Top Five Trends in the Future of Work


We are increasingly a knowledge-based economy in the U.S., and work can be delivered digitally from anywhere. Take NightHawk Radiology in Coeur d’Alene, ID, for example—they are providing radiologists to any hospital that needs real-time availability and lower costs. They work online from Switzerland and Australia, but it could just as easily be Wenatchee or Usk, WA. These are often the jobs that create other jobs. An Amazon, Microsoft, or RealNetworks software technician for example, creates two to four other jobs within the communities they live.

This has all been made possible by the following 5 trends/innovations of the past decade:

1. Expansion of broadband throughout the U.S. and abroad.

2. Maturing of Web development tools and standards.

3. Usable Web access via handheld devices.

4. General acceptance of financial transactions over the Web as being safe and secure.

5. Emergence of online work and worker marketplaces.

I believe that a huge portion of the highest paying jobs in the next 10 years will be served across the wire, with less and less dependence on physical location. [Disclosure: The author is the co-founder of Smartsheet, an online collaboration and work management firm—Eds.] Small towns across the Northwest are currently growing with telecommuting professionals moving toward lower costs, higher quality of life, and less city hubbub.

The past decade’s innovations coupled with the increasing base of knowledge workers leads to my predictions for the coming decade:

1. Migration of professional people from high tax & regulation states to low tax & low regulation states.

2. Explosive expansion of work marketplaces and paid crowdsourcing for all kinds of jobs.

3. More productive people will work for themselves by shopping their considerable talents around the world via work marketplaces.

4. Job performance and work quality will become transparent as people’s work is reviewed online much as products are today.

5. Average earnings for high performers will be more than double the average earnings in their category.

Virtual assistants, a job category that is growing 50 percent a year, is already demonstrating these trends. More and more people are timesharing executive administrators. Most are home-based women (98 percent of V.A.s are women) who are now picking up extra income, or building full businesses.

I expect that we’ll look back in 10 years and wonder why we spent over $4.2 billion to move a relatively small amount of Washington state’s population less than 10 miles through a new tunnel [to replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct in Seattle—Eds.]. Had we spent half that much on schools, high-speed Internet access, and infrastructure across the whole state, it would have been a much bigger boon for the state’s economy.

Ten years from now, where you live will be a matter of lifestyle choice, not proximity to work.

Brent Frei is the co-founder and chief marketing officer of Bellevue, WA-based, an online work management software company. Follow @b_frei

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6 responses to “Top Five Trends in the Future of Work”

  1. Great article and spot on, I believe. I embraced this new style of living and working in 2003 and am so glad I did. Thank you for mentioning virtual assistants, and especially for referring to us as executive administrators, since that more accurately describes what the best of us are, and what we were in the corporate world.

  2. Very nicely done piece. You do an excellent job of pulling together a bunch of disparate threads into coherent thinking. I cross-posted to my blog here:

  3. I agree with what you say, but think the impact of wireless data, especially wireless broadband will be far bigger than any other current trend. It will be as significant as the arrival of the Internet was nearly 20 years ago.

  4. Very well stated. Took the words right out of my mouth. When my teenage sons ask me what I want for Valentines Day this year (okay, so they haven’t asked, yet, but I’m sure they will) my reply (will be) this:

    To get 10 – 30 million voting citizens around the country to drive home the message to state and federal congress-folk “Let’s not have to look back in 10 years and wonder why we spent over $[insert value in trillions] to [insert nearly-every federal or state pork-project currently under consideration] … Had we spent half that much on schools, high-speed Internet access, and targeted infrastructure (crumbling bridges, broken water systems, etc.) across the whole [insert state, alternatively, the word “country”], it would have been a much bigger boon [x 10? multiplier] for the respective [state or national] economy. Save yourself the ‘told-you-so’ and please-oh-please do it, now.”

  5. Bill Dunnell says:

    Great article! You point out very well how we are stil clinging to huge misdirected infrastructure projects that cloud out the future promise of the information age. I totally agree that we should focus on expanding broadband, rebuilding our electric grid and teaching our students to be critical thinkers.