Procurement · 9 November 2017

Business in 2050: Look forward to robot employees and four-hour working days

connection with robot in laboratory
New “cobots” could soon handle administrative tasks and give employees time to become more creative

A futurist author has revealed what running business in 2050 could be like, asking us whether we should be excited or threatened by the prospects.

Back in 1900, civil engneer J. Elfreth Watkins made 12 predictions in the Ladies’ Home Journal of how society could look 100 years later. While the extinction of flies and mosquitos never materialised, his early sketches of an interconnected digital landscape closely resembled today’s internet. These latest predictions are equally bold.

As part of the report, published by marketing services provider Yell, scientist and author James Wallman made seven predictions of what the working world will look like in 2050. This so-called “Fourth Industrial Revolution”, Wallman claimed, could dramatically change the way small and new businesses operate.


Continued development in technologiy will see business owners benefit more greatly from automation, according to the report. Wallman coined the term “cobots” to refer to robots designed to work collaboratively with human colleagues in a business environment.

Reflecting on how automation could benefit his business, Charlie Thuillier, founder of Oppo Ice Cream, a crowdfunded startup now stocked by Waitrose, said cobots were “the most appealing” prediction made by Wallman.

“There’s nothing worse than wasting time, and assistants who can carry out our routine tasks will free up our brain power to achieve more,” Thuillier said.

It is hoped cobots will make workers more productive and happier by conducting the more repetitive workplace tasks.

“Cobots will also allow us to change marketing messages to focus on different product benefits for different customers,” Thuillier added, “because the cobots will be able to process our consumer’s responses to advertisements and indeed the product itself by reading expressions, eye tracking, arousal states and other biometric markers. It’s exciting!”

Four-hour working day

As well as letting cobots do the heavy administrative lifting, UK workplaces could see daily working hours reduced to just four hours. Wallman pointed out that the existing eight-hour arrangements were set up to “squeeze as much as possible” out of the workforce, who would conduct routine tasks in factories and offices. With the help of the cobots, the author suggested, humans will become more creative and thrive in a shorter four-hour spell.

Thuillier, however, disputed the suggestion workers would halve their working hours. Rather, time previously spent at a desk would be replaced by constant connection through a smartphone.

“However, what this means is more flexible working, more time for people to spend with their families or doing activities they enjoy, which in turn will improve their quality of work. I am dubious that we will ever work less though – it’s not in our nature,” he said.

The Reputation Game

Wallman also emphasised the transition by businesses from being strictly profit-driven to demonstrating concerns about the planet and people. In other words, “The Reputation Game”. Reputation, he argued, will become increasingly central to business growth.

Commenting on the study, Mark Clisby, product and marketing director at Yell, said it was critical business owners embraced technological advancement.

“We’re living in a time of incredible change. Amongst the ‘cobots’ and shorter working days, the importance of reputation in the future really resonated with us. Because for any small business owner, the focus must be on the customer, no matter how advanced technology gets,” Clisby explained.

“The next 30 years are set to be very exciting for us all. We look forward to continuing to help business owners and consumers to adapt to changing technologies, both now and in the future.”

Among other predictions made by Wallman included the potential of “big data” and the growing value of the experience economy.

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Praseeda Nair is the editorial director of Business Advice, and its sister publication for growing businesses, Real Business. She's an impassioned advocate for women in leadership, and likes to profile business owners, advisors and experts in the field of entrepreneurship and management.