The Future of Community Environments

Are you curious about the future of community environments

The Future of Community Environments strategic foresight project was created in March 2021 as part of University of Houston, Professional Certificate in Foresight by Dr. Sarah Skidmore. This project considers the next 10-15 years as community environments, historically totally in-person, transition to hybrid and virtual community environments. We know that a variety of organizations rely on community experiences – whether work teams, non-profit groups, religious groups, hobby groups, etc. As a leader, ask yourself – how will you ready your team and organization for the future of community environments?

Consider current conditions impacting community environments

Current Conditions Around Technology

Current Conditions Around the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Movement

Current Conditions Around Team Collaboration

Current Conditions Around Gatherings

  • Teams and small groups shift from traditionally office only to a variety of gathering types (office-first, remote-first, remote-only, hybrid work, blended work)

Current Conditions Around Relationships

Current Conditions Around the Post-Christian American Era

there are many stakeholders in this research area

Religious Organizations

  • Whether church members, clergy, or other staff in these organizations, realizing how humans develop relationships and cultivate community in a post-Christian era and hybrid/virtual environments is essential to their existence and sustainability. 

Small to Mid-Sized Businesses (SMBs)

  • As large corporations excel in offering virtual/remote/hybrid work environments, SMBs struggle to provide employees access to the hardware and software offerings that large corporations provide their teams. SMBs struggle to facilitate preferable cultures for individuals in their hybrid and virtual workforces. SMBs struggle to attract the talent of digital natives. 

Large Corporations

  • Large corporations have the capital to invest in hardware and software solutions for their teams. Large corporations are able to test a variety of hardware and software options to identify the best tools to allow for effectiveness, efficiency, and productivity. 

Hardware Manufacturers

  • Hardware needs shift as organizations shift to remote and hybrid options. Further, the types of devices will shift as new forms of technology emerge related to extended reality, augmented reality, etc.

Software Developers

  • Software developers are essential to the long-term success of community – from mobile applications to avatars to databases to cyber security. 

Educational Institutions

  • Whether K-12, technical colleges, or universities, the way groups of individuals learn, thanks to technology shifts, while also the way that educators teach shifts.

In recent years, technology continues to evolve its influence

Trends we see today highlight the role of technology in human community

Relationship Trends

Technology Trends

DEI Movement

Team Collaboration Trends

  • Pandemic prompting explosion of software (ex: performance management, people management tools, video conferences) adoption as teams seek to nurture and culture 
  • Influx of offerings so that teams can connect with each other while in geographically different locations (ex: online escape rooms and virtual murder mysteries)
  • Rediscovering what it means to provide safe work environment to employees – whether cyber threats or airborne threats

Shifts in community environments

companies have shared their plans and projections on the topic

Here are just a few plans to explore

And, here are a few projections to consider

Future of Work from McKinsey & Company

  • About: “COVID‐19 brought massive disruption to the workforce, highlighting the importance of physical proximity in work and spurring changes in business models and consumer behavior, many of which are likely to endure. This research examines the long-term impact of COVID‐19 on work across several work arenas and in eight economies with diverse labor markets: China, France, Germany, India, Japan, Spain, the United Kingdom, and the United States.”
  • Key insights for leaders from this report include reimagining the physical dimension of work, influx of career transitions for low-wage job categories in the next 10 years, and the need to prioritize equitable access to digital. 
  • Access the Report

Future of Jobs from World Economic Forum

  • About: “The Future of Jobs Report 2020 aims to shed light on: 1) the pandemic-related disruptions thus far in 2020, contextualized within a longer history of economic cycles, and 2) the expected outlook for technology adoption, jobs and skills in the next five years.”
  • Key insights for leaders from this report include the accelerated pace of technology adoption, automation of tasks fuels job destruction, jobs of tomorrow continue to rise, and reskilling & upskilling talent is essential.
  • Access the Report

key drivers of change for community environments

Increasing demand for digital tools

The demand for hardware manufacturing, software development, and network availability continue to increase as work environments and small groups shift toward greater virtual integration.

Explore the driver:

Strengthening of the DEI movement

The DEI movement continues to strengthen through talent development commitments from corporation, demands for inclusive technology for individuals with varying ability types, unturning bias within existing technologies, and commitments to supplier diversity within industrial supply chains.

Explore the driver:

Streamlining team collaboration

As teams adapt to virtual collaboration, appropriate hardware/software tools are not always accessible to ensure efficiency and effectiveness. Cyber security is an on-going unknown. And digital literacy differences continue to highlight the generational divide within the workforce.

Explore the driver:

Growing spectrum of community environments

Individuals and teams navigate a variety of environments they experience including in-person, virtual only, hybrid options, etc.

Explore the driver:

Normalizing human and technology relationships

As individuals navigate working with additional types of technology due to remote and hybrid work, they have greater exposure to relationships with technology including chatbots, virtual assistants, and AI relationships. Further, Baby Boomers and older struggle to stay connected and literate with new technology.

Explore the driver:

Shifting American Values

The longstanding traditional, Christian nationalist, worldview of modern Americans continues to be dismantled as emerging cultures, a growth in unbelief, and the post-Christian era continue.

Explore the driver:

With this info in mind, Dr. Sarah created two short scenarios to get you thinking

Continuation Scenario: Kicking the can down the road (2025)

In this American future, slow progress toward cohesive virtual and physical experiences continues. However, no substantial evolution toward belongingness and community permeates throughout society. Leaders and small groups struggle yet persist in mild manner to integrate virtual opportunities within traditionally in-person experiences. Digital division still rules the day.

Key drivers interacting to create this scenario:

  • Increasing demand for digital tools / New technology start-ups keep arising but software to software and software to hardware integrations continue to be faulty. There is an overall lack of consistent access to a reliable network for the everyday worker.
  • Strengthening of the DEI movement / The DEI movement continues to be on the fringes of American society and no real action is taken to ensure diversity, equity and inclusion in society.
  • Streamlining team collaboration / Work collaboration and small group collaboration continue to be difficult as digital immigrants struggle to use technology for virtual and hybrid sessions. Technology integrations, hardware, software and networks, are not user friendly.
  • Growing spectrum of community envrionments / The preference of office-first work supersedes the efficiency and autonomy of remote-first work post-COVID 19 pandemic. Further, perceptions of productivity by business leaders is influencing where employees are authorized to work.
  • Normalizing human and technology relationships / Baby Boomers struggle to relate to technology in a relational way. Millennials and Gen X slowly discover the benefits of relationships with technology. Gen Z lives are shaped by interacting with technology in a relational way.
  • Shifting American Worldview / The historically Christian stronghold in the US continues to slowly decrease while other religious groups such as Muslims, and those we identify as non-religious affiliation compose comparable percentages across the nation.

As demands for seamless and integrated technology experiences rise, manufacturing facilities, cyber security experts, and privacy and policy regulators struggle to manage the wild west of digital. Work environments and teams integrate digital tools more and more, yet technology infused collaboration is still varying levels of difficulty for the remaining digital immigrants in the workplace – not to mention the Silver Tsunami who are consumers and members of organizations beyond a work environment. The generational divide that historically was shaped by value differences is magnified by digital literacy, access to virtual opportunities, integrated technology relationships, and remote-first preferences of Millennials and younger. 

Polarization and clash across the generational divide continue to deepen at a logical level. Gen Z leapfrog Millennials and Gen X with their intuitive understanding and desire to leverage, create, and integrate technology into the physical world and fully embrace new world experiences made possible through extended reality options. Baby Boomers are left on the outskirts of American society not understanding how to use technology, only wanting to engage in human-to-human interactions, and vulnerable to misinformation and despair due to a lack of connection with physical people. 

From a digital literacy perspective, there is an overall lack of effort to bring everyone along in society to understand and embrace new ways of fostering belongingness and connection in virtual spaces and with technology itself. However, there is a continual shift into a religion recession as greater number of individuals identify with no religious affiliation. As the number of individuals identifying as Christian steadily decreases, other religions hold a comparable percentage of membership within US society. There is a continuous clash among the religious ideologies, struggle for political power, and polarized actions. In this still polarized society, elements of the DEI movement prevail such as equality regarding gender expression, LGBT+ anti-discrimination, and anti-racism work. Yet, the movement fails to account for generational discrimination related to digital literacy.  

Transformational Scenario: Celebrate good times come on (2025)

Accessibility and inclusion are key values that drive this American future. With the technology infrastructure, people training, and successful hybrid events reshaping how people gather, a new era of alternative worlds, hyper-choice, and reverse urbanization makes its way into American daily living. Small groups and communities, including faith-based organizations, actively use online mediums to cultivate relationships, create community, and engage one-another regularly. Organizations leverage the concept of digital community to provide thought leadership and virtual services as a default way of being. Technology allows formerly location-based organizations to expand their reach across geographic boundaries to engage likeminded individuals based on shared value sets.

Key drivers interacting to create this scenario:

  • Increasing demand for digital tools / Through the use of AI, manufacturing facilities supersede production demands – allowing greater access and reduces costs of technology hardware needed. Satellite internet allows for high-speed connection throughout all rural areas and software integrations continue to streamline allowing for a seamless user experience.
  • Strengthening of the DEI movement / The DEI movement becomes integrated into everyday life – equity programs are created within businesses, educational institutions, and local governments; individuals and organizations are actively held responsible for racial, gender, and sexual orientation discrimination; pronouns are commonly used.
  • Streamlining team collaboration / Organizations master how to facilitate effective collaboration in mixed environments – including both collaboration literacy of the individuals as well as successful integration of technology support tools.
  • Growing spectrum of community enviroments / Organizations embrace the full spectrum of gathering types and allow individuals to contribute based on their preferred gathering type or work location. Organizations fully embrace and celebrate individual contributions from gatherings such as physical, hybrid, remote, etc. There is not a negative perception associated with remote working.
  • Normalizing human and technology relationships / Technology providers offer seamless solutions of AI driven technology that makes life simpler and more effective through relational interactions. Innovations and early adopters quickly convert the early majority to embracing the value of technology in human life.
  • Shifting American Worldview / Social justice groups, equal opportunity groups, and other religious groups work to dismantle Christian Nationalism and White Terrorism by holding positions of power, altering policy and laws, increasing access to diverse talent development, and transforming systems toward inclusion and equity for all people.

As with the onset of Ford’s truck in the 1910s, the US power grid in the 1930s, the interstate system in the 1950s, zip codes in the 1960s, color TV broadcasting in the 1980s, world wide web in the 1990s, the iPhone in the 2000s, successful digital accessibility is mainstream throughout society due to technology infrastructure and literacy development.

Technology manufactures, software developers, satellite internet, and contributions from AI fuel the wide stream existence of connectivity.  With the success of satellite internet, integrated technologies and AI manufacturing solutions, the infrastructure exists for equitable access to virtual offerings and extended reality experiences. 

Work environments, organizations, non-profits invest in and offer digital literacy programs for employees, customers, and members as leaders realize using technology is key to long-term connection and community. With technology, in-person experiences and virtual experiences are bettered and make more efficient and collaborative due to extended reality capabilities and offerings. Gen Z and below lead society in exploring human-to-technology relationships where Millennials and Gen X are more likely to use technology to benefit human-to-human relationships.

The DEI movement is integrated into everyday life. The historical push for women voting rates, to LGBT inclusion, to anti-racism work is now followed by ensuring digital literacy for all – even the silver tsunami, viewed as society’s most vulnerable in this tech-driven reality. In-person experiences are offered for the silver tsunami, yet remote-first work is the default preferred work environment for both employees and employers. Employers understand the greater autonomy, balance, and choice in not only good for employees but good for business and society. Employees are more engaged. Reverse urbanization impacts big cities with empty office building, livable towns are created, and the earth is a happy place with the decrease in daily work commutes. 

As religious views in America no longer lean toward Christianity, leaders in positions of power hold varying worldviews calling for greater collaboration and acceptance of diverse thought. With the diversity in thought, leaders change systems in government, law, and corporation that afford more equitable lived experiences across America.

Put these scenarios to use

For each scenario consider

  • How well suited is your organization to thrive in the future scenario? 
  • How might your organization foster community in the future scenario?
  • What elements of community are essential to your organization?
  • How might a sense of community be achieved in this scenario?
  • How might technology enhance the community environment in this scenario?
  • How might the organization’s current product/service offering shift or evolve to maintain relevance and competitiveness in the scenario?
  • If nothing changes with your organization’s current strategy, will you thrive in this scenario?
  • Consider ways to transform or next level your organization as an industry leader within the scenario.