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Future trends of business management

Postulate the future trends of business management.

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Fast Forward: 25 Trends That Will Change the Way You Do Business
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From e-mail to health care, and from artificial intelligence to the end of HR as we know it, here are forecasts of how different the world of workforce management will be 10 years from now.
workforce-management decisions aren't made with crystal balls. What they do demand is a clear sense of the landscape on the far horizon. As a human resources executive, you probably know what health care will cost your company next year.

But you're far less certain whether or not legions of workers will be full-time telecommuters five years from now, or if defined benefits will even exist in 2013. Fortunately, there are forward-thinkers and trend-spotters out there who make it their business to suss out the future for us.

Our visionaries don't always agree with each other, as you'll see. Still, their predictions of what factors will alter the world of workforce management are provocative, and may serve to inform and intrigue all of us who manage people.

1 E-Mail

It has taken less than a decade for electronic mail to emerge as the heart and soul of corporate communication. Yet while e-mail has made it faster and easier for people to swap words and data, it also has unleashed inbox overload and a seemingly endless stream of spam. Future e-mail systems will attempt to remedy today's problems--but also add new capabilities.

One possibility is that senders will have to match a predetermined list--either by name, company, or IP (Internet provider) address--or find themselves blocked. In addition, better anti-spam programs will help sift out the junk.

Powerful information-management and collaboration tools are also likely to emerge. They will link associated messages and track message streams more efficiently. Internet pioneer Vinton Cerf predicts that automatic language translation will take hold. Finally, unified messaging will allow workers to check e-mail, voice mail, mobile messaging, and fax machine from a single inbox.

2 Organized Labor

Despite declining membership and overwhelming odds, labor unions aren't in danger of dying any time soon. They do, however, face the future with these grim facts: Membership dropped from 20.1 percent of the labor force in 1983 to 13.2 percent in 2002. The decline in U.S. manufacturing cost union members 1.5 million jobs in the 1990s. The Bush administration has eliminated collective bargaining rights for large numbers of federal employees.

Still, more than 500,000 workers formed new unions last year. Union members make on average $150 a week more than non-union workers. Pharmacists and physicians, faced with alarming shifts in the medical marketplace, will join unions in growing numbers in the coming years.

But to retain their power, unions must reverse the shrinkage, experts say. "Unions have been doing a better job than ever," says Kate Bronfenbrenner, director of Labor Education Research at Cornell University. "It's just that the bar is a lot higher."

3 Business Goes to Kindergarten

All signs indicate that corporate involvement in public schools--already redefining kindergarten-through-high-school education--will continue to increase over the next decade. Alarmed by under performing public schools and students poorly equipped for the job market, business is getting directly involved. Corporate sponsors are popping up on campuses from Washington, D.C., to Stockton, California, as a new generation of students prepares for college, and for jobs such as auto mechanics, Internet specialists, and hotel workers. School-to-business field trips start in kindergarten. Internships, meetings with top executives in office settings, and even paychecks are available for older students.

"We're saying, 'See, there is a reason to go to school,'" says Knute Momberg, director of Stockton's Weber Institute of Applied Sciences and Technology. The school has more computers than students, and GM provided the new cars that teens take apart in squeaky-clean service bays.

4 Going Euro

In Europe, snooping at employees' e-mail isn't only considered bad form. It's often flat-out illegal. And as American companies increasingly enjoy their reputations as global trendsetters in business practices, they may have to reverse some key employee policies, says Andy Boling, a partner and employment-law expert in the Chicago-based law firm Baker & McKenzie.

One obvious area is workplace privacy, where U.S. companies may be compelled to reduce their monitoring of e-mail and Internet use. "Multinationals are finding that it's too cumbersome to have one set of privacy policies for Europe, another for Hong Kong and Australia, and a third standard for the United States," he says. With U.S.-based employees communicating increasingly via e-mail with their European counterparts, Americans also will begin to covet their liberal vacation policies and parental-leave benefits. "These things may not be implemented here to the extent of the privacy regulations," Boling says, "but American workers and organized labor may increasingly look to Europe as the standard."

5 Companies Won't Sleep

In a quest to reach new customers in foreign time zones and to speed up production and services, more and more companies in the future will be open for business around the clock, seven days a week. Already about 24 million Americans work in the 24/7 culture, according to Circadian Technologies, a Massachusetts-based consulting firm. While the 24/7 worker used to be an assembly-line worker, today he or she may well be a college-educated computer-tech-support specialist working nights in San Francisco, providing Japanese-language advice to a customer who calls from Tokyo during his lunch hour.

The migration to a 24/7 workplace will make human resources managers' jobs far more complex, says David Mitchell, Circadian's director of publications. "You may have to offer nighttime child-care providers, who watch kids while they sleep," he says. "And you may have to be much more creative in terms of scheduling--for example, if you're running a call center for a retailer, you may have to have more staff on hand right after the 2:30 a.m. infomercial." Employers also will have a trickier time dealing with disability claims, since some mental health conditions may be exacerbated by a shift to nighttime work.

6 Artificial Intelligence

Making computers think more like people is an idea that persists. In the workplace, software already predicts customer behavior and machine failures on the factory floor. These capabilities will continue to evolve. As the Web and data warehouses grow, artificial intelligence will solve problems that are beyond the reach of the human brain.

AI's strength is that it can uncover patterns and spot problems amid a mountain of data. That might translate into detecting financial fraud by examining billions of transactions, says Pepperdine University business professor Owen P. Hall Jr. Meanwhile, agents and bots--tiny pieces of software--will use real-time data to make decisions about how to maximize the efficiency of trucking fleets, machinery, and network resources.

"AI will bring advances but also usher in ethical concerns," Hall says.

7 The Simmering Malaise

For several years, employees have had a very tough time. They've lived with the fear of downsizing. They've watched benefits and retirement ...

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