6 trends that will change the way we live and work

Businesses and professionals beware  the forces of disruption are heading this way. Here are the some of the key changes that you need to be aware of to safeguard your company and your career.

From new technologies to demographic shifts, a range of factors are set to transform business and society as a whole, overturning the established order and making even some highly-paid professional jobs obsolete.

Businesses will need to be aware of the changing trends in order to meet the challenges ahead, while individuals need to consider how to develop the right skills to meet demand. So here are some of the key drivers of change, as identified by planners and ‘futurologists’, such as the Institute for the Future (IFTF) and the Committee for the Economic Development of Australia (CEDA).

6 drivers of change that will affect the way we live and work

Longer lifespans

By 2061, almost one in four Australians (22%) will be aged 65 or over, compared to around 14% at present. As people live longer, individuals and businesses will have to rethink their approach to employment and careers.

Whether through choice or necessity, many will continue to work long past the traditional retirement age and employers will need to consider how best to deploy this older, more experienced workforce. Individuals will require greater flexibility and many will enjoy multiple careers, using lifelong learning to transition from one to another.

An ageing population will also create greater demand for medical services and products, leading to a growth in the global health economy and a greater focus on health and wellbeing overall.

Rise of the machines

While robots have already replaced humans on the production line, the growth of artificial intelligence now threatens many professional and creative jobs. Academics Carl Frey and Michael Osborne from Oxford University assessed over 700 jobs to determine which ones were most likely to be computerised and found that some roles in accounting, credit and insurance came near the top of the list.

They say that “algorithms for big data are now rapidly entering domains reliant upon pattern recognition and can readily substitute for labour in a wide range of non-routine cognitive tasks. In addition, advanced robots are gaining enhanced senses and dexterity, allowing them to perform a broader scope of manual tasks”.

Some commentators fear that the resulting job losses and inequalities created could lead to political unrest. Of course, technology will also create new jobs, but workers will need to adapt and learn new skills. As smart systems enter almost every area of our lives, it will force us to address the question, what are humans uniquely good at?

According to the IFTF, the real power in machines is in their ability to extend our own capabilities. “We will be entering into a new kind of partnership with machines that will build on our mutual strengths,” it says.


In an interconnected and interdependent world, organisations must be able to deal with diversity, learning to work and manage people from different cultures and adapt their operations to suit different environments and consumers.

Western powers no longer hold sway, whether in politics or in business – in fact, developing nations are innovating at a faster pace. The lack of existing infrastructure in these areas actively encourages the uptake of new technologies, such as mobile and payment systems and this, together with their expanding populations, is fuelling their economic growth.

Multinational companies, which have traditionally kept research and development in the West and viewed countries such as India and China as locations to outsource services to, will find it hard to develop the right products for these new fast-growing markets. Faced with locally grown competition, they may need to restructure their current models, employ more local talent and integrate their operations more closely, if they are to survive.

Internet of things

The increase in programming power and the use of sensors in everyday objects – the ‘internet of things’ – will allow us to create intelligent systems and smart cities, where every interaction is recorded, creating an unprecedented amount of data that can be recorded and analysed to find new patterns and intelligence.

Increasingly human decision making is informed by real life data – whether that is governments planning infrastructure, predicting energy usage or trying to prevent the spread of epidemics, or individuals planning their route to work. Data modelling will allow us to try out different scenarios to find the optimum solution. However, individuals and workers alike will need the skills to read data, identify patterns and use it for intelligent decision making.

New media

New technologies are changing the way we communicate and interact with others. As social media and virtual networks are becoming part of our everyday lives, text is giving way to more visual forms of communication such as video and animation and the use of gaming technologies and virtual reality are becoming widespread.

New media offers new platforms and opportunities for business and new ways for people to work and play together, and will bring greater transparency into our business and personal lives. However, it will also presents new challenges in the form of protecting reputation and identity online.

In their personal and professional lives, people will need to have literacies beyond reading text and, with so many different channels competing for their attention, the ability to make sense of multiple items of information and different versions of the same story.

Achieving superscale

Not only are the new technologies and platforms changing the way we communicate, but also the way we work and create value. The ability to collaborate online allows individuals and small firms to operate at a scale that previously only governments or large organisations could match.

This ability to scale up or ‘superstruct’ allows people to go beyond the traditional barriers, achieve much bigger goals and benefit from collective intelligence – for example, science games which bring together thousands of people online to solve problems.

According to the IFTF, we will need new social tools to work and govern on these scales. “Many organisations we are familiar with today, including educational and corporate ones, are products of centuries-old scientific knowledge and technologies. Today we see this organizational landscape being disrupted,” it says.

“A new generation of organizational concepts and work skills is coming not from traditional management/organizational theories but from fields such as game design, neuroscience, and happiness psychology. These fields will drive the creation of new training paradigms and tools.”

As the forces of change reshape the economy, companies and professionals will need to consider how best to adapt and survive in the brave new world of business.

Learn more about the new skills and capabilities you'll need to succeed in the future world of work by attending a UQ Business School event.

Last updated:
30 October 2019