and gratifying!”
  • Tony Hallett, MD of Collective Content. “The part of society most impacted by technology will be the world’s middle classes.”

If you have something to say about the Future of Work, please email us at [email protected].

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Tim Danton

Tim has worked in IT publishing since the days when all PCs were beige, and is editor-in-chief of the UK's PC Pro magazine. He has been writing about hardware for TechFinitive since 2023.