Diversity: People’s needs are as diverse as they are, and although diversity and equality help to create a creative environment, this has not yet been sufficiently taken into account in the working environment. So I expect to see a much more universal design that can adapt to a wide range of needs with ramps, breastfeeding and nappy-changing rooms, gender-neutral toilets, prayer rooms, sleeping pods and much more.
There have been major disruptions in recent years that promise to change the very nature of work. From the ongoing shifts caused by the COVID19 pandemic, the impacts caused by automation, and other possible disruptions to the status quo, many wonder what the future holds in terms of employment. For example, a report by the McKinsey Global Institute that estimated automation will eliminate 73 million jobs by 2030.
To address this open question, we reached out to successful leaders in business, government, and labor, as well as thought leaders about the future of work to glean their insights and predictions on the future of work and the workplace.
As a part of this interview series called “Preparing For The Future Of Work”, we had the pleasure to interview Dr. Marc Wagener Managing Director at LabCampus GmbH.
In April 2018 Dr. Marc Wagener joined LabCampus GmbH, the subsidiary of Munich Airport, with the mission of building, promoting and driving a future-oriented, cross-industry campus for innovators. With a background of studies in electrical engineering at the Technical University in Aachen and a PHD in business from the Technical University of Chemnitz, Dr. Marc Wagener started his career in the field of IT project management and later moved to management consulting. In 2006 he joined Carl Zeiss AG where he was in charge of strategic business development. He served as Director Marketing, Business Strategy and Communications of Carl Zeiss Industrial Metrology from 2008–2013. Following that, Wagener became the CEO of Siemens Novel Businesses where he was responsible for identifying and developing disruptive business opportunities, creating and financing start-ups relevant to specific fields of the Siemens AG.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Our readers like to get an idea of who you are and where you came from. Can you tell us a bit about your background? Where do you come from? What are the life experiences that most shaped your current self?
My vita is marked by many diverse stations, fields of activity and industries. If I had to choose an all-encompassing term for it, it would be “innovation”. In my work career, I have repeatedly been involved in fundamental transformation waves driven by information and communication technologies, the ancestors, so to speak, of what is now called digitalization. And I’ve seen the world of innovation change, away from the central research institutions that dominated for more than 50 years. Today’s innovation ecosystem is spread out, unpredictable, fast-moving and risky. Companies but also nations like Germany have a hard time dealing with this new environment. This is where I would like and we as LabCampus want to make a contribution. Because we believe that in today’s world of innovation, progress can only be made together. And with LabCampus we want to set up a place where people and companies from different industries and regions, established and young companies, small and large companies can join forces equally to work together on the challenges of the future.
What do you expect to be the major disruptions for employers in the next 10–15 years? How should employers pivot to adapt to these disruptions?
In my opinion, employers will need to be adaptable in the coming years. Meanwhile, many employees work in hybrid work models and there will be an increased need for incentives to keep and motivate employees at work. The challenge for employers will be the consumerization of the work environment, which means adapting to the needs of employees and offering new services ranging from hospitality concepts, entertainment and leisure activities to modern housing options. Employers should also prepare for the need to realign office infrastructure in the future. Traditional office and meeting rooms will give way to places for team-oriented work and creative exchange as well as for secluded spaces for concentrated study. We will also see more areas for playful learning and experimentation. The use of digital technologies, especially to promote creativity, will increase. All people are very different — but to date, working environments have hardly taken individual wishes and needs into account. A creative and productive environment requires diversity and equality. Employers will have to adapt to new requirements, e.g. gender-neutral toilets, diaper-changing rooms, prayer rooms and sleeping pods. Employee well-being will play a far greater role in the future, both physical and emotional well-being These include air and light conditions as well as ergonomic workplaces on the one hand, and leisure and relaxation facilities, mindfulness tips and relaxing green or outdoor areas on the other. Outside will be the new inside and goes hand in hand with the basic human need to connect with nature. Tomorrow’s workplaces will have to take this into account.
As social responsibility is a fundamental issue for the younger generations — campus structures that are “sustainable from the ground up” and offer collaborative social impact projects — powered by green technology and with a focus on collective well-being will gain importance.
When we started to develop the unique innovation center LabCampus on the grounds of Munich Airport we tried to involve all these aspects from the scratch. We were driven by the mission to actively promote creativity and innovation and to meet the needs of global players, hidden champions and newcomers alike. Cross-industry collaboration, joint development, testing, presentation and realization are in the focus at LabCampus. At LabCampus, we believe in the power of community and plan tomorrow’s workplace with all it needs.
The choice as to whether or not a young person should pursue a college degree was once a “no-brainer”. But with the existence of many high profile millionaires (and billionaires) who did not earn degrees, as well as the fact that many graduates are saddled with crushing student loan debt and unable to find jobs it has become a much more complex question. What advice would you give to young adults considering whether or not to go to college?
In my view, you should not make a purely strategic choice to study in the hope that you will get a secure and well-paid job when you graduate. It’s also not right to think that you don’t need a degree to be successful these days. I think the key to a career that satisfies you personally is passion: Is what you’re doing right now what you really want to do? A decision to study, learn or get a job should ideally be intrinsically motivated and not for external reasons. So before deciding on a path, consider your talents and interests — in many fields, career advancement is possible even without a degree, while others require a degree.
Despite the doom and gloom predictions, there are, and likely still will be, jobs available. How do you see job seekers having to change their approaches to finding not only employment, but employment that fits their talents and interests?
To realize what you like to do and what you are good at, you have to try things out. In the process, it can of course happen that you are also confronted with your own weaknesses and gather negative experiences, but it is precisely these situations that will have a lasting impact on you and sharpen your own self-image. You have to learn from mistakes and deal with defeats — reflect on yourself at regular intervals and dare to admit that you have gone down a path that now no longer makes you feel satisfied.
The statistics of artificial intelligence and automation eliminating millions of jobs, appears frightening to some. For example, Walmart aims to eliminate cashiers altogether and Dominos is instituting pizza delivery via driverless vehicles. How should people plan their careers such that they can hedge their bets against being replaced by automation or robots?
We assume that the importance of work-life balance is steadily increasing for the generations Z and Alpha. Automation, Digitization and AI will help us more and more to eliminate strenuous, time-consuming as well as unpopular activities and routine tasks — leaving us with more time for leisure, creative work, inspiring collaboration and productivity. By removing simple work, there are even more resources available for the new tasks. Social, creative and strategic tasks will not be as easily replaced as routine tasks. A calculation by the German Institute for Employment Research (IAB) and the German Federal Institute for Vocational Education and Training (BIBB) states that in a fully digitized world of work by 2035, almost 1.5 million jobs could be lost in Germany. But a similar number of new jobs would also be created. I believe that education and especially cross-industry training are top priorities in order to be prepared for the changes in the professional world and to prevent job losses.
Technological advances and pandemic restrictions hastened the move to working from home. Do you see this trend continuing? Why or why not?
In fact, the home office and digitalization enabled us to continue our work to a large extent during the pandemic. However, the trend is more towards hybrid working models. We can exchange ideas with Skype, Teams and other virtual meeting tools, but this will not replace personal contact in the long run. Personal collaboration is especially important when driving innovative processes forward. So, it will be the mix between home office and working in an inspiring work ambience with colleagues.
What societal changes do you foresee as necessary to support the fundamental changes to work?
We must face the new, more complex challenges of the future together, as a society, as a company, but also as individuals. To do this, it is not only necessary to pull together and find a common consensus on important issues; it is also necessary to show openness. We tend to think very simply in categories — we need to break away from this and become more courageous.
What changes do you think will be the most difficult for employers to accept? What changes do you think will be the most difficult for employees to accept?
It might be challenging for employers to accept that the workplace of the future has to adapt to the employee and not the other way around. Increasingly collaborative work requires that managers learn how to manage and lead teams that are connected but not always physically present. Each employee needs to figure out himself how to stay visible and make a career within these new working environments. Employees must also accept that they need to remain open and ready for career changes as well as continuing education in order to stay on the ball. The winners are those who can adapt flexibly to the changes and adjust to new situations. This applies equally to employers and employees.
The COVID-19 pandemic helped highlight the inadequate social safety net that many workers at all pay levels have. Is this something that you think should be addressed? In your opinion how should this be addressed?
Fortunately, Germany acted quickly and a wide variety of protection packages that came into effect in connection with Corona were able to provide basic social welfare for the population. I personally think that the short-time payment should have a wider international roll-out, as it does not force companies to lay off employees right away. It is also a good investment in the long term, as companies can find their way out of the crisis more quickly and do not have to hire and qualify new employees first. This also ensures that taxes can be paid again more quickly.
Despite all that we have said earlier, what is your greatest source of optimism about the future of work?
If we have a look into the past, we find similar transformations, which at first were also viewed with great concern. Looking back, we can say that although some jobs may have been lost, new jobs were created leading to a new and usually better status. However, this is not to say that we can sit back and wait because it will all be fine. On the opposite, we have to keep an active eye on the development, because many concerns are not without reason and have to be addressed.
Historically, major disruptions to the status quo in employment, particularly disruptions that result in fewer jobs, are temporary with new jobs replacing the jobs lost. Unfortunately, there has often been a gap between the job losses and the growth of new jobs. What do you think we can do to reduce the length of this gap?
Staying awake, shaping and creating, collaborating. We cannot leave the task of shaping the future to a few who pursue purely financial interests or who push technical progress for technology’s sake. We must steer together without slowing down.
Okay, wonderful. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “Top 5 Trends To Watch In the Future of Work?” (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Adaptability: In the future, employees will work in new hybrid models and expect additional stimuli to draw them back to the workplace. That’s why there will be more and more office space or campus concepts that offer services matched to the needs of their employees. These could be leisure and entertainment options or food facilities, for example.
- Connectivity: After the past few months and with a view to the hybrid working world of the future, it will be essential to seamlessly connect offices and home offices comprehensively. The use of digital technology that specifically promotes creativity and replicates subtle human behaviors, such as digital forms of serendipity — virtual chance encounters, will increase sharply and shape our everyday working lives.
- Sustainability: To achieve the common climate goals, we must also significantly reduce CO2 emissions in the design, construction and operation of buildings. For example, there are already concepts of wooden skyscrapers and glass solar roofs, on-site smart grid technologies, or green facades that filter dust before it enters the building — all of these more sustainable solutions will be increasingly implemented in the future.
In addition to your own professional development, the positive impact on the community is increasingly important for generations to come. So I expect to see the creation of environments that are “sustainable from the ground up” and offer collaborative social impact projects — driven by green technology and with a focus on collective well-being.
- Wellbeing: Emotional and physical well-being as well as immediate environmental parameters will become increasingly important: from high air quality, a pleasant lighting situation, and ergonomic workplaces to yoga classes, meditation rooms, and access to nature, parks, and green spaces — the spectrum is wide. Virtual technologies and wearables can also support the well-being of individuals — for instance, they provide digital support or give mindfulness tips in stressful situations.
- Diversity: People’s needs are as diverse as they are, and although diversity and equality help to create a creative environment, this has not yet been sufficiently taken into account in the working environment. So I expect to see a much more universal design that can adapt to a wide range of needs with ramps, breastfeeding and nappy-changing rooms, gender-neutral toilets, prayer rooms, sleeping pods and much more.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how this quote has shaped your perspective?
One of my key experiences in life is that you can’t draw conclusions about others from yourself. In the past, I could not understand many things others did or said and thus could not really accept some of it. The moment I learned to take a step back and try to comprehend and acknowledge the motivations of others has greatly widened my decision-making horizons and my ability to interact with people.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
It is Bill Gates who comes to mind here. Although I don’t know his biography in detail, I find it particularly fascinating that he built up one of the most successful companies virtually from nothing. He was significantly involved in shaping the waves of change by information and communication technologies over a period of two decades. He helped establish much of the way we work today. However, what I find outstanding is that he turned his back on business at the peak of his career and is now using his earnings and his position to make the world a little better. In my opinion, this is something that far more people should do.
Our readers often like to follow our interview subjects’ careers. How can they further follow your work online?
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this. We wish you continued success and good health.