In many industries, we have seen the disappearance of jobs, the workplace, and the workweek. Work happens anytime and from anywhere. Yet, other businesses are comparatively unchanged. Why is this? We currently have two separate economies running in parallel – the digital and the physical.
One of my friends is now telecommuting from Malaysia to the University of Wisconsin. Another is a software developer who set up shop in Buenos Aires, simply because it features a lower cost of living and a better lifestyle.
Meanwhile, even basic language barriers are gradually disappearing. Anyone who posts a design project on CrowdSpring may get dozens of proposals from around the world. Some of the more entrepreneurial freelancers are now using online tools such as Google Translator. This enables them to communicate with buyers and do business in a way that was simply not possible five years ago.
Customer service jobs were outsourced overseas a long time ago. Over the next decade, expect more of the knowledge professions to follow. Telemedicine may mean that your family doctor is calling in from Hyderabad. Accounting is another profession that may soon find itself being relocated overseas.
While the digital economy has been going global, there are signs that the physical economy will become more localized over the coming decade.
Let’s take a look at a few reasons why this might be happening:
Cost. Asian economics expert Joergen Oerstroem Moeller notes that European companies are “gradually discovering that transport costs erode the competitive advantages of outsourcing to China.”
Shipping from Asia made more sense when gasoline was cheaper than bottled water. This is no longer the case. British retailer Marks & Spencer is planning to shorten the length of its supply chain by only shipping products within its own hemisphere. The company believes this may save GBP 175 million in costs annually.
Technology. New technologies such as 3D printing and scanning have the potential to move production to the masses. Instead of shipping to the other side of the globe, some types of manufacturing may move to the desktop, just like the printing industry did two decades ago.
We are just a few years away from being able to scan simple objects (such as repair parts) and then “faxing” them to customers who can print those parts on site – effectively minimizing delivery time.
Social Preference. There has also been in increased interest in buying local artisanal goods when they are available, particularly among Generation Xers and Millenials. For example, the rising popularity of the slow food movement has given new life to many traditional family farms. The USDA now reports that there are over 7,800 farmers markets in the U.S.
So, while the digital economy happens “anytime, anywhere”, parts of physical economy may evolve more slowly. Workplaces that require the maintenance of physical facilities or equipment will continue to need people in traditional jobs, because flexible locations and hours do not work for everything.
Good business values will always remain the same – showing up on time, doing a great job, and being appreciative to customers will never go out of favor.
(Note, this article previously appeared on CSRwire.)
Essays and comments posted in World Future Society and THE FUTURIST magazine blog portion of this site are the intellectual property of the authors, who retain full responsibility for and rights to their content. For permission to publish, distribute copies, use excerpts, etc., please contact the author. The opinions expressed are those of the author. The World Future Society takes no stand on what the future will or should be like.
Free Email Newsletter
To sign up for Futurist Update, our free monthly email newsletter, enter your email in the box below and click Save.
December 22, 2014 - Alzheimer's patients progressively lose their memories. I watched my mother-in-law and mother both succumb to the ravages of this disease as it robbed them of the recent past and then peeled away the decades until they reverted to distant memories. In my mother, a trilingual and adept, discerning individual, it even robbed her of her ability to speak coherently.
December 21, 2014 - India has long had a missile program but its development of heavy launch capacity has been impaired by delays in technology advances and failed tests. But in this last week the country witnessed the first big leap forward into a space program that will include humans in orbit.
A number of striking developments suggest a series of breakthroughs on climate change, alternative energy, and other critical environmental issues.
GLOBAL AGREEMENT AMONG 196 NATIONS
December 19, 2014 - In my last posting I presented ten disturbing statistics about our 21st century world. There are, however, signs that we humans haven't yet succumbed to a hopeless future. So let's look at ten technological innovations and the positive disruption they bring to this century, leading to a much better outcome by the year 2100.
December 18, 2014 - With 2015 a mere two weeks away I thought a year-in-review look at where we are trending would give humanity a sense of urgency about tackling the many challenges we are imposing on our species and the other inhabitants of this planet.
December 17, 2014 - Move over Earth. You are probably no longer the sole source of life in the Universe, or even in the Solar System.
December 16, 2014 - Desalination of Pacific Ocean water may prove to be a cheaper solution for California then massive relocation of its cities as