What Will Productivity Look Like in 100 Years?

By katie simpson on June 6, 2014

In the past 100 years, the workplace has changed in revolutionary ways. What once took days to communicate now takes minutes. What once was limited to white men has become a more diverse place. With all these changes, our ideas of work, and what it meant to be productive changed too.

So what’s in store for productivity in the next 100 years? Here’s what we think:

Routine Tasks Will Become Completely Automated

Photo credit: JD Hancock via photopin cc

In 100 years, technology will have taken over processes such as building products, inspections, even creating some basic reports. Already we are seeing forms becoming prepopulated and articles written by computers. FoxConn, a Chinese company who builds iPads for Apple, hopes to have their first automated plant in the next 5-10 years.

What does this mean for business? Businesses will benefit in a variety of ways. Automation will reduce costs for businesses. Certain tasks will be free of human error, as well as become faster. It will also save lives: OSHA reported that 4,628 workers were killed on the job in 2012. If these sites had used robots, it would have saved 12 workers a day.

So what does this mean for workers? It continues our shift towards a knowledge economy. People will provide, knowledge, creativity, and insight in their work. Some work people will do be as technical experts, for instance. Other jobs, are hard to imagine. Thirty years ago, personal trainers were a rarity. In 2012, the Bureau of Labor and Statistics reported that 267,000 people did this as their job!

It’s hard to predict what new types of jobs will become available. But every time we have  mechanized the work humans have done, such as the shift from artisans to factories, the types of jobs change, but employment opportunity remains.

How we understand productivity will change

We are being paid to think not to make” – Dustin Wax

In the 20th century, productivity was still based around the factory. The idea of producing as much work as possible in a short time frame. This works great if you are trying to make as many widgets as possible. This framework fails though, when you are looking for creative insight and innovation.

For the 21st century, we’re going to need not only people that work hard, but people that achieve and reach goals. It’s a shift from quantity to quality. As a writer, can you not only craft a grammatically correct sentence but also a compelling one? Already we are seeing this shift. For instance, at GoCanvas, you don’t have to work a certain number of hours, instead your performance is based against metrics. If you can achieve your goals in 30 hours, then you have been succesful.

So what do we need to have creative productivity? Science is still learning a lot about how creativity works. Here’s what we know so far:

Getting enough sleep is crucial

In the future, coming into work fresh could be as important as coming into work sober. Not getting enough sleep can affect your ability create and be an effective employee. People make more errors, are prone to bad judgment calls, and more irritable. As our work becomes more and more tied to our cognitive abilities, rest will become an important part of how we prepare for the work day.

So what’s the magic number of sleep? Unfortunately, there’s no blanket statement for that. Every person needs a different amount of sleep. Some signs you need more sleep include:

  • Headaches
  • Easily distracted
  • Sloppiness
  • Caffeine dependency
  • Continually waking up groggy
  • Nodding off through the day

Regular exercise and a healthy diet can help

On the surface, this seems like a contradiction. We’ll need more exercise as we rely on our minds for work? While not fully understood yet, there seems to be a connection between creativity and physical exercise. One recent study found that those who work out regularly are better at creative problem solving in multiple ways.

On top of that, studies have found that diet is important too. One study asked a group of school kids to skip breakfast. A random selection were given breakfast at school. Those that went without food learned less and misbehaved more.

But then they give all the kids a snack midmorning. And the differences in attention and behavior? They disappeared.

So how might we be eating in 100 years to enhance our performance?

  • Smaller portions on smaller plates
  • Graze throughout the day
  • Focus on foods with fatty acids, lean protein, and antioxidants

In many ways, we are just beginning to understand the connection of diet, exercise and productivity. However, there is a connection, one that businesses are already trying to encourage with free gym memberships, and healthy foods free in office kitchens. As we understand more of this connection, businesses will try and encourage more healthy behaviors to have employees bring their most creative and productive selves to the office.

40 hour work week and lots of vacation

In 100 years, great businesses will ask not for long hours, but results. Research shows some interesting findings about time worked and productivity: working over 40 hours a week doesn’t actually help you produce more work. In fact, in the long run you get less done the longer hours you work.

What else will we find? Paid vacation will be seen not only as incentive for great employees but also a boost to the bottom line. Studies show that vacation improves productivity, boosts morale, and improves employee retention. We may even have sabbaticals like this becoming commonplace:


Collaboration will be a cornerstone of productivity

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Our abilities to be able to work across borders and boundaries have radically transformed in the past 100 years. With the rise of smartphones and the internet, we’re able to work with people thousands of miles away. In 100 years, great businesses will harness this collaborative power not only for innovation but also productivity. CISCO found that for every dollar invested in collaboration, there was a return of four in increased output.

So what will this look like? It won’t be entirely through the screen since, 100% e-collaboration hasn’t been successful. Instead, we will see a continue rise in office spaces that encourage teams to work together as well as time alone to recharge, and get word done solo. It will probably lead to even more specialization as workers hone their specific skills and reach out to co-workers in areas of weakness.

On a larger scale, collaboration could also become the norm in business. We could see more partnerships like the one between Doritos and Taco Bell. But even small businesses are getting involved more and more in collaboration. Already we are seeing coworking spaces spring up across cities, creating amazing stories of serendipity and partnerships. This could become not just a fad, but the norm across the country in working.

100 years ago, it’s hard to believe that we thought we would by now be able to produce rain at will and that the United States would have a population of 1 billion people. We may discover ideas via science or technology that takes our work in a dramatically different direction. Where we stand now, we’re looking at a world where measurable quality will be the driving force for how we approach our work, not how much we can do.

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