How has blockchain so far had an impact on the workplace, and where is it going in the near future? This article explores how blockchain might play a role in the new world of work.
Blockchain is a technology most commonly associated with the cryptocurrency Bitcoin. Blockchain is a distributed ledger technology which allows for digital currencies like Bitcoin to exist. Essentially, blockchain is a financial transaction tracker, but that isn’t all it does.
Smart contracts are one of the most common examples of blockchain being used for non-currency purposes. A smart contract represents tasks that can be executed without human intervention. An example would be a smart contract for the shipment of tangible goods. New office furniture could be ordered using a smart contract that releases payment via blockchain once the delivery of the furniture is confirmed via internet of things (IoT) sensors located within the product itself to verify its physical location. Once the conditions of the contract are met, payment is instantaneously made.
The advantage is the automation of many business processes. The disadvantage is the displacement of people who once did most of the jobs to complete the process described above.
As a database of transcripts and credentials, Blockchain-based education credits are universal, transparent and easily verified. HR could make use of blockchain to offer company webinars, wellness counseling and explain employee benefits to new hires. Learning about traditional subjects could also be managed with blockchain technology.
There could be emphasis on numerous areas of learning besides work-related topics, including personal development and mental health. In fact, one type of course that might be offered in a coworking or flexible working environment could involve new employee orientation to the space with safety, environmental, legal and ethical trainings related to the job role or guidelines for use of the facility. Proof of training completion would be stored in blockchain for future reference.
Already, a company called EchoLink, a training and skill verification startup, has developed a blockchain token akin to Bitcoin. By applying the blockchain concept to hiring, EchoLink has created a global digital currency designed exclusively for confirming job candidate work history, education and skills. Eventually, blockchain ledgers might replace CVs as the best representation of one’s professional and educational history.
As a catalyst for new jobs, blockchain’s key capacities make it possible to imagine positive future job roles like food supply chain tracking, counterfeit prevention, and certification of cruelty-free consumer products.
For example, blockchain is bringing transparency to the food industry with distributed ledgers that verify everywhere a piece of produce has travelled along its journey to the market. Is it possible that eventually it will be someone’s job to track grocery orders on the blockchain, ensuring that food hasn’t been tampered with or travelled through ethically dubious routes? As the blockchain industries grow, they will extend a greater reach into the business community. The industrious city of Berlin will soon be home to a location called Full Node, a new coworking space devoted exclusively to blockchain experimentation, community education events, and hackathons. Full Node is one example of the emerging need for workspaces dedicated to blockchain innovation and raising public awareness for blockchain technology.
A startup called Primalbase allows lifetime universal membership to coworking spaces via a sharing economy blockchain model which permits coin owners to experience peer-to-peer workspace arrangements. The model allows for completely automated and anonymized real estate transactions, Airbnb-style, but transactions are one hundred percent machine-to-machine. Smart devices using the internet of things (IoT), artificial intelligence (AI) and blockchain in conjunction would most likely form the basis of a real-life DAO, with no human workers or bosses, just a chain of smart contracts triggering—and being triggered by—one another to achieve digitally-enabled tasks across the organization. Eventually, blockchain could allow for coworking and flexible office space that can automatically invoice and collect tenant fees via pre-agreed conditions enabled with a smart contract.
The future of work rests not just upon blockchain; other exponential technologies like AI and the IoT are amplifying the smart objects and systems context that characterises the workplace of the future. Blockchain may disrupt the future workplace in several ways, having many effects on an office and its inhabitants. Decentralised technologies such as blockchain may in fact create some of the best opportunities for flexible working in the future. The most important point for business leaders to remember is to use technology in the service of humans, and not the other way around.
The authors are futurists with Fast Future – a professional foresight firm specializing in delivering keynote speeches, executive education, research, and consulting on the emerging future and the impacts of change for global clients. Fast Future publishes books from leading future thinkers around the world, exploring how developments such as AI, robotics, exponential technologies, and disruptive thinking could impact individuals, societies, businesses, and governments and create the trillion-dollar sectors of the future. Fast Future has a particular focus on ensuring these advances are harnessed to unleash individual potential and enable a very human future.
Rohit Talwar is a global futurist, award-winning keynote speaker, author, and the CEO of Fast Future.
Alexandra Whittington is a futurist, writer, foresight director of Fast Future, and a faculty member on the Futures program at the University of Houston.