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Work 2035

How people and technology will pioneer new ways of working

ARTICLE | 6m read
September 19, 2020

Digital disconnect

(noun, \ ˈdi-jə-tᵊl \ dis-kə-ˈnekt \): The gap between how business leaders and employees perceive the future of work.

In order to shape the future, we must first imagine it. And nowhere is our future more in flux than the future of work.

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced many organizations to revolutionize their ways of working almost overnight and brought the future of work into the present. It’s no longer a question of when the employee experience will change—it already has. How can business leaders, policymakers and individuals see further into the powerful forces shaping our world and bring about the future we want?

Drawing on the perspectives of academics, business leaders and employees across the U.S. and Europe, Citrix commissioned an ambitious two-part research study that sought to imagine work in the year 2035. Where might the opportunities lie? What might stifle progress? And how might people use technology to generate the best outcomes—both for their organizations and themselves?

The first stage of our research—expert interviews with some of the world’s leading authorities on the future of work—helped us to identify two critical axes to provide the foundation for our future of work scenarios: workers replaced vs. workers augmented with technology, and a centralized world of work vs. a distributed world of work. We used these axes to create four distinct scenarios for the world of work in 2035.

The second stage of our study—a survey of employees and business leaders—breathed life into these scenarios, and revealed which of these worlds were viewed by professionals as most likely to be realized.

As our research demonstrates, there’s a lot to be optimistic about. Seventy-seven percent of all surveyed professionals believe that by 2035, AI will significantly speed up their decision-making process. A majority of respondents agree that in the future, tech interfaces will increase human productivity and performance. But our research also revealed a profound gap—a digital disconnect—between how business leaders and employees perceive the future of work.

73
%

of business leaders believe that tech and AI will make workers at least twice as productive by 2035

39
%

of employees believe that tech and AI will make workers at least twice as productive by 2035

For example, while almost three quarters (73%) of business leaders believe that technology and AI will make workers at least twice as productive by 2035, only 39% of employees share this vision. And while few business leaders believe that permanent employees will be rare by 2035 (just 19%), this is the belief of the majority of employees (60%).

THE WORKING WORLD FORESEEN BY EMPLOYEES IS DIFFERENT THAN THE WORLD ANTICIPATED BY BUSINESS LEADERS.

Additionally, although over 3/4 of leaders believe that organizations will create functions like AI management departments and cybercrime response units, fewer than half of employees anticipate these business units by 2035. Whereas most business leaders anticipate a world of strong corporate structures powered by a flourishing human-tech partnership, employees foresee a much more fragmented world, with big corporations no longer dominant, and many roles replaced by technology.

The takeaway is stark: If this digital disconnect remains unchecked, business leaders risk failing to realize the value and benefits of a technology-enabled future.

Here we’ll prepare you for the implications of each working model, helping you to develop tactics for ensuring 2035 is a year that can be embraced by both employers and employees alike. By examining these possibilities, organizations can chart a course toward a future worth working in.

The four worlds of work

Scenario modeling

Citrix orchestrated a multi-stage process to gather the latest insights on the future of work and technology. Interviews with experts in fields related to the future of work were complemented by a series of workshops to uncover the components that make up the four plausible future scenarios.

Opinion research

We conducted 500 interviews with C-Suite leaders, and 1,000 interviews with employees from medium and large-sized companies with a minimum of 250 employees (500 in the U.S.). Sectors we covered included Financial Services, Healthcare & Life Sciences, Retail, Manufacturing, Professional Services and Telecommunications, Media and Technology.

A further survey of 300 business leaders was conducted in May 2020 to understand the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on attitudes towards the future of work.

Closing the gap

Business leaders and employees can thrive together in the future of work, provided the digital disconnect is understood, explored and overcome. Without these efforts, the workplace revolution could significantly stall. The greatest caution signal thrown by our research was this: Leaders and employees disagreed on which of these four worlds would prevail in 2035.

The Platform Plugins world, with its high levels of replacement anxiety and loss of permanent positions, was identified by employees as the working model most likely to define 2035. Meanwhile, leaders put more stock in a world of Powered Productives—where permanent employment is still the bedrock of work culture and technology nudges workers to be their best selves. To bridge this disconnect, leaders must address the significant upskilling and augmentation that will be required to elevate their workforces, and communicate a compelling vision in which technology plays an additive—not subtractive—role in the lives of employees.

The changes wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic have revealed how unpredictable the future is. Few could have predicted the current moment, let alone a moment that is still 15 years away. But the research makes clear that the best world of work is ours to create. With planning and care, it will be the one that benefits both employees and organizations, and makes the day-to-day more meaningful.

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