More flexible working, self-employment, virtual
organisations, blurred boundaries, work-life integration,
diversity in the workforce, creativity, playfulness in the
workplace and routine management tasks assigned to sophisticated
software robots – that’s what managers should expect in ten
The report Management Futures: The World in 2018,
looks at a range of possible futures for businesses, and the
skills and techniques managers will need to be effective.
The future, though, holds many challenges, and the scenarios
examined in the report remind us that it probably won't be plain
sailing to the best of all possible futures.
The report divides its scenarios into 3 areas:
- The World Continued
- Alternative Futures
- The Desired Future.
The World Continued
The World Continued is seen as the most likely scenario, with
an intensification of current demographic, workplace and
technology trends. The authors see an increasing polarisation
between huge global companies on the one hand and smaller
Large corporations will have an orbiting ebb and flow of
smaller niche associated organisations, changing and evolving
according to need and demand. Remote working will increase, and
non-traditional employment arrangements such as self-employment,
temporary work, free agents and e-lancing will become the norm.
Technology is of course key to many of the changes we will
see. “Permanent, fast and mobile Internet connections will be
omnipresent. Learning how to manage technology and how to
disengage from it” will be crucial.
But technology will not only be managed. Increasingly it will
start to manage itself – and us. Routine management tasks will
increasingly be handed over to technology. And software will
also help us interpreting useful information – moving from
information management to “managing wisdom”.
Managers will then be looked to more for their creativity,
leadership and emotional intelligence, managing a more diverse
workforce on a more individualised basis. Managers will also
have a key
role in supporting employees as work-life balance evolves into
work-life integration for many of us.
In many ways the expectations in the ‘World Continued’ are a
smooth continuation of everything you may have learnt from
Tomorrow’s Company, Work Foundation reports and Flexibility over
the past 15 years or so. A Charles Handy world with bells on.
And the ‘Desired Future’ is an optimal version of this.
Virtuality is seen as a a key element of the 'Desirable
Future'. And management becomes a more varied, creative
and subtle art, as managers work across boundaries, business
models and work styles, inspiring rather than controlling:
"In 2018 more organisations will be virtual. There will
be a greater polarisation between the number of
organisations that are virtual and large global
corporations. Organisations that maintain physical premises
will be run by managers who demonstrate genuine competence
and create a sense of calm. People will feel motivated
"Leaders and managers will be accountable, well informed
and anticipating. They will act with humility and at the
same time have drive. With highly tuned inter personal
skills, they will avoid distractions, cope with different
work principles and manage conflicts and emotion. They will
know how to manage complex relationships and use their
political and partnership skills while operating across
organisational boundaries. They will be risk-takers
constantly challenging current practices. There will be more
people spending time “thinking” as well as doing.
Playfulness and creativity will be encouraged to unlock new
ideas and will be rewarded accordingly.
"With the increase in remote and virtual working, managers
will be able to lead from afar, balancing out a sense of
social isolation and a lack of internal relationships. There
will be more flexibility in working structures. People will
come together in teams for specific projects, complete them,
disband and then reform as new projects arise."
There are recommendations for managers on how to adapt to new
demands and manage more effectively in this context. And
much of it is about being more flexible, and managing in a more
employee-focused and human way.
A key part of effective management is about thinking through
and being prepared for the 'surprises' that the next 10 years
may bring up - the alternative futures scenarios.
The scenarios that do most to challenge conventional thinking
and stimulate creative thinking are in the 16 Alternative
Futures. These alternative futures highlight trends that if
intensified could disrupt the 'world continued' and the best of
all possible worlds. These futures include worlds where:
- An increasingly ageing society emerges, one where
people routinely live to be 120 years old – what will this
mean for businesses, and how will it affect what managers
have to do?
- Western economies face a radically shrinking
workforce – as prosperity spreads internationally,
migrant workers go home
- Environmental catastrophe - what happens when we
fail to meet the challenges of some inconvenient truths …
- Globalisation is interrupted as powerful
governments limit access to the Internet, creating new
economic blocs from which businesses may be excluded
- Religious fundamentalism plays an increasingly
dominant role – how will this affect global business and how
should companies respond? This is not so fanciful.
Increasingly businesses and public sector organisations are
expected to buy into secular ideologies based on
environmentalism and corporate social responsibility. But
their missions could equally be coloured or driven by
religious imperatives (either corporately or on the part of
individual senior managers) – as indeed many were in the
- The Brain-Enhanced World - a world where human
productivity and capacity is enhanced by technology
implanted into brains. This is bound to affect concepts
of work and personal capabilities.
All these and more are seen as trajectories that could cut
across and have a strong influence on the more mainstream
projections. They are not exclusive, and businesses would do
well to prepare for a mixture of opportunities and challenges
that might arise.
So in 2018 and beyond, the successful manager could well be
a playful octogenarian religious crusader, wired into the Internet
every minute of the day, working from home and delegating most
of her tasks to robots so that she can deal empathetically with
her freelance workforce. At the same time she will be integrating into her business life
both care for her grandchildren and care for her 110 year-old parents too.
The important message from the report is that greater
flexibility is required from organisations, managers and
employees. Identifying the possible impacts of social,
demographic and technology trends on businesses is important as
the nature and benefits of greater flexibilities should not be
taken for granted.
New strategies are needed to make greater flexibility work
for us, rather than being at the mercy of forces that bombard us
with information and choices, blur boundaries beyond comfort and
manageability, or leave us at the mercy of machines that manage
our lives for us.