Scotty, beam me into the meeting! Futurologist Sven Gábor Jánszky on work in the year 2025.
Magazine Contact #25
The great writer Franz Kafka was already complaining in a letter about working in a monotonous office at the start of the 20th century: “Time spent in the office cannot be split up. In the last hour, you feel the pressure of eight hours, just like in the first. All people who have similar jobs are like this. The last working minute is the springboard of their joy.” A working environment like the one Kafka describes is familiar to us all, but also poison for new ideas and the power of innovation in companies.
Workplace: an obsolete model.
Kafka was talking from the past, it’s more interesting to look into the future, of course. If you believe futurologist Sven Gábor Jánszky, the typical workplace with computer, phone, desk and filing cupboard is long obsolete. This isn’t that surprising, given that today we carry all of our relevant information around with us in smartphone and notebook form, accessible form everywhere. Jánszky goes even further and postulates that in the future there won’t be any more fixed work- places and keyboards and screens will have disappeared. Instead, 3D holograms dominate in virtual meetings and glass sheets are taking over the function of computer displays. As well as this, the way that technology works for us is changing. Artificial intelligence is becoming a living reality. Devices are linked to one another and analyse users and their needs precisely. Instead of waiting for user questions, the relevant information is sent – quasi intuitively – automatically according to each situation.
Kafka would be amazed.
The office is becoming a meeting-place which promotes collaboration and coordination. In his book, “2025 – so arbeiten wir in der Zukunft” [2025 – this is how we work in the future], Jánszky distinguishes between three types of spaces: 1. Co-working spaces, which are structured like lounges or cafes and provider the ideal working environment for team meetings and project work. 2. Silent rooms in the form of small and quiet spaces where you can withdraw and work in a highly concentrated manner, and 3. Highly technological communication spaces which offer employees the opportunity to work together in virtual teams, although they are actually thousands of kilometres apart. For this, adaptivity is becoming the leitmotif: spaces can be adjusted completely to the needs of their users and the current situation. Something is sure with this prognosis – Kafka would be impressed! We met up with Sven Gábor Jánszky and asked him three questions about the office of the future and we are dying to hear the answers:
2025 – that’s in just 8 years. How does this rapid rate of change fit with society’s general reluctance to change?
Jánszky: They don’t fit together, that’s the problem! However, we shouldn’t make the mistake of believing that the rate of change will slow down just because most people want things to stay the way they are. Technological innovation doesn’t enter the world because people want it to. It comes into the world because businesses want to sell devices. They take away “the old” and replace it with “the new”. For example, if in the year 2020 we have to buy a new smartphone because the old one has broken, we won’t be able to buy our current smartphone any more. There are only new ones which can give users a more intelligent answer to their questions than other people could. Using these new smartphones has a big advantage: it makes us faster, more efficient and better. So we use it. In this way, fast innovation comes to us without us actually wanting it to.
Businesses that are currently planning new office spaces obviously want to steel themselves for the future. How far can they go in preparing themselves for the demands of 2025?
Jánszky: They must plan their office building in such a way that it adapts to the needs of the employees. It is just grotesque that our offices today, for the most part, look just the same as they did 100 years before Kafka’s time: white walls, carpets, desk, chair, typewriter or computer, phone. If we’re honest, we admit that this set-up is only ideal for very few activities in today’s world of work. Even if most of us feel that such a Kafka office is normal, because we’ve never experienced a different one … our working locations in the year 2025 will look different. Because, if we want to concentrate in reading or writing, we need a small, quiet space; if we are consulting as part of a team, we need a communications room where team members can sit at a virtual table as if they were there, although they are hundreds of kilometres apart. And if we are writing emails and do some planning, then a coffee shop or lounge atmosphere meets our requirements much more than a sterile 20m² office. The office blocks of the future will have exactly these kinds of spaces. And during the working day, people will change spaces often and happily, to find the ideal environment for the next stage of work. This kind of office building should be built today, as the first movers already did it a while ago.
Digitisation is often seen as being a threat to jobs. You’re assuming that in the next 10 years, for demographic reasons, 6.5 million people will disappear from our job market. We will live in a world of full employment. Sounds good, but isn’t this prognosis a little too optimistic?
Jánszky: No, not at all. Digitisation will “kill” around a million jobs in the next ten years, but in the same period of time, 6.5 million more people in Germany will retire as young people enter the earning phase in their lives. Around 1.5 million qualified unemployed people will also get a job, 800,000 qualified people from abroad and around 800,000 part-time workers will go back to full-time employment. The bottom line is that we then have two to three million jobs in Germany that we can’t fill, because many people don’t have the correct skills. This is full-time employment. This leads to a change in the power balance between employers and employees: they can then dictate conditions to their employer. And if the employer doesn’t want to or can’t fulfil them, then the employee can simply go on to the next one. Because each time, they will have ten new offers on the table. This situation will obviously not last forever, only for around 20 to 25 years. Only afterwards, in around 2050, millions of jobs will really be replaced by computers. We have to prepare ourselves for that. But we still have 30 years.
How will the theme of generation affect the world of work? Will the older employees still be able to keep up in 2025?
Jánszky: They will have to keep up, because what happens if our country can’t cover the demand for workers? We will produce less, then the economy will lose momentum, then businesses will pay fewer taxes. The consequences for the common citizen would be that the social costs and consumer taxes will rise. And no one wants that. So workers will be desperately sought out. And there are only two possibilities of where they can come from. Either from abroad, which is currently less probable. Or older workers will continue to work after retirement. This is very likely. Of course, older people usually find it more difficult to cope with new technologies. But we know from our history that we humans are world champions in adjusting to changed conditions. This is why my prognosis is as follows: many of us will have to retrain. It will be difficult. But we will do it and it will be worth it. Because life in 2025 will be better than it is today.
Lothar Abicht, Sven Gábor Jánszky: 2025. So arbeiten wir in der Zukunft. Goldegg Verlag.