From the November 1999 issue of Entrepreneur

At your next company meeting, really consider who your employees are. By 2005, it will be a very different crowd. There will be more older workers and, conversely, more teens. There will be fewer men and, for the first time, more Latinos than African Americans. You may have to get by with fewer workers overall because the labor market will only get tighter. And you might see them only on occasion, as telecommuting becomes even more common.

While you're at it, check out your office. By 2005, it will probably be smaller, and you'll spend less time in it. Gone will be the small, sequestered offices, replaced by low walls and an open environment to facilitate collaboration. And, of course, it will be stuffed with technology we can scarcely imagine.

Not surprisingly, you and your workers will have some different issues on your minds. They will be more concerned with certain benefits, such as elder care, and less about others, including company-paid medical insurance. You'll have bigger training woes, and you may have to hire someone just to track the schedules of all the temps, part-timers, telecommuters and other flexible workers on your payroll.

Are you ready for Workplace 2005?

Older And Wiser

The biggest change coming in the 21st century workplace has to do with the aging work force. In 2006, according to projections by the U.S. Commerce Department's Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the average worker will be nearly 41, up from 38 in 1996. That will be caused by the aging of the baby boomers, the oldest of whom will be 60 by then, according to BLS demographer Howard Fullerton.

An aging work force means child care won't be as big an issue, but elder care will, according to labor issue trend-trackers. Employees will increasingly want to bring their aging parents to on-site care facilities, just as many do with children today, according to John Challenger, CEO of Chicago executive outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas Inc.

If you provide employees with child care, you may find it politically difficult to continue doing so, says Gerald Celente, director of the Trends Research Institute in Rhinebeck, New York, and author of Trends 2000 (Warner Books). "There's going to be a backlash," he warns. "About two-thirds of workers don't have children under 18 living at home, so benefits given to those who do have children rub [some] people the wrong way."

Increasingly, you'll employ workers who are themselves young enough to still live at home. That's because while the average worker ages, the BLS predicts workers aged 16 to 24 will grow faster as a group than the rest of the work force between now and 2006.

More youngsters on the payroll means employers will need to discover new ways to train effectively, according to Bill Hendricks, president of The Hendricks Group, a Dallas human resources consulting firm. Hendricks foresees more partnerships between businesses and school systems to make sure graduates have employable skills. Says Hendricks, "To a large extent, the business community is going to take over the responsibility of educating people."

Where Did All The Workers Go?

The worst news for employers is that the tight job market is here to stay. The U.S. work force will grow to 149 million by 2006, up 11 percent from 1996. But that's smaller than the 14 percent increase from 1986 to 1996, notes Fullerton, and the slowdown isn't related to economic forces: "Even with the economy growing at full steam, the labor force only grew 1.1 percent last year."

The big problem is not so much slow growth in the labor force; it's that there will be 151 million jobs for those 149 million workers, according to Challenger. As a result, he says, "Many of those workers will be working two jobs."

To ensure that many jobs don't go unfilled, employers will have to offer an increasing array of work schedules and employment options. More workers will be essentially free agents, working for whomever offers the best deal--until a better one comes along. "This will lead to tremendous [turnover], especially among high-tech employees," says Hendricks.

Benefits packages will take on a new look, as more employers and employees agree to share the cost of medical insurance, perhaps with assistance from private or public third parties, Challenger predicts. New benefits, such as company-paid financial counseling to help employees provide for retirement, may replace some traditional perks, he says.

And so-called "intangible benefits" will assume greater importance, according to Lynn Taylor, vice president and director of research for Menlo Park, California's OfficeTeam, a temporary employment agency specializing in administrative staffing. Intangibles may include everything from a supportive corporate culture to an energizing entrepreneurial vision of how the business will change the world. "The amazing thing," adds Taylor, "is how important working with a nice group of people has become in job seekers' goals."

Diversity, Diversity, Diversity

The third important work force trend is increasing diversity. To begin with, men won't participate in the labor force as much as they have, while women will participate more. The share of women in the labor force will rise to 47.4 percent in 2006, up from 46.2 percent in 1996, says Fullerton. Male workers' share will fall by more than a full percentage point, dropping from 53.8 percent to 52.6 percent.

The primary effect of a smaller percentage of male workers, workplace experts agree, is greater opportunity for women. A Challenger, Gray & Christmas survey of human resources professionals found that 23.8 percent foresaw the post-millennial shattering of the glass ceiling that keeps women and minorities from top spots on the corporate ladder. In general, the company predicts, jobs will no longer be separated into categories of "men's work" and "women's work."

Ethnic diversity is also increasing. The percentage of non-Latino white workers will shrink from more than 75 percent of the 1996 work force to less than 73 percent by 2006. Their place will be partly taken by a 41 percent increase in the smallest but fastest-growing contingent: American Indians, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.

But the big news will be the changing places of the second- and third-largest ethnic categories: Latinos will register a net gain of nearly 4.6 million workers, while African Americans will grow by more than 2.1 million. "By 2006," says Fullerton, "there will be more Latinos than African Americans in the labor force."

Brave New Businesses

As vast as these changes in the workplace seem, there are even more changes to come. One of the most apparent differences will be the physical size of the workplace. Forty-six percent of chief information officers (CIOs) in one recent study cited by OfficeTeam said offices will be smaller in 2005. The big benefit of that change is clear: lower real estate costs for entrepreneurs. But the forces behind it may be less obvious.

One is the general shift toward a customer-focused business model many industries have adopted. "You don't want a big headquarters operation anymore," Challenger says. "You want your people out at the customers' sites, working on their problems. You don't want them sitting in an office."

Another office-shrinking force is the popularity of flexible work arrangements, including telecommuting, which gives workers more freedom at the cost of providing in-home office space. One-third of U.S. workers will telecommute at least part of the time by 2005, according to a study cited by OfficeTeam.

Employers will also be more flexible with nonteleworkers. Challenger sees hoteling, a cost-saving measure which calls for two or more workers to share the same office, as becoming so popular that corporate hotels will spring up to rent generic office space to individuals from different companies at the same time.

As they shrink, offices will feature more meeting areas to facilitate teamwork and moveable, modular furniture to fit fast-changing work styles. "You're going to have to accommodate work teams as well as telecommuters," says Taylor. "So you'll want open, flexible space."

Future Tech

Demographic projections are uncertain. War, immigration patterns, government regulation, and cycles of boom and bust cast doubt even on predictions that are based on the relatively stable characteristics of populations of millions of people. With that in mind, and considering that such terms as "e-commerce" and "Web portals" didn't exist even five years ago, it's probably unreasonable to expect anybody to forecast exactly how new technology will affect workplaces in 2005. But one thing is certain: The effect will be huge.

Computers will certainly become faster, smaller, lighter and cheaper, according to the OfficeTeam CIO survey. But an even more significant trend might be the increasing access of homes and offices to high-speed data communication, in the form of cable modems and low-cost digital telephone lines, says Celente. "We believe the greatest changes that will come about from broadband will be interactive, three-dimensional video communication with colleagues," he adds. "It's going to be like you're all in the same room. And when that happens, people in the service economy will truly be able to work wherever they want."

Wireless communications and voice-activated technology are more top trends identified in the CIO survey. A rapid merger between cellular phones, personal digital assistants and pagers is creating compact, intelligent, inexpensive and user-friendly tools that will make communication instantaneous and easy, no matter where you are.

Workplace Wrap

Entrepreneurs themselves will also be influenced by millennial effects. Teenagers, Gen Xers and retirees will make up a disproportionate share of business founders between now and 2005, predicts Challenger.

Most observers expect owning your own business to be as big a theme in the 21st century as it has been in the 20th. "The 1990s have been very favorable to small businesses, and nobody expected that," says Hendricks. "And I think it's going to continue. There's probably never been a better time to be in business for yourself."

Jobs Of The Future

Just as the 20th century produced new occupations such as copier technician and chief knowledge officer, the technological and cultural demands of the 21st century will create new jobs for people to fill. Here are some predictions of careers to come:

Title: life-balance consultant

Duties: helps employees adjust to major life events such as having a baby or caring for an aging parent

Title: mentoring director

Duties: matches company veterans with newcomers to reduce learning curves, build loyalty and improve performance

Title: fitness manager

Duties: develops employee exercise programs, sets guidelines for workplace ergonomics, and coordinates wellness and health programs

Title: telecommuting coordinator

Duties: provides technical support, scheduling assistance and office updates to off-site teleworkers

Title: catering manager

Duties: creates nutrition programs and meal plans, and places online orders for lunches and dinners for too-busy-to-eat workers

Title: director of socialization

Duties: helps workers connect with each other while giving them opportunities to express themselves

Contact Sources

Challenger, Gray & Christmas Inc., (312) 332-5790, outpla19@starnetinc.com

The Hendricks Group, 2704 Routh St., #2, Dallas, TX 75201, billh@hendricksgroup.com

OfficeTeam, 2884 Sand Hill Rd., #200, Menlo Park, CA 94025, http://www.officeteam.com

Trends Research Institute, (914) 876-6700, http://www.trendsresearch.com