Have you ever wondered what it would be like if robots could do all your work for you; or if you could work in outer space? It may not be that far-fetched, if you take a look at the entries in a recent Ford-sponsored McMaster University competition that invited students from across Canada to imagine how the work environment might change by the year 2040.

Ford has a strong history of leading the automotive and manufacturing industries, when it comes to improving work conditions. And the blue oval continues to be a leader by sponsoring events like McMaster’s Focus 2040, which challenged students to think outside the box and imagine what the workplace will look like in the next 30 years.

The finalists of the Focus 2040 contest are pictured with a Ford Fusion in front of the Ron Joyce Centre, home of McMaster’s MBA and executive education programs, in Burlington, Ont.


The ideas proposed by the students at Focus 2040 were both radical and inspiring. We’ve compiled the top three below. Let us know in the comments below which one you think we’ll see first, or tell us how you would revolutionize the workplace!

The Automated Workforce

Amy Todd, Richard Ivey School of Business, Western University.

With the number of unemployed humans on the rise, there are two new and alternative, entrepreneurial sectors in which people could make a living in the not-so-distant future. The first involves the use of the Internet to design, sell, and distribute products in digital form. The second is the use of home 3-D printers to manufacture those digital products and distribute them to local urban communities.

Amy determined three changes that businesses in the year 2040 would have to make in order to compete with both the innovation of the online designers and the cost-savings of in-home manufacturers. These changes were:

  • The downsizing of all workspaces, including: retail centres, manufacturing facilities, and administrative buildings.
  • An increased focus on research and development, in order to have a first-mover advantage on new products.
  • The creation of corporate universities in order to attract the best scientific talent to the R+D facilities. 

Science And Interconnectedness

Brianna Smrke, McMaster University

Brianna Smrke predicts that by 2040, our current political and economic systems will collapse. The world as we know it will be in ashes. Leading companies of 2040 will be ones who can turn these ashes into a phoenix – effectively creating a more equitable, sustainable world. How can these companies become expert ‘phoenix-makers?’

Brianna believes they must look to the emerging field of complexity science, which has discovered core similarities between things like ant colonies, brains, economies and societies. These systems have many connected, interacting parts, making them complex. But because they are all complex, understanding how to work with one means you can work with them all.

The Human Colony – Learning From Mother Nature

Sinan Nasir, University of Ottawa.

From the invention of Velcro, back in 1948, to the more recent design of our aerodynamic aircrafts, the engineering world has constantly learned from Mother Nature. The concept of the Human Colony was inspired by one of nature’s most efficient work systems – the ant colony. According to Sinan, organizations of the future will have to adapt the following key characteristics of the ant colony to succeed in 2040:

a) Decentralized structure: Trends, such as globalization and rapidly growing organizations, are creating difficulties for large organizations trying to unite everyone under a single umbrella. Due to the centralized nature of our hierarchical organizations, we are unable to respond rapidly to changing business environments. Decentralized control will solve this problem, as well as reduce costs related to global communication, and result in greater employee engagement.

b) New Leadership Model: The single CEO model will become obsolete as organizations become self-sufficient and flexible. By having a single overall objective as opposed to the departmentalized nature of our organizations today, multiple leaders will emerge and make decisions collectively, like the world’s current leading network equipment provider, Huawei Technologies.

c) Hyper-specialization: In the future, we will see the division of common tasks into many specific smaller tasks that the worker of the future will specialize in. Using the power of crowdsourcing, workers from all over the world will be able to bid on these micro-tasks.