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.
November 23, 2014 - LIMA COP20 will meet on December 9, 2014 in Peru. Its goal to begin shaping the global agreement by nations, industry, financial institutions and NGOs to reduce carbon emissions.
November 21, 2014 - When I was a young man we lived two blocks from a freshwater-fed pond by the name of Tillplain. Today it is gone, covered and built upon. That's where the high school I graduated from currently stands. But that pond unlocked the mysteries of life for me and so I remember it fondly.
November 21, 2014 - The Google skunk works experiments to develop autonomous vehicles is quickly opening a flood gate of new technological innovation in transportation.
November 19, 2014 - Ever wondered why not just Spiderman but lizards and all kinds of insects can climb up walls? Ever wanted to be just like Spiderman when it comes to wall climbing?
November 19, 2014 - The first natural gas power plant that completely captures carbon is about to be constructed by NET Power, a Durham, North Carolina company. The 50 Megawatt facility is being built in Texas and will go online in 2016 at a cost of $140 million U.S.
November 18, 2014 - Yesterday a friend of mine sent me a news clipping from The Washington Post. But before I talk about the content of what he forwarded I want to take you down memory lane for a minute. What was the world like before the appearance of the cellphone?
November 17, 2014 - Cambridge, England's Solar Cloth Company has announced its first trials of its solar cloth, a lightweight photovoltaic fabric designed to stretch over roofs, carports, parking lots and any other structure that normally could be covered and that cannot handle the weight of silicon-