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The future of work: three basic needs shaping the next evolution of work

July 2 — 2024

Jean-François Grenon
Director ⏤ Recruitment and Team Development

Imagining the future of work is a worthwhile exercise from time to time, as we look for emerging trends that have the potential to redefine the way we live. But first, let's take stock of some of the life-changing trends of the past 30 years.

Today: AI. Will artificial intelligence change the world of work in 2024? There's a clear answer to that question. Yes, it will.

How can we be so sure? The Internet and digitization have completely changed the world of work in the last 20 years. What will happen after the AI revolution is quite complicated to predict. However, we can read the future of work by analyzing three basic needs for humans and imagining how such fundamental needs can be met in the next evolution of work.

According to self-determination theory, developed by Deci and Ryan, humans have three main basic psychological needs: autonomy, competence, and relatedness. These needs are as universal and valid today as they were before the pandemic, and are likely to remain so for years to come.


Autonomy is the need to feel independent, to have control over one’s life, and to make decisions in accordance with one’s motivations, interests, and values. The pandemic, combined with labour shortages, has forced employers to offer more autonomy, particularly through flexible work schedules. The movement for the 32-hour week has never been stronger.

At the same time, productivity is plummeting in several countries. Many organizations are blaming telecommuting and forcing a return to onsite work.

“2022 is the first year since 1983 that average productivity per worker has declined year-over-year for three consecutive quarters.

Workers are working more and producing less, at a time when their financial stress is the highest since 2008.

⏤ CNBC - Worker productivity falling at fastest rate in four decades

Still, we can expect the need for autonomy to continue to grow in the future. But before we can talk about increased autonomy, we first need to discuss accountability. We all know how tempting it is to do the laundry and prepare dinner in the middle of the workday!

The old concept of communicating clear expectations is returning by necessity. By the way, over 50% of employees in the U.S. don’t know what’s expected of them at work. Accountability is a big issue but monitoring screens and work hours is not the answer to fostering high employee engagement. Managers are already under intense pressure in the hybrid workplace, and several studies recognize the high mental health risks in today’s environment.

In the workplace, autonomy means being empowered to make decisions. Personalizing the work experience will undoubtedly play an increasingly important role. When we talk about personalization, we can think about

  • Diversity of challenges and roles: Spending one’s entire career in the same job is less attractive to younger workers.
  • Flexible working hours: Organizing one’s work as seen fit is a strong trend. Choosing one’s schedule according to one’s preferences and focusing on results is an increasingly popular practice.
  • Total rewards flexibility: Each generation of employees has different needs. Whether it’s benefits or direct compensation, people will want to be able to choose what’s most valuable to them.

Finally, we couldn’t talk about autonomy without talking about artificial intelligence. For a long time, it was thought that AI and robotics would mainly affect traditional, manual jobs. That is not necessarily the case. The rate of change we are experiencing is unprecedented. You only need to spend two minutes on ChatGPT to realize this. Administrative and repetitive tasks, text analysis, translation, analysis, and image creation are all tasks that AI can do a thousand times faster than we can. Yes, professionals who perform routine, repetitive tasks are at great risk of being replaced by machines.

The good news is that this will allow us to do much more; work will evolve and change. Jobs are likely to become more complex, freeing up our time and allowing us to go much further. With the rapid proliferation of ChatGPT, Gemini, MidJourney, and others, we’ll also have to learn how to use these new tools. It will be up to everyone to evolve, to keep an open mind, to embrace change, and be curious enough to leverage technology. Current and future tools will significantly enhance autonomy and enable the acquisition of a wide range of skills previously inaccessible to many.

This is a unique chance to be autonomous, to make choices, and to exercise free will in the future of work.


  • It will be necessary to set crystal clear expectations and empower individuals in an increasingly flexible environment.
  • Personalizing the work experience is one way to reinforce the need for autonomy.
  • AI will enable us to be more autonomous, provided we are open to all the new tools that will come along and radically change our daily lives.


Competence is the need to feel capable of accomplishing things and being effective at what we do. It’s related to self-esteem, the pursuit of goals, and the desire to contribute to something greater than oneself. Humans need to feel competent and helpful, that they are making progress, and achieving results.

With the arrival of artificial intelligence in everyday life, skills are being put to the test. Innovations such as ChatGPT, MidJourney and others have completely changed the game in several business sectors in just one year. Tasks and responsibilities once associated with professionals and educated people are in danger of becoming obsolete. AI is poised to replace human functions, just as computers replaced human functions 30 years ago.

AI generates solutions based on existing data, whereas humans can think outside the box and invent new concepts. Human intelligence involves emotional understanding, empathy, and complex social interactions that AI cannot currently replicate.

No need to panic, humans still belong in the workplace. This is just another evolution. However, one should embrace AI for its potential to transform everyday life. AI is an opportunity, not a threat, no matter how threatening it may seem.

There are 3 main avenues to explore to maintain a sense of competence in the future of work.

1 - Focus on the complex tasks

First, as mentioned above, the multiplication of tools allows us to focus on more complex tasks. Historically, software such as word processing has enabled us to accomplish a myriad of tasks more quickly. Today, artificial intelligence promises to further increase productivity.

AI will also provide access to a base of expertise in a variety of fields. For example, you don’t need to be a great copywriter to make a piece of copy attractive. An organization can post a description, check it for spelling and grammar, and make it clear and captivating, all without hiring an expert. This new feature will enable individuals to be more versatile but will also heighten the need for versatility within organizations. It’s not that pointed expertise will no longer be needed. Experts will simply get to go much further with their thinking.

The way artificial intelligence improves efficiency can be summed up in two points: saving time and reducing errors. This means that everyone can get through their lists of simple, routine tasks faster and with fewer errors, allowing them to focus on tasks that require much more creativity.

2 - Versatility for workplace success

Secondly, AI will free up significantly more time to, among other things, create, automate, and innovate. More time means more opportunities, which leads to the development of new skills. The need to become more versatile will necessarily be driven by AI, leading to a world of intellectual curiosity, problem solving, analysis, and training.

Let’s not kid ourselves. It will be easier for some people to adapt and harder for others; just like some people easily adapted to telecommuting at the beginning of the pandemic while others had a much harder time.

This new versatility paradigm calls for open-mindedness and acceptance. Our work is about to become much more stimulating and diversified!

3 – Emotional intelligence is the human advantage

Finally, one place where AI will always fall short is in emotional intelligence. This is an opportunity to maintain a strong sense of competence in understanding ourselves and others. In this respect too, AI can assist. As AI continues to transform industries and reshape the world of work, emotional intelligence plays a critical role in leadership, human interaction, effective communication, resilience, adaptability, conflict resolution, and innovation.

It is an essential skill for connecting with others, inspiring, and leading with authenticity. It fosters trust and collaboration between people, which, let’s not forget, will continue to be essential in the world of work. Ethical considerations are also important. While AI excels at data processing and automation, emotional intelligence brings the human touch necessary for empathy, understanding, and connection.

As AI becomes more integrated into professional environments, emotional intelligence is emerging as an essential skill that complements AI’s capabilities by enabling individuals to connect with others on an emotional level. This human-centred approach is critical to maintaining a sense of competence and feeling useful and effective in the future.


  • The opportunity to focus on more complex tasks emerges early on.
  • Developing versatility will undoubtedly be a key to success.
  • Emotional intelligence will help fulfill a sense of competence.


The third fundamental need is relatedness. It’s the desire to be part of a group, to connect with others, to develop a sense of belonging. Connecting with others makes us feel valued and supported. It promotes our well-being.

This important psychological need has been severely undermined since 2020. The pandemic has fundamentally changed the way we relate to others. Historically, much social interaction took place in the workplace, and it is no longer the case. Unfortunately, social media can never replace real-life interaction with others. We need face-to-face contact to trigger the stress-relieving hormones that make us happier, healthier, and more positive.

Virtual work engenders uncertainty because workplace and interpersonal cues are less available or reliable in providing virtual workers with role clarity and ensuring smooth interactions. Indeed, ‘screen’ interactions are more stressful and effortful than face-to-face interactions.

Understanding and shaping the future of work with self-determination theory.

Telecommuting, which is ubiquitous and clearly here to stay, runs completely counter to this fundamental need. True, it has brought much greater flexibility, reduced commuting time, and better work-life balance. On the other hand, the consequences of loneliness are dramatically more serious, leading to depression, sedentarism, broken relationships, or substance abuse.

It is imperative for the future of work to provide means for people to come together and connect. Whether we like it or not, whether we think it’s unfair or not, that’s what motivates companies to try to get people back into the office. But forcing people back into the office is a solution that goes against our need for autonomy. The secret, then, may lie in offering flexibility at the level of individual choice. Although this may not be easily applicable in all areas, it is worth discussing.

Considering that people need to feel part of a team and connect with others, the vocation of office spaces may no longer be to work together, but rather to gather around common passions, interests, and sometimes around work. We need to create opportunities and moments to work together. Being at the office, alone in a room with eyes fixed on a screen will not meet the need for social connection. And should there be no office, this need can be fulfilled through special occasions and moments that foster relatedness.

There are 1001 creative ways to get work teams to connect. We need to involve them in the search for solutions to keep this fundamental need in mind. It’s a human problem, and all the tools to solve it are available. It absolutely must be solved!


  • The need for relatedness is difficult to reconcile with the new ways of working.
  • It’s important to create opportunities and moments to fulfill this essential need in any organization.


All things considered, the future of work may take us in a multitude of directions. Who could have predicted in 2001 that people would spend dozens of hours a week on a cellphone? The only certainty we have is that the world will continue to evolve. AI’s continuous improvement will drive us to step  outside of our comfort zone.

However, we must not forget that humans will remain the crux of the world of work. The challenge will be to find ways for every workplace to meet the three basic human needs of autonomy, competence, and relatedness.


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