In 2016, the workplace underwent a dramatic change as 3.6m Baby Boomers retired, one-fourth of millennial workers rose up to take on management roles and Generation Z had just begun to enter the workforce. The demand for a more flexible work environment continued, along with the desire for greater autonomy and a healthier work-life balance.
This year, as emerging technologies such as wearables and virtual reality become even more prevalent among millennials and Gen Zers particularly, these seismic changes are set to continue. Here are our top five predictions for the workplace trends we can expect to see in 2017…
1. The shift to an ‘on-demand’ workforce
According to a recent study by LinkedIn, part-time freelancing or “side-gigging” is growing more than three times faster than full-time freelancing. Additionally, the share of individuals within top professional fields who are undertaking top-up freelance work has more than doubled in the past five years.
As a result of this boom in the gig economy, a key workplace trend that we’re likely to see continue in 2017 is the rise of full-time permanent employees working side-by-side with freelancers. This allows for greater diversity of talent and the more flexible teaming up individuals, to best suit the project or task in hand. It also provides greater scope for companies to bring in expert knowledge and skills when a problem arises, without the requirement to provide benefits offered to full-time staff.
Furthermore, on-demand freelance workers report unbelievably high levels of job satisfaction, indicating it’s a trend that’s here to stay. According to a recent study by Xero, 92% of on-demand freelancers said they enjoy their work, with 86% saying they would recommend it to friends. These figures are in stark contrast with a recent Gallup poll which found that just 31.5% of US workers feel “engaged” by their jobs, with 51% “not engaged” and 17.5% “actively disengaged”.
It comes as little surprise that millennials are the trendsetters within this space, seemingly using side-gigging as a stepping stone into full-time freelancing. It offers individuals the chance to take greater control of their working lives, with the prospect of securing complete autonomy in the future.
2. The move to instant performance feedback
Thanks to social media and our array of connected devices, our brains have come to crave the instant gratification of information and reward. One of the biggest repercussions this is having upon the workplace is employee desire for instant feedback on performance, calling the effectiveness of annual reviews seriously into question.
According to the recent Gen Z and Millennials Collide @ Work study, millennials and Gen Z don’t want annual reviews anymore; instead they want frequent and ongoing conversations. “Having grown up in a world of texting, tweeting and Snapchat, these generations are accustomed to constant communication and feedback,” states the report. In fact, the study went some way towards proving that the annual performance review is coming to an end as Gen Z and Millennials are receiving reviews either daily (19%), weekly (24%) or regularly (23%) instead of annually (3%).
GE is one of a number of global companies to recently ditch its formal annual review system, replacing it with an app called “PD@GE” for “performance development at GE” through which each employee has a series of near-term goals, or “priorities” assigned. Managers are expected to have frequent discussions, called “touchpoints,” on progress toward those goals and note what was discussed, committed to, and resolved. The app can provide summaries on command, through typed notes, photographs of a notepad, or even voice recordings. This move towards more instant feedback has resulted in a five times increase in productivity in the past year, according to GE.
3. Make way for augmented reality, virtual reality, and artificial intelligence
Automation is impacting all industries, and some industry experts believe it could push unemployment to as much as 50% by 2045, with computers being able to perform almost any job that humans can do.
For example, last year saw the arrival of the world’s first artificial creative director, AI-CD ß, created by digital agency McCann Erickson Japan under its Creative Genome Project. It is already working commercially for the agency, taking on a brief for client Clorets Mint Tab. More than 1,000 TV creatives have been added to AI-CD ß’s database, which help it to determine the best direction for a creative brief. For new entrants to the creative industry, this has big implications. YasuyukiKatagi, CEO of McCann Erickson, Japan, explains: “New creative people, they don’t have to study the past, as there is AI…Knowledge is replaced by AI, but creativity cannot be replaced by it”.
According to the Gen Z and Millennials Collide @ Work study mentioned above, younger generations not only want employers to embrace social media (41%) within the workplace, but also emerging technologies, such as wearables (27%), virtual reality (26%) and robotics (20%).It makes sense that the technology employees are experiencing in their personal lives will inspire new ways of thinking and carrying out processes within the workplace, and this year companies wishing to retain their younger workforce will have little choice but begin to invest. For example Ford has begun using virtual reality to create virtual models of cars and collaborate on the design changes with different team members.
4. Increased focus on workplace wellbeing and happiness
The issue of workplace stress has mushroomed in recent years, leading to physical and mental health issues, a shortened life expectancy, insomnia, increased absenteeism, poor lifestyle and diet choices, and much more. As a result, workplaces have begun to invest more in workplace wellbeing, creating a more relaxing and healthier environment for staff.
Google, for example, has people whose sole job is to keep employees happy and supported. The perks of being a Google employee include things like nap pods, free organic chef-prepared food, free health and dental care, free haircuts and free dry cleaning. Obviously these benefits come at a cost to Google, but the trade off is worth it as the search giant is able to retain loyal, happy staff, amid fierce competition for talent within Silicon Valley.
The trend for biophilic design, incorporating nature into the built environment, is expected to flourish in the workplace in 2017, owing to its proven impact on wellbeing and productivity. Air quality, aesthetic design, acoustic comfort, natural light and optimisation of physical work spaces can all impact hugely on worker health and wellbeing. According to a recent study, biophilic design led to a 6% increase in productivity, a 15% increase in self-reported wellbeing and a 15% increase in creativity.
5. Spaces for tasks, not job roles
Apple co-founder Steve Jobs was an early pioneer of the concept of collaborative working, and he believed the workplace should be designed in such a way as to facilitate teamwork. He had the Pixar building designed to promote unplanned encounters and collaborations. “If a building doesn’t encourage that, you’ll lose a lot of innovation and the magic that’s sparked by serendipity,” he said. “So we designed the building to make people get out of their offices and mingle in the central atrium with people they might not otherwise see.” According to his staff, the theory worked from day one.
In 2017, the trend towards building a collaborative working environment is likely to continue, where workspaces are designed for task-based working and creativity, instead of job roles. This could include open spaces for teamwork, inspirational areas for creativity, quiet and private places for solo tasks requiring focus and concentration and breakout areas for spontaneous meetings and blue sky thinking.
For example, the new BBC Media City UK in Salford has been designed with secluded, but connected, meeting pods everywhere. “[They] might appear as unnecessarily over-designed however the effect of sitting in them is quite different,” writes Jon Jacob, editor of the BBC Blog.“Although being open to the world around you, there’s still a feeling of seclusion. And if you need to write, think or power through some emails, it is the simultaneous seclusion and connection with colleagues around you which really focuses the mind.”
Image taken from the BBC blog