The workplace has been steadily evolving over the past year or two, and big changes have come afoot in the first part of 2016. In the UK, the shift towards co-working has exploded, which has been led in part by the increasing number of individuals choosing to go freelance, who want more flexibility and control over where and when they work. Currently there are 1.4 million freelancers working in the UK, and the continued growth of virtual collaboration tools and technology, as well as the increasing acceptance of remote working, has given the freelance economy a tremendous boost.
Also of significance is the fact that the first group of Gen Zs will be starting work this summer. This generation has been raised in the era of smartphones, and is unlikely to remember a time before social media. Gen Zs are digital natives in the truest sense, and consequently their brains are wired differently. Critically, they are adept at dividing their attention across a range of media and devices, they are creators, and they are used to obtaining information quickly. Additionally, Gen Zs are more entrepreneurial, loyal, flexible and realistic in their approach to their careers and the workplace, and this is likely to have widespread impact.
There are other workplace trends that are set to have rising significance in the second half of this year. Here is our roundup of what we think will be the biggest. An infographic at the bottom of the post, by the Brighton School of Business and Management, sheds further light on the subject.
Over the past couple of years, businesses have gradually become more open to the concept of virtual working, and have introduced flexible working policies which allow individuals to work from home more easily. But this year we have also seen the emergence of mobile-first businesses: those which set out to be completely virtual in the way they operate, from day one. Advancements in remote working software and collaboration tools have largely enabled this way of working, and made it feasible for a business to flourish without any bricks and mortar presence.
The benefits of being mobile-first are tremendous, with the most obvious being the drastically reduced number of overheads. It takes very little money to set-up a virtual company, and the associated risks are a lot lower. Additionally, there is less need to travel to meetings for example, which can lead to significant cost savings. Productivity can also receive a noticeable boost with the absence of office distractions, and time saved through not travelling into work.
Co-working has become a fast-growing trend in 2016, with more and more professionals wanting to decide for themselves how and when they work so that they can spend more time with family, waste less time and money on travel and operate from an environment that inspires and motivates them. Co-working spaces house a diverse blend of freelancers, entrepreneurs and other independent professionals, all working in a communal setting. It’s easy to see why they’ve also caught the attention of big businesses that are looking to downsize their office space and reduce overheads.
Co-working offers a supportive, motivational environment where individuals have greater potential to flourish and achieve their full potential. According to a recent study, people who belong to co-working spaces report levels of thriving that approach an average of 6 on a 7-point scale. This is at least a point higher than the average for employees who do their jobs in traditional offices.
Stockholm-based co-working space Epicenter made the news recently for its cutting edge scheme involving the implanting of NFC (near-field communication) chips under the skin of consenting individuals. The concept eliminates the need for key-fobs or electronic entry cards, and enables individuals to swipe into the office, set the alarm system, register loyalty points at nearby retailers and access the gym. Around 20% of workers located within the building have opted into the programme, and since then, a flurry of other companies have expressed interest in adopting a similar scheme.
Wearable technology holds huge potential for the workplace, particularly for monitoring employee movement and tracking productivity, as well as health. Already we’re seeing wearable devices like smartglasses, wristbands, smartwatches and badges make their way into the workplace, with Fitbit and Apple Watch being among the most popular currently. The wearable technology workplace trend is likely to be driven by Gen Z primarily, as companies begin to realise the business case for them. Acknowledging the privacy implications for employees though will also be critical.
Automation and voice assistance
Automation within the workplace has received a lot of media attention in 2016 so far, and it is predicted that machines might be able to do half of our jobs within the next two decades. Led by recent increases in the minimum wage and the pressure to be technologically advanced, automation is likely to have big impact on all sorts of roles and businesses. As the infographic below highlights, McDonald’s Europe recently installed 7,000 touch-screen computers to take your order and track food items.
Business hierarchy and leadership
The nature of management is changing, and this has become increasingly evident in 2016. Today we’re seeing traditional top-down management being replaced with a leadership style that is far more inspirational and collaborative. Consequently the workplace is becoming less hierarchical, and more focused on empowering individuals at all levels to succeed and have influence.
The rising generation of leaders are more authentic and less autocratic, prioritising change and the impact they can have on society. Meeting financial targets is no longer the primary objective of a leader. Next year, more than 3.6 million baby boomers are set to retire and more than one quarter of millennial workers will become managers, which will undoubtedly have big impact.
The argument for greater workplace flexibility has never been as vocal as it is in 2016, with pressure mounting for a better work-life balance.The 40-hour week has easily become a thing of the past, with many of us working 47 hours a week or more: almost a full workday longer than what a standard five-day, 9 to 5 schedule entails. Furthermore, with always-on connectivity, myriad remote working tools and technology, smartphones and tablets, the line between work and personal is now increasingly blurred. A couple of years ago it was commonplace to have a separate mobile phone for work, for example, but in 2016 there is rarely that distinction. A recent study found that 64% of managers expect their employees to be reachable outside of the office on their personal time. One in five employees surveyed spent over 20 hours a week working outside of the office on their personal time. 2016 could be the year that workers begin to reclaim the balance, calling for more flexibility within the way they work.
For further ideas on how the workplace is changing, this below infographic offers lots of food for thought: