What does the future of work look like?

By Dr Frederick Harry Pitts, Lecturer in Management at University of Bristol.

The future of work: you can’t move for mention of it today. Consultants, academics and policymakers all present a single, fast-approaching point of change. 

With automation, artificial intelligence and algorithms, we could be facing a utopia or dystopia — depending on who you talk to. For some, this means freedom from mundane tasks with luxury at the click of a button. For others, it’s the worry of losing purpose as technology takes over our jobs and eventually the world. 

The jury is well and truly out on how this will unfold. Estimates vary wildly as to how many jobs are at threat, with PWC suggesting some third of jobs at risk and OECD predicting a less severe one in tenOf course, the effects of this would be felt differently across roles and sectors. But overall, things are very unlikely to be as extreme as people imagine. 

What unites both utopian and dystopian visions is the idea that technological change is inevitable. Both agree we must adjust our expectations of what work can and should be like in the future. But this doesn’t mean it’s out of our control. What is clear is that the future of work will be characterised by technology changing how we approach things, instead of simply taking our jobs. And this will need careful management and oversight by business leaders, policymakers and workers representatives.  

The human element 

The future of work isn’t just a question of technology, but also of humanityIt’s important to recognise that social, political, legal and geographical processes will determine how all these changes play out. This means that the future of work will depend on how people and organisations are configured in different places. And it means that we as humans, together with our institutions, can ultimately decide and control what the future of work will be like. 

Maybe its better to speak of futures of work rather than a singular imminent futureIt’s not just how technology reshapes working practices that’s at stake. But also the forms of management, governance and ownership best equipped to deliver a better world of work for everyoneIt’s not enough to look at these futures of work, whether good or bad, through a one-sided technical or scientific lens. We need an interdisciplinary approach together with the study of society, organisation, political economy, law and culture.  

Practicing what we preach 

At the University of Bristol, we’re already working across disciplinary boundaries to get to grips with thisYou can see it at the New School of Management through the Faculty Research Group for Perspectives on Work, and in the Bristol University Press online magazine Futures of Work. And we’re also considering how education and training can challenge current practices to encourage new ways of thinking. But in all of this, its important to include perspectives from wider communities at the coalface of the changes underway in the world of work.  

The new Temple Quarter Enterprise Campus will provide a state-of-the-art infrastructure to host this — bringing together social scientists and engineers in one space to work together on the big challenges facing usIt’ll boost our existing work with the businesses and social enterprises already innovating at the edge of the futures of work. But itll also encourage new discussions with a wide range of stakeholders on key topics. From the costs and consequences of the changing world of work to our human capacity to control the futures contained withinwe’ll be part of the conversation. 

Find out more about the University’s plans for the Temple Quarter Enterprise Campus at bristol.ac.uk/templequarter.

Next steps for the new campus

Former Royal Mail Sorting Office during the demolition process

With demolition of the former Royal Mail Sorting Office well underway, we’re ready to progress with the next stages of the planning process. 

Since we secured outline planning permission in July 2018, we have continued to work with communities, businesses, the West of England Combined Authority and Bristol City Council to shape our plans. Phase one of the public consultation will run from 11 April to 1 May 2019 and will include the detailed design of the student residential accommodation. Well also take the opportunity to show an update on the proposed layout of the entire site. 

There are a number of ways for you to share your views. All information will be available online from 11 April and you can come along to one of the following meetings or drop-in sessions. 

Public meetings: 

  • Tuesday 16 April, 5-7.30pm at Barton Hill Settlement, 43 Ducie Road, Bristol BS5 0AX 

Drop-in sessions: 

  • Tuesday 16 April, 12-2pm & Thursday 25 April, 1-3pm at Engine Shed, Station Approach, Bristol BS1 6QH 
  • Wednesday 17 April, 5-7.30pm & Thursday 25 April, 5-7pm at Hannah More School, New Kingsley Road, Bristol BS2 0LT 
  • Saturday 27 April, 2-4pm at Windmill Hill City Farm, Philip Street, Bristol BS3 4EA 

In the meantime, take a look at how much the site has changed since demolition began two months ago:

This first phase of public consultation will be followed by a second phase in the summer—this will focus on the academic buildings and public spaces.