Firstly future technology will continue to make remote working better.
This will not be a techno-solutionist paean to how everything will be rosy in the future. However the unintended byproduct of massive improvements in personal computing means it is more and more possible to work from remote locations. It is highly likely that commuting to sit in front of one keyboard in an office rather than another one where you live will be something we look back on as a curiosity. Already many people come home in the evening to use tablets, smartphones and other devices to access data / digital content / entertainment. It will become more possible for us to be rated on the quality of our work and the timeliness of its delivery, rather than how we interacted with our boss or work colleagues.
Better versions of skype, slack, trello and other workflow tools will all increase the importance of creativity and reduce the necessity for middle management.
Our digital footprint will be our brand and our reputation
This need not be too Orwellian a concept. It’s true there will need to be deeper thought given to thinking before we tweet / text / IM, but that might be no harm. For coders, Github, Stackoverflow and other online user groups are already clear demonstrations of the value of digital reputations. This concept will just expand into wider areas, especially for the creative industries.
Dull repetitive jobs will be offloaded to machines, creativity will increase
While Ray Kurzweil’s predictions of the Singularity by 2030 (machines achieving consciousness and massively superior intelligence to humans) can lead to Skynet concerns (the dystopia of the Terminator movies). However before we get too negative we are also looking at a possible golden epoch where the drudgery work is done by machines and humans have more time, resources and energy to spend on creative endeavours. This offers great potential for an increased quality of life, for those willing to embrace the challenge of working differently.
Driverless cars illustrate this possibility
Yes many of us love driving. But just consider what it would be like if we had a device that could move us from A to B in a hands free way. Statistically driverless cars are already much less likely to crash than humans. Imagine if that travel-pod carrying you also had great wifi. Well would you rather tick off the service stations between Cork and Dublin, or watch that movie / read that book / write that article? Already we could be looking at a massive gain in our free time in a 3rd place - not home, not work, but the spaces travelling in between those places. The hyperloop is also currently being prototyped, to rapidly, cheaply and effectively ping us across the planet at speeds faster than flying. This offers the potential for more time to be spent doing great things, or squander it, the choice is ours though.
What would the social impacts be?
This is something exciting to consider. Drawing on the small rural island community we have moved to, with around 100 to 120 people in the winter, and several hundred more in the summer, there are some exciting possibilities. People come together and help each other out. The broadband, ethernet and wifi all ensure that we’re not isolated (and yes it would be good if it were faster) but stepping outside the house, with areas of no coverage on the island you also rely on human contact too. In the first 10 days here we spoke to more people than we had met in our Dublin suburb in eight years. When you’re outside, rounding up runaway ponies, dropping someone’s dog back home, giving a neighbour’s kids a lift home, these are all things that help to build the fabric of rural communities. There is massive potential for technology to enable the repopulation of the Irish islands, and their Irish speaking communities too. The work we have, and the growing clients and contracts coming in could all spin over into more work for others here too.
There is a massive potential, by connecting and upgrading the rural areas to re-balance the onslaught of massive urbanisation that has been the prevailing trend of the last 70 years, post world war two if not more.
Will we see bigger companies follow this trend?
I think the rational answer is no, but there are inspirational remotely distributed companies like Basecamp who are breaking the mould and being hugely successful too. Therefore I think it’s ok to appeal to the visionaries and big goal achievers first. Generally a few inspirational people then impact on many many more. Big companies won’t follow this trend. However small dynamic, mobile, agile companies will lead the way. These path blazers will map out an exciting alternate future for those willing to take the plunge. They will use technology to empower and enrich their work and quality of life for those that chose to follow this path.