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Future of work

Future of work

A term most often describing the evolution of employment and income-earning activities.

The “future of work" can be described as the combination of the gig economy and artificial intelligence technology, freelancers and automation and the effect it has on the way people earn an income.

Gig Economy

A gig economy is a system in which temporary positions are common and organizations hire independent workers for short-term commitments. The employees of these companies are often contracted workers, where the use of mobile applications allow them to take work when and as they are available. Gig economy can result in less expensive and more efficient services for the end user. The types of services and products offered by the gig economy are more readily available in large cities.

There is a wide range of jobs which can be considered part of the gig economy. This includes adjunct and part-time professors who are contracted employees as opposed to tenured or tenure-track professors. Though they are not typically included in the category, the definitions of their employment match those of more common positions understood as part of the gig economy.

Visualization of a typical variety of gig economy jobs.

The gig economy, which started in delivery services, ride-hailing services and room rental services, has since expanded into freelance work for writing, arts and design, information technology, accounting and finance, and software development. And other companies have begun to use the technologies to develop gig jobs for the education, project management, media and communications, construction, and material moving industries.


The gig economy has brought some advantages for both employers and employees. Employees who chose to participate in the gig economy are often able to work hours they wish based on their lifestyle, work as many or as few hours, and work in new or different industries. However, workers in the gig economy are often on contract, and miss out on the benefits often associated with traditional employment. For employers, they are able to hire employees for specific projects, contracting work out they do not require all the time, and are often able to have jobs completed at better prices. However, employers can also miss out on the long term relationships developed between employees, clients and vendors when hiring gig workers.

Remote work

The COVID-19 pandemic forced companies to switch to remote working, including those companies which had not previously considered moving to remote work. This brought with it a widespread adoption of remote working tools, including video conferencing, productivity software, and communication platforms.

Someone working from home.

The forced adoption of remote working and related studies have shown that employees have benefitted from remote work through eliminated daily commutes, and that the remote workers productivity has increased and there has been a suggestion they have lived healthier lifestyles. Although there have been concerns over remote workers ability to maintain a healthy work-life balance. In some cases, employees have reported an 89 percent rise in presenteeism, where people work while unwell, and leaveism, where workers continue working when on leave or outside of contracted hours.

Virtual and augmented reality
Example of a virtual meeting space.

Some companies, such as Facebook, have begun development of virtual reality communication systems to create an immersive virtual office space through visualizing desk space in a virtual environment and other virtual workers. Others, like Spatial, have developed socially distanced meetings through augmented reality. These technologies are working to keep remote workers engaged through communication and find new ways for employees to communicate in remote situations.

Digital nomads

The rise in remote work has led to the proliferation of another trend that is shaping up in the future of work: digital nomadism. Digital nomads use remote working tools and technologies to work while they travel foreign countries. They can also be workers who prefer to work in libraries or coffee shops, co-working spaces or in recreational vehicles.

Productivity software

The definition of productivity software extends to any software that allows the user to increase their productivity. This can include computer operating systems or word processors. A few concepts have developed across productivity software tools, including automation of administrative work, remote collaboration tools, employee autonomy and flexibility tools, creative assistance, and virtual communication experiences. In general, most productivity software tools attempt to achieve:

  • Quantifying performance: software to provide figures to help users understand and measure their performance over time
  • Removing unproductive work: these tools can deal with cutting out unproductive tasks often using machine learning or outsourcing tasks
  • Simplifying: similar to removing unproductive work, a large portion of productivity software focuses on simplifying processes and workflows to increase a users productivity
  • Discipline and focus: a group of software products which work to provide users motivation and develop discipline to increase focus
Software developments

As the use of productivity software increases, the software developers break into either software which can do everything users need it to do in order to make it a single software solution, or software which offer modular tools and are able to be integrated into other software suites in order to provide more value. Modular software tools also offer users to essentially build their own software experience for productivity management. Productivity software also offer users the chance to take their workflow paperless, helping those concerned about the waste developed by paper products.

Collaborative software

As well as personal productivity tools, software products are being increasingly relied on by enterprises and individuals to help collaborate on different products. This is made more important by the general industry trend towards collaborative work and with the rise of remote work. Other than communication software, collaborative software tools can include time management, task management, and deadline software. As well it includes any software which allows employees to collaborate directly on projects and documents.

Virtual training

Virtual training is increasing as a way of educating new and current employees. The training in these cases is done in virtual or simulated environments.


For employers, virtual training offers them the chance to continue to upskill or educate current employees whether they are on-premises or if they are remote. Especially with the rise of remote work, the opportunity for employers to continue to keep their employees educated and upskilled can help the employers continue increasing their employees productivity.

Because virtual training tends to be less expensive to implement and distribute, especially when employees do not have travel for learning or training, employers are able to provide more learning and training opportunities. The benefits of consistent learning and upskilling of employees have been explored by companies like IBM, where they have noted that employees given consistent learning opportunities meet their objectives 90 percent more often.


Virtual training has been adopted by more industries. Retail environments are using them to prepare employees for difficult customer interactions and learning how to stock different items. Healthcare has turned to virtual training to help learners develop new skills and practice difficult practices, such as surgeries, without putting patients at risk.

Soldiers using virtual reality training to simulate difficult combat situations.

National militaries have also begun using virtual simulation training to help soldiers practice difficult maneuvers, create increased soldier readiness, and learn how to coordinate as parts of teams and practice the use of firearms. Virtual simulation training offers militaries safer and more cost-effective ways to train these soldiers, and allow them to run training scenarios more often without the loss of equipment or needing to reset training environments.


For employees, virtual training offers them greater learning flexibility and allowing them to self-pace and learn in spaces where they will be able to perform best. When the training is done with virtual reality headsets, the immersive learning also offers users better knowledge retention. Employees tend also to learn faster than traditional training methods

Automation and artificial intelligence

The future of work is largely dominated by the growing role of artificial intelligence and automation systems. Whether used for productivity software, for the dispatch services the gig economy relies on, or for use in automated robotic systems, artificial intelligence systems, along with machine learning and computer vision, are offering an increase of automated systems in various industries.

While automation has long threatened to make workers of certain industries redundant, the rise of artificial intelligence, machine learning, and robotics offer systems which can match or outperform human performance in a range of work activities, including those requiring cognitive capabilities. Already established and demonstrated automation technology could impact employees earning close to $15 trillion in wages, or close to have the activities people are paid to do. This is especially true for physical tasks performed in structured and predictable environments and data collection and processing jobs. This includes manufacturing, accommodation, food service, and retail trades, and could include some middle-skill jobs.

Retail and food service
Amazon Go store, which has no cashiers or payment points

Automation tools in retail have extended beyond remote ordering systems and automated checkout systems, like those used by Amazon Go retail concept stores, to increasing towards automated warehousing solutions where robots can pick and package order. Cleaning services have begun to be automated, with retailers such as Target or Walmart using autonomous cleaning robots. Automation in retail has also seen the growth of automated coffee shops with "order-ahead" options removing the necessity of having cashiers and even extending to the introduction of robotic systems to make the products.


Through automation and through artificial intelligence, all industries are beginning to experience digitization. Digitization is the conversion of analog information to digital form with electronic devices to process, store, and transmit information. This creates opportunities were traditionally paper industries, such as human resources, administration, and advertising, are digitized and through this process exposed to automation tools and artificially intelligent engines which can reduce the redundancy in specific workplaces. These systems can be as simple as collation tools which offer customer service workers a view of the necessary data for a service call, or as seemingly complicated as chatbots used to process mundane insurance claims and reduce the overall time for processing.

Human resources

In human resources, automation tools and artificial intelligence have begun to be used to streamline the recruitment, reduce hiring time, and with the use of new virtual training tools, the quality of new hires has also been increased. New employee management tools have also offered human resource offices the chance to increase automation through everyday processing, including of benefits systems, time-off and vacation requests, employee engagement, and performance management.


Manufacturing has long been the place where robotics and artificial intelligence systems have phased out the need for human workers. Canon, the camera manufacturer, began in 2013 to phase human labor out of several of their factories. Automation systems have increased as the costs for manufacturing and implementing robotic systems has fallen. The increasing capability of artificial intelligence and machine learning systems also means robotics can do more than they have been able to do in the past, increasing their effectiveness.

Example of an automated manufacturing environment.

The falling cost of robotics and automation systems will reach a point where the cost of deploying smaller, automated factories in local areas, will be more cost-effective compared to the current model of large factories in labor-cheap countries which rely on inexpensive bulk transport for the movement of their goods.

Autonomous Vehicles

Though further from full-scale deployment than automation systems in some industries, autonomous vehicles present the possibility for automation in fleet vehicles, including for e-commerce and food delivery drivers, long-range truck drivers, and for ride-hailing services. There have also been suggestions that autonomous vehicles will be used for racing cars.

Automation in Japan

Long a leader in productivity improvements, including vending machines for meals and drinks, automation and digitization is being accelerated in the Japanese economy due, in part, to the COVID-19 pandemic and the shift towards online and remote workers. Part of the drivers of increased automation is the labor supply shortage Japan is facing which sees the country facing a shrinking workforce and increasing elderly and retired population. These unique economic conditions create a kind of case study for the larger world economies as to how automation could and will occur across industries and the larger economy.

Example of Japan's vending machines.
Labor shortage and pandemic

Previous to COVID-19, Japan was on track to automate 27 percent of work tasks by 2030, which would represent a replacement of close to 16.6 million jobs, the country, by 2030, would still see a shortfall of 1.5 million workers. The tight labor markets would also see employers faced with difficulty releasing employees and the resources needed to develop new growth opportunities. Near 56 percent of Japan's economy includes jobs susceptible to automation, include data collection and processing jobs and predictably physical labor, such as production, manufacturing, and machine operations.

Necessary automation

Automation in Japan would see greater automation of management duties through automation in productivity and task management software. There would be an increase of artificial intelligence systems in data science where they would need to understand and prioritize for market and industry trends . As well, these systems would need to be able to educate customers and employees and implement automated systems with limited corporate and economic disruption.

Change to labor environment

For those continuing to work in the highly automated environments, employers would have to offer flexible work-style models, including where and when people work, which would create a potential increase in the work needed to be done by leaders in order to foster a corporate culture and manage teams. Meanwhile, it would also open the economy to more workers who are unable to commit to the inflexibility of a traditional office job. Those participating in the labor market would also require retraining or reskilling to keep themselves in demand. This would create the need for government agencies to provide incentive for companies to create retraining programs.




Brianne Kimmel


CEO at Atrium

Mat Sherman

CEO at PubLoft

Ryan Hoover

CEO at Product Hunt

Further reading


4 Trends That Are Shaping the Future of Work

Entrepreneur NEXT


July 28, 2020

A Future That Works: Automation, Employment, and productivity

James Manyika, Michael Chui, Mehdi Miremadi, Jacques Bughin, Katy George, Paul Willmott, Martin Dewhurst


January 2017

Future of Work 2019: All You Need to Know

Mat Sherman


Gig Economy Definition



October 26, 2020

The Future of Education Isn't College

Mat Sherman


The future of work in Japan: Accelerating automation after COVID-19

Maya Horii, Yasuaki Sakurai


July 1, 2020

The future of work: How the pandemic's 'awakening' will shape Canada's labour force - BNN Bloomberg

Anne Gaviola


December 18, 2020

The Future of Work: The Rise of the Gig Economy

Rich Fitzgerald, Dr. Trevor Brown, Molly Turner


November 2017

Three Major Gig Economy Scaling Challenges

Mat Sherman


What Will The Future Of Work Look Like In 2021?

Charles Towers-Clark


December 17, 2020

Why Virtual Training is Better than an Online Course | ExitCertified

Alexandra DiFresca


September 23, 2019

Documentaries, videos and podcasts


026 - Ruben Harris (CEO of Career Karma) On The Future of Work

The Future of Productivity Software | Modular Apps

March 23, 2018




Justin Kan

San Francisco, CA

Law firm


Ian Crosby

Vancouver, Canada

Accounting firm


Chris Keene

San Francisco, CA

Lambda School

Austen Allred

Salt Lake City, Utah


Product Hunt

Ryan Hoover

San Francisco, CA



Mat Sherman

Phoenix, AZ

Marketplace & community


Jamie Baxter

Phoenix, AZ



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