Justin Spitzer has built a career studying and creating comedy out of workplace dynamics, first as a writer for seven years on the sitcom The Office, and next as the showrunner, creator, and producer of the past four seasons of NBC’s Superstore, starring America Ferrera, which follows a group of employees working at a fictional megastore in St. Louis, Missouri.
Here, he presents two potential scenarios for what workplace culture might look like in 20 years:
The optimistic scenario
Pretty much all offices will be virtual. People will log into the workspace from the comfort of their own homes. Geography will no longer be an impediment for employees to find the best jobs, or employers to find the best workforce, and “commutes” will be no longer than the amount of time it takes to log in to the network.
Employees will appear in this virtual world as whatever avatars they choose. Since everyone’s real-world appearances will be hidden, there’ll be no more discrimination based on race, age, gender, or disability. Our avatars will grow ever more adventurous. You might look into the next cubicle and discover Cthulhu checking your expense reports. Or walk past a conference room and see George Clooney giving a presentation to Margot Robbie, Genghis Khan, a cartoon pencil, and a second George Clooney.
Speaking of conference rooms, it will be difficult keeping people engaged during meetings. After a few minutes, some avatars will appear frozen, as their users go off to the gym or midday drinks.
Masturbation will also be a problem. As long as you remember to disconnect your VR haptic bodysuit from the grid, you’ll be fine, but if you forget, then your coworkers will observe your avatar making oddly suspicious hand motions in the area of your avatar’s invisible genitals.
Our virtual offices will be infinitely customizable. Even the lowliest entry-level worker will be able to design for himself a corner office, or decide to work in a replica of the West Wing, or on Mars, or in a Monet painting. Nevertheless, everyone will still complain about how much they hate their office and how jealous they are of their coworkers’ offices, which they clearly don’t deserve.
The pessimistic scenario
There’s a large-scale nuclear catastrophe or environmental apocalypse, and we’ll be living in a dystopian hellscape. Offices as we imagine them won’t exist, but office culture will continue on, in the form of large roving gangs of marauders, scraping together what food and resources they can from the dying world.
HR will be simpler, with most internal personnel disputes resolved by way of gladiatorial combat, much like the Thunderdome from Mad Max. Thunderdomes will pop up with the ubiquity of WeWork office spaces, except people will actually use the Thunderdomes.
Phrases that we think of as metaphorical will become literal. When you “get axed”, that will involve an axe. And if you’re “fired” . . . well, you get it. Others include being “cutthroat,” having a “hostile takeover,” and hiring a “headhunter.” One exception is “dog-eat-dog.” If your workplace is dog-eat-dog, or even people-eat-dog, that’s impressive, because dog is good meat. If you’re eating dog, you’re doing very well.
If I were you, I’d skip “Take Our Kids to Work Day.” Your coworkers are barbarians, psychopaths, and cannibals. Last week, the boss flayed Steve from Payroll alive, just because he was cold and wanted to wear his skin. Sandra thunderdomed Colleen after Colleen ate Sandra’s egg salad that was clearly marked “Sandra.” These are not the type of people you want around your daughter.
People will still roll their eyes at each other and say stuff like, “Mondays, am I right?”