Changing workplace

How WILL the workplace change? We've talked about how jobs might change. What about the workplace itself: How do you see it transforming in the decades to come?

Dr. Brooks: Young people will be online more and more in terms of how they work, so there'll be more flexible workspaces. And a whole slew of creative folks are working virtually and creating virtual worlds too… The current models of Facebook and Instagram, where you're giving your content up freely, aren't sustainable. Folks need to create a more sustainable economy where you put more wealth into people who are using these platforms. We're going to see a robust entertainment communication economy where folks will derive more income from what they're putting online.

Mary Lou Jepsen has a startup called Openwater where her goal is to miniaturize the MRI machine to a mesh on your head that has read/write capabilities around your mind. They put Cal Berkeley students under an MRI machine as they were looking at YouTube images and were able to recreate those images through that technology. She calls it “practical telepathy." Imagine what the future could look like in terms of the workplace and the workforce; that's going to be a radical disruptor.

Dr. Greiner: One of the biggest changes in healthcare—and Dr. Brooks, you teed this up very well—is taking the technology that used to be the purview of the physician or a highly trained technician and putting it in the hands of individuals. Why can't you monitor your own blood glucose? Wearable devices are already taking your pulse, checking your blood pressure, monitoring your physical activity and doing things we used to have trained people doing. The ownership of knowledge, particularly around health issues, is shifting.

One of the biggest disruptors in healthcare is moving practitioners from individual patient care to population-focused care. So if I am a provider and I'm taking care of a pool of 500 diabetic patients, I could go online and look at all of their blood glucose levels over a period of time and see who is actually following the diet, who is falling off, and be able to send emails or text messages of encouragement. So our [nursing] students will interact differently with patient populations.

Dr. Norman: My prediction is pretty bleak. The workplace is already awful in general for Americans and it's going to get worse because of the technology Dr. Brooks was talking about… Work is the number-one source of stress for Americans. An estimated 120,000 excess deaths a year are a result of the workplace; that's the fifth-leading cause of death in America. We are literally working to death.

We need to be critical of the capitalist system. As an economist, I taught that perfect competition will allow everything to be more efficient. We've gotten good at that, but when we were less efficient, probably half of us all gained at the same time. Now, it's 10 percent, five percent, or one percent, right?

By 2026 or 2027, the freelance economy—part-time, with very little security or benefits—will equal the traditional economy. And it's stressful. Long-term, what is the cost? In this extreme capitalism, it's like you're expendable.

Dr. Brooks: There's a movement called platform cooperativism that offers a new avenue for how people will work in the future, where we have alternatives and workers get 100 perc​ent of the profits… So how can we envision and promote these types of cooperatives with our students so they know their future might not be with a big, multinational corporation; it might be with their local cooperative where they can find meaningful, sustainable and dignifying work. It's a growing movement and people are hungry for it. They want to have significant local effect on their daily lives, to have more control, more wealth, more power.

Dr. Greiner: We have to show students the possibilities. To me, that's what graduate and undergraduate education is about—opening doors, helping people to see the possibilities.

Dr. Thomas:  People are going to have at least 12 jobs in their lifetime. So being able to really take charge of their life and own their future, their present, what happens to them, is really critical.