Today, I spoke to Jeanne Meister, who is an internationally recognized workplace learning consultant, and the author of The 2020 Workplace (Harper). In this interview, Jeanne disects the 2020 workplace, shows some very interesting research findings, explains how companies can retain talent, gives her opinion on ROWE (I previously interviewed the creators of ROWE), and more.

Jeanne, what are the demographics for the 2020 workplace? How will this change how we work?

As we move into the future, most workplaces will have five generations of increasingly diverse individuals working side by side—Traditionalists, born before 1946; Baby Boomers, born between 1946 and 1964; Generation X, born between 1965 and 1976; Millennials, born between 1977 and 1997; and Generation 2020, born after 1997.

In fact, one of the trends we see in looking to the future is that there will be five generations working side by side in the workplace.

The U.S. workforce will be both older and younger, as the number of workers aged 55 years and older will grow from 13 percent of the labor force in 2000 to 20 percent in 2020 while at the same time, Millennials (individuals born between 1977 and 1997), who currently represent 22 percent of all workers, will be entering the workforce in record numbers and by 2014 will make up almost 47 percent of the workforce. Additionally, the U.S. workforce will be comprised of more women, as Heather Boushey and Ann O’Leary of the Center for American Progress estimate that women are now half of all U.S. workers, and mothers are the primary breadwinners or co-breadwinners in nearly two-thirds of American families. Compare this to 1967, when women made up only one-third of all workers. Finally, the U.S. workforce will be more ethnically diverse, particularly among younger workers, as from 1980 to 2020, Caucasian workers in the United States will decline from 82 percent to 63 percent. During the same period, the non-Caucasian portion of the workforce is projected to double from 18 percent to 37 percent, with the Latino portion almost tripling from 6 percent to 17 percent of the workforce.

Taken together, these shifts will present significant challenges and opportunities. How companies prepare for these changes will be crucial to attracting, developing, and keeping top talent.

Will it be harder to keep the next generation of talent? Won’t the average employee have 8 jobs at the age of 30?

To the average employee the goal is “work-life flexibility.” This will become paramount, and will replace “work-life balance”.

Work/life flexibility reinforces the view that there is no such thing as work time and home time. Rather, workers will aspire to have the flexibility to manage both work and home lives. Work/life flexibility revolves around the ability to multitask and assign work to various chunks of time so that all of a day’s priorities are accomplished, including those at work, at home, and at the gym. If the workplace of the future can allow for this flexibility, it will be easy to retain the next generation of talent.

What are some ways that companies can attract and retain talent?

One new way to attract and retain talent in the future will be to profile a company’s investment in corporate social responsibility. We predict that the focus on people, planet, and profits, also known as the triple bottom line, will become the main way organizations attract and retain new hires. This will be critical because 79 percent of a sample of 1,800 13- to 25-year-olds want to work for a company that cares about how it impacts on and contributes to society, as the Cone 2006 Millennial Cause Study found. More than half also say they would refuse to work for an irresponsible corporation.

Thus companies will need to move beyond corporate philanthropy by integrating corporate social responsibility into their core business strategy and by reporting quantitative goals to current employees, prospective hires, and investors. The Millennials and Gen 2020s will demand companies to be socially responsible or companies will risk losing valuable talent to competitors.

Do you believe in ROWE? Do people really need to work 9-5?

Absolutely ROWE (Results Oriented Work Environment) is where we are headed in the 2020 workplace. In the 2020 workplace, creating a work/life-flexible world for employees will be key. An employee could leave the office at 3:00 p.m., go home, prepare dinner, help the children with their homework, then go back online at 9:00 p.m., after the children are in bed and the dinner dishes are done. If you can do this and still produce results for your employer, why not?

One company that has led the rest in creating work/life flexibility is Best Buy with its Results-Only Work Environment (ROWE). In the results-oriented work environment, employees are free to work wherever they want, whenever they want, as long as they get their work done. Since its inception in 2002 as a pilot program, ROWE has been incorporated as an official part of Best Buy’s recruiting pitch as well as its orientation for new hires. The company claims that productivity has increased 35 percent for those on ROWE, and employee engagement—which measures employee satisfaction and is often a barometer of retention—is way up too, according to a Gallup Organization survey that audits corporate cultures. If people can carry their office around virtually in their pockets or pocketbooks, why should it matter where and when they work if they meet or exceed their goals?

If you could change one thing about the workplace in 2020, what would it be?

Employees must adopt a global mind-set.

One of the most important changes that HR departments could begin spearheading immediately is the development of an organizational capacity to work with a geographically dispersed set of employees, customers, partners, and suppliers from diverse cultures across time, space, geographies, and organizational boundaries. Being truly global is evidenced by developing talent in-country to lead the organization and not rely extensively on expatriate assignments. Ask yourself: How many of your current executives live in the countries where you do business? Is the number of native executives proportional to the revenue of those countries?

If your organization is like many others, far more executives live in the headquarters country and key decisions are frequently made thousands of miles away from customers. How many of your senior executive team are from the countries where you are experiencing growth? One of the keys here is to consider how long it takes to build talent, especially in emerging markets, where the talent pool may be less experienced, and compare that to your organization’s revenue growth plans in emerging markets. To get started now, companies can begin by evaluating their global leadership mix; encouraging early career global assignments and ensuring that promotions to executive positions reflect the global makeup of your customer and revenue base.

Jeanne Meister is the author of The 2020 Workplace (Harper). She is an internationally recognized workplace learning consultant dedicated to delivering competitive advantage, innovation and improved business results for organizations. Jeanne has worked as a consultant with over 200 organizations on launching, managing and reinventing a corporate university. The range of client engagements includes; Anheuser-Busch, Bank of Malaysia, Defense Acquisition University, Guardian Life Insurance, Ingersoll-Rand Corporation, and Wachovia. Jeanne is an adjunct faculty member in the MBA executive education program at the Indian School Of Business in Hyderabad, India. In addition, Jeanne’s research has been profiled in such publications as the Financial Times, Fast Company, Harvard Business Review, HR Executive, Journal of Business Strategy, TRAINING, T&D Magazine, Outlook, a publication of Accenture and Workforce Management.