What does work look like in the 2020s?

The Face guide to the 2020s: Author Alex Williams discusses the evolution of “the career”, working from home and switching to a four-day working week.

Hi, and welcome to the future: a toasty-warm, carbon-neutral, plastic-free place where your face has replaced your passport and your car drives itself. Weed is legal, alcohol is hangover-free, weekends last three days and we robots do your admin. We can dream.

Ten long years ago, The Face compiled a set of predictions for the coming decade from a star chamber of hotshot experts. That flesh-and-blood editorial team has long since disbanded but their legacy remains. From now until the first day of the new decade we’re sharing some prognostications (as seen in The Face Volume 4 Issue 002) on love, sex, space, AI, cannabis, mental health and plastic surgery (and more) for the years ahead.

Alex Williams (Co-author of Inventing the Future: Postcapitalism and a World Without Work)

In the 2020s automation will change a lot of jobs – and not just the manual ones that you might expect. Take accounting, for instance. A big part of that is about spotting anomalies in paperwork. That kind of work is something that a machine could be trained to do quite easily. We’ve been seeing this in legal services, too. This doesn’t necessarily mean we’ll lose jobs but it could mean that we have less work. How we deal with that will depend on the government.

At the end of 2019 the Labour Party announced the results of some research it had commissioned in to what would happen if we switched to a four-day working week. The research found that it would be both difficult and expensive, but it’s supporting the policy regardless. As well as helping to safeguard jobs in a world with less work, it would also be a huge help to the environment. There’s a high correlation between how much people work and carbon emissions. One of the simplest ways you can address decarbonisation and reduce pollution is to reduce the number of days that people are expected to go to work. One day less commuting and one day less of running offices would make a big difference. And there’s an appetite for it, certainly on the left.

In fact, we’re going to see the climate emergency impacting the way we work in many ways. For instance, the law might change to encourage people to work from home more often. Commuting long distances at great mental, physical and ecological cost, just so your boss can feel like they have oversight of you, will start to seem more and more absurd in the 2020s.

Our idea of a career’ will also change in the 2020s as we start to see work as a series of projects’ rather than moving from one company to another. We’ll focus more on flexibility, rather than just remuneration. The more fragmented workplace and career structure will create problems in terms of workers’ rights, though, which we will also start to address in the 2020s. Previously, trade unions have fought to safeguard working conditions, but those kinds of organisations are harder to create and maintain in a gig economy. Instead, we’ll see contract and gig-economy workers banding together using technology and apps to organise themselves into movements which fight for the rights of the workers in given industries.”

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