Imagine a future where workplaces as we know them cease to exist - where almost everyone is freelance and comes together to work on projects as and when their skills are needed.

CSIRO Futures leader Dr Stefan Hajkowicz believes this could happen. He fronts a division of the research agency dedicated to "evidence-based technology foresight that can inform strategy formulation and policy development", and presented to aspiring CIOs at the ACS Future Leaders Institute.

Hajkowicz sees LinkedIn's role as a business social network increasing to essentially become a brokerage for business skills.

"I see a future where I don't work at CSIRO, you don't work at your companies, we're all pretty much on a database [like] LinkedIn," he said.

If a company has a project, it could simply locate potential team members on LinkedIn, see the cost of their skills and invite them to join.

"We'll work together as part of a team as we deliver that project and then we'll disband and move onto the next one," he said.

"The economics of that model really stack up.

"For a company, the big risk of employing a lot of people is that you have some lows in demand for those skills. There might be periods when you need them but then periods when you don't, and you want to be able to pick up exactly the skills you want when you need them."

Hajkowicz implored the aspiring CIOs to do more than simply consider this type of operating model. "If you are a knowledge company like CSIRO or even a bank, challenge yourself: can you operate this thing via technology in an online mode," he said.

"Can we take all bricks and mortar away and the physical presence of what we currently conceive as this bank or CSIRO? I think the answer is we can."

Winds of change

Hajkowicz is not alone in proposing a dramatic shift in the workplace of the future.

Through their Workforce 2020 initiative - which is in the process of being wound down - SAP and Oxford Economics surveyed 2700 employees in 27 countries in the second quarter of 2014.

One of the main findings of this research was that the workplace in 2020 would be much more flexible than the way we look at it today. In particular, "83 percent of executives surveyed said they plan to increase [the] use of contingent, intermittent or consultant employees in the next three years, forcing change on companies."

Software maker Intuit released a similar report back in 2010. Even then - a decade out from 2020 - the company predicted a shift in work "from full-time to free agent employment".

"Traditional employment will no longer be the norm, replaced by contingent workers such as freelancers and part-time workers," Intuit's report said.

"The long-term trend of hiring contingent workers will continue to accelerate with more than 80 percent of large corporations planning to substantially increase their use of a flexible workforce".

In the US alone, MBO Partners claims there are already 17.9 million workers who clock up more than 15 hours a week as independents. An additional 12.1 million workers "work fewer than 15 hours a week as an independent on a recurring basis".

The firm said it expected 40 million independent workers in the US by 2019.

Key drivers for the independent workforce included "structural shifts in the economy; cheaper, better and more accessible technology; improved networks; and more acute interest in steering our own personal and professional lives", MBO Partners added.