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Expect big changes in workplace setting in years ahead

The Baltimore Sun

To say the 9-to-5 job is an old concept like the rotary phone is an understatement.

Emerging technology, globalization and demographic changes have been changing how and where we work for years now.

And these factors will continue to contribute to the evolution of the workplace during the next two decades, says John A. Challenger, chief executive of Challenger, Gray & Christmas, a Chicago outplacement firm. Most recently, skyrocketing gas costs could be a short-term catalyst for change as well, he says.

Challenger identifies 10 workplace trends of the future that could transform office culture yet again - for good or bad. I'll leave that judgment to you.

* Teleconferencing could end business travel.

Challenger says the use of audio, video and Web conferencing will grow significantly during the next 10 years because of environmental concerns and as the tools become cheaper and more available.

And productivity will increase because workers won't spend as much time traveling, he says.

* Social networking will become the only recruiting tool.

Forget print ads and even online job postings. More companies are using such sites to reach out to not only potential employees but also customers, Challenger says.

* No health benefits.

More businesses are not offering workers medical benefits at all, which comes as most companies are shifting more of the costs to employees, Challenger says.

"The country is struggling to work on how to pay for health care and how much health care is going to be available and in what ways to all of us," he says.

* Companies that offer health care will require wellness programs to reduce costs.

More employers are offering programs, from fitness classes to smoking-cessation clinics, to keep workers healthy, Challenger says.

* A four-day workweek in the office becomes standard.

A Challenger survey found that 23 percent of companies are offering a condensed workweek in part because of rising gas prices.

"We all want the three- or four-day weekend," he says.

* Corporate degree programs will mold potential workers.

Challenger argues that more employers will create their own educational programs to develop future workers as jobs increasingly require specialized skills and abilities that fit particular demands of a company.

* Globalization will lead to an exodus of specialized workers to job-rich areas.

That means companies will recruit the best workers regardless of where they live.

Just as American employers hire high-tech foreign workers, it is likely that global firms will hire U.S. workers, Challenger says.

* No more cubicle life.

It is giving way to more open spaces and common areas. Plus, more employees are working virtually.

"They're working from home, working from the road and working when they could fit in the work wherever they are," Challenger says.

* Free-agent workers will be the norm.

More companies will hire workers on a project basis.

Challenger notes a survey by market research firm EPIC-MRA, which found that free agents are expected to represent 40 percent of the U.S. work force by 2012.

* No more corporate headquarters.

Challenger says the need for such a space will be nearly extinct in 20 years.

Not only are employees working less in a traditional office, but companies are looking to save costs on real estate.

What do you think of these workplace trends? Good or bad?

Send your stories, tips and questions to working@baltsun.com. Please include your first name and your city.

On the Job is published Monday at www.baltimoresun.com.

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