Future of Work

OpenWork Conversations: Jacob Morgan on the Future of Work

Jacob Morgan is an author, speaker and futurist focused on the future of work. OpenWork caught up with Jacob to chat about the current state of the future of work.


(Photo: Jacob Morgan)

Jacob Morgan is a well-known voice in field of OpenWork thanks to a multimedia approach that includes two books, the Future of Work podcast, a regular column on Forbes and an engaging YouTube channel. We spoke with Jacob to get his read on the current state of the future of work.

OpenWork: How did you come to be interested in the future of work?

Jacob Morgan: Basically, I had bad jobs working for other people. My first job out of college, I went to work for a technology company in Los Angeles. When I interviewed for this job, they told me I was going to be doing all these great things and working on fun projects and traveling. Of course, I took the job. My commute was an hour and a half each way every day, and a couple months into the job, I was still doing data entry, cold calling, PowerPoint and just really boring, mundane type of work. Then one day, the CEO came into the office and handed me a $10 bill, and he said, “Go get me a cup of coffee.” That was one of two experiences I’ve had that led me to go off on my own.

The second was when I moved to the Bay Area, and I won a pass to go to a conference called the Web 2.0 Expo. I was working at a marketing agency at the time, and I went to the managers and said, “Hey, can I go to this conference? I don’t have any work that needs to be done. I can work on my evenings, if I need to, and on the weekend.” And they said, “Nope, you can’t go.” I said, “But this is a marketing conference. We’re a marketing agency. Is there a reason I can’t go?” They just said “Nope, you can’t go.”

I really felt trapped, stuck, like a cog in the machine, so to speak. That was the last full-time job I had working for anybody else. I actually quit and went to that conference anyway, which is the best decision I’ve ever made.

Those were two things in my life that helped me realized that there’s something very wrong with the way that we think about work — our expectations, our values, the way companies think about work. Ever since then, I’ve become very fascinated with what the future of work is going to look like. How do we prevent these types of experiences from happening? Why do they happen? That was about nine years ago, and I’ve been in the space ever since.

OW: What do you think is the most pressing challenge for employers and workplaces to address right now regarding the evolution of work?

JM: I think the biggest challenge is a mindset shift. The big assumption that organizations have always had is that people need to work there. They need money, they need jobs, they are working at your company because they need to. And because they need to work there, you can treat them however you want, and you can do whatever you want. Nobody cared about engagement, inspiration, creativity or health and wellbeing. All of this stuff is relatively new. What we’re realizing is that we now live in a very, very different world where you don’t need to work for a company anymore. In fact, not only do people have a lot of choices about where we can work — freelance, Uber, Airbnb, create stuff and sell it on Etsy, raise money on GoFundMe or Kickstarter — but also, technology has made it very, very competitive. If you’re working at an organization you don’t enjoy, very quickly you’ll find there are other opportunities out there.

       (Photo: Jacob Morgan)

The biggest challenge companies have is: how do we change from creating an environment where people need to show up to creating an environment where people actually want to show up? That is where we’re seeing all these changes and shifts happening.

OW: As a workplace futurist, what are the most interesting forecasts about workplace change or innovation you’ve seen come to fruition?

JM: The biggest and best prediction that we’re starting to see is that all the assumptions we’ve always had about how work gets done are being challenged. Everything we had assumed to be true over the past hundred years since modern organizations were created, we’re starting to challenge and question. These are basic things like: does our office have to have walls? Do people need to show up to the office? Do managers have to have all the information and make all of the decisions on behalf of everyone else? Do we all have to use the same technologies and use the same tools? Do we need dress codes? All of these very basic things that have gone unquestioned, organizations are now starting to think about. I think that is the most amazing thing to see.

OW: Are there any companies or industries that are, perhaps unexpectedly, great at addressing the evolving needs of the workplace?

JM: I have seen organizations in pretty much every industry that are doing well and are forward-thinking, as well as those that aren’t.

In our Future of Work Community, it’s interesting to see that we have a lot of organizations that are quite old and doing some very interesting things. And we also have a lot of financial institutions that are part of the Community that are thinking very differently about how work is getting done. I definitely don’t think the future of work is focused on technology companies. I think every organization around the world is aware that change is starting to happen, and they are making shifts towards acting on that change. I haven’t seen any really large industry disparities, and that’s what’s really cool about the future of work — it’s impacting pretty much every organization you can think of.

OW: You mentioned your Future of Work Community. What were the key takeaways from the group’s Fall Future of Work Forum event held in New York earlier this month?

JM: The Future of Work community includes companies from around the world that are all thinking differently about how the workplace is changing. Throughout the year, they have a digital community where they interact, they share what they’re working on, what their challenges are and what they’re struggling with. And these senior-level leaders provide feedback and help each other and support each other.

Fall Future of Work Forum attendees. (Photo: Jacob Morgan)

There were several themes that I thought resonated at this month’s event. One was the idea of focusing on employee experiences [which] I define as a combination of three distinct environments: the physical environment, the cultural environment and the technological environment. For the first time, organizations are realizing how the combination of these three things really has amazing and positive impact for employees. Another theme is people analytics, which is huge. How do we take data and analytics from employees and start making sense of data to improve the workplace? That’s been a fascinating area. Another theme I noted is that HR and IT are building stronger relationships than ever before. HR is realizing they cannot propel organizations into the future of work without technology, and the technology professionals are realizing that they need to leverage HR to drive change.


Jacob Morgan’s latest book is “The Future of Work: Attract New Talent, Build Better Leaders, and Create a Competitive Organization.” He can be reached at