Future of work predictions for 2020

From augmented collaboration to renewed diversity efforts, what trends can we expect to impact the workplace of 2020?

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As the decade draws to a close, it’s fair to say that the future of work has been a much-discussed topic over the last ten years, with digital disruptors impacting every aspect of the technology sector, from the tools we use to how we communicate and what constitutes the new normal when it comes to working practices.

Back in 2010, analyst firm Gartner published ten major predictions focusing on how the workplace would look in 2020. Included in the list were the ‘de-routinisation’ of work, hyperconnectedness and the workplace becoming increasingly virtual, all trends that have become familiar to workplaces across the globe well before 2020.

Whilst some of the 2020 trends experts have outlined are already in place, it will be interesting to see how many of them become the norm rather than the exception in the long-term. And, with the number of unfilled jobs in the UK at near an all-time high, it will be up to companies to make sure the workplace they cultivate appeals to the talent they need to hire.

Remote working

Before the dramatic crash of WeWork back in September, the epic growth the company was experiencing showed that there is a growing number of workers who find themselves without a traditional office environment.

The number of remote workers has increased by 115 percent over the course of the last decade; with Gartner predicting that by 2020, half of the US will work outside the traditional office setting most of the time.

Organisations that are yet to embrace flexible working as a norm are set to lose out in the battle for talent when young millennials and Gen X’s start to enter the workforce. A Deloitte study found that nearly 75 percent of millennials believe that a ‘work from home’ or ‘work remotely’ policy is important, whilst a separate Ricoh study found that a third of European workers would be willing to take a 10 percent pay cut for an employer that embraces flexible working.

Robert Darling, COO at the appmaker Eko believes that, with approximately 70 percent of people across the world already working remotely at least once a week, “more employers will move towards mobile-led technology over the next few years, to ensure that non-desk workers remain engaged in their work.”

Darling thinks that throughout 2020, companies will need to invest heavily in technologies such as chat and video software to facilitate regular communication between traditional office workers and remote workers.

“In addition, mobile-first technology with language translation capabilities will be a crucial tool for geographically challenged companies that employ high numbers of remote workers as it helps to create a more inclusive, close-knit office culture,” Darling says. “The future trend for in-app translation will also help break down communication barriers ensuring all employees are equally informed.”

Joel Farrow, MD for EMEA at HR tech company Hibob also agrees that in the year ahead, it will be important that businesses put tools and processes in place to manage their new remote workforce successfully.

“Communicating constantly will be crucial and making sure agile collaboration guidelines are established from the outset is essential,” he says, adding that “implementing the appropriate technology tools to enable remote working will help strengthen a company’s collaboration culture and keep employees engaged.”

According to the technology company Barco ClickShare, 53 percent of meetings currently involve attendees who join remotely, meaning it’s vital for companies to provide these remote participants with a way to interact with each other in the same way as they would in a face-to-face scenario.

As consumer technologies continue to improve in quality, employees now expect the technology they use in the workplace to keep pace. Organisations that are looking to implement a successful flexible working policy in 2020 need to ensure they embrace change and invest in solutions that improve remote working conditions, or face disengagement and negatively impacted productivity.

Diversity and inclusion

Within the technology sector, diversity is both an important talking point and the thorn in the side of any company that gets it wrong. Some of the biggest names in technology have suffered huge reputational damage in the past several years, leading to companies like Uber committing to two three-years goals in order to improve diversity at the company.  

However, not every big tech company has got it right. Earlier this year, Alphabet, the parent company of Google, failed to pass several proposals to address sexual harassment, antitrust issues and diversity policies and at the end of December 2019, the company has once again become embroiled in a row after three trans women were fired under questionable circumstances.

In the UK, hiring demand for diversity and inclusivity (D&I) -related roles surged by 106 percent from last year, according to new Glassdoor research. According to the report, employers around the world are waking up to the need for robust diversity and inclusion efforts and are looking to invest in the top talent to deliver on these programmes.

As many companies have learned over the last decade, words without action typically don’t lead to change. Glassdoor’s report predicts the tide will turn in 2020, with more companies putting their money where their mouths are by adding key D&I-focused employees in order to drive lasting change in their workplaces.

The expected uptake of flexible working polices will also have a positive impact on diversity, allowing individuals who are unable to work within the confines of a 9-5 office job the opportunity to enter the workforce again.

Mark Holt, chief technology officer at transport app Trainline says the company has continued to improve its diversity metrics over the years, not just because it’s the right thing to do but because it makes a noticeable impact to the success of the business.

“You can’t expect to cultivate a versatile and agile team, able to react in real-time to the ever-changing needs of customers, if you continue to hire the same kind of people, who think the same way,” Holt says.

Augmented collaboration

One bold prediction for the workplace of 2020 is that there will be greater uptake in how human employees and artificially intelligent solutions work together to minimise the menial but necessary tasks that still proliferate across today’s workplaces.

With 75 percent of organisations struggling to recruit digital skills, Neil Murphy, global VP at software vendor ABBYY thinks this will lead to a boom in the number of digital workers we see in the workplace. Murphy says that these workers can “augment automation efforts with AI and machine learning, working in harmony alongside humans.”

“In fact, [ABBYY] found that the contribution of digital workers will grow by 50 percent in the next two years, illustrating a real shift to a future built on human-machine collaboration.”

Murphy also notes that, despite some of the scaremongering about machines that has become increasingly prevalent in the media of late, automation can and should be human-centric – humans and machines, not human versus machines.

“Only then can human workers focus on higher-level, creative and socially responsible tasks, and give customers better experiences and faster service,” he says. “In 2020, businesses that are quick to incorporate digital workers with content intelligence skills within their automation platforms will gain a significant competitive edge.”

Dr. Marcell Vollmer, chief innovation officer at process mining software maker Celonis agrees with Murphy, but adds that this trend “isn’t necessarily new” as people have been working collaboratively with technology such as laptops and mobile phones for many years.

"However, what’s new is the advent of human-machine convergence,” Vollomer notes. “This goes hand-in-hand with advanced robotic technology, powering anything from ‘smart glasses’ to intelligent assistants. Furthermore, autonomous machines will be capable of taking on even more tasks, enabling humans to focus on the real value-add work.”

Over time, Angela Ashenden, principal analyst for digital workplace at CCS Insights expects these bots to become a standard additional resource for employees to take advantage of in order to reduce the repetitive and mundane tasks they must carry out on a daily basis.

“[These bots will allow employees] to focus on more valuable, enjoyable tasks,” Ashenden says. “Rather than replacing roles directly, they will shift the focus of roles in a new direction, and will be as natural an extension of an employee’s toolset as business applications are today.”

Re-skilling the workforce

In the UK, over 70 percent of technology employers are experiencing a skills shortage. While some of the larger technology companies are looking to change their entry requirements to tackle this crisis – turning to coding schools and bootcamps or removing the requirement that applicants must have an undergraduate degree – there is still a long way to go before we see this trend reverse.

Unfortunately, every kind of business is being affected to some degree but, according to recruiter Harvey Nash’s CEO, Albert Ellis, one of the emerging trends that is beginning to become ever clearer is the divide between traditional, well-established brands and smaller, younger, more agile businesses. Ellis says that it is the big corporates that are feeling the pressure most and amongst businesses over 50 years old, 71 percent are facing a talent problem.

When it comes to re-skilling the workforce, there are two trends that are set to dominate the workplace of 2020. The first is by helping existing employees to develop a new skill set in order to fill internal vacancies.

Although many firms will assume the future of work involves the latest shiny technology – and in some cases it will – the future for the majority of businesses will increasingly involve enhancing the existing skills of employees.

Jonathan Richards, CEO and co-founder of HR software vendor Breathe, says that in the workplace of today, IT’s role is about more than simply providing infrastructure and powering back-office activity.

“We really need to consider the enormous potential there is for companies that use IT effectively,” Richards says. “Enhancing the existing skills of your companies’ workforce will not only increase productivity, but really demonstrates the company is welcoming of the tech-savvy influx of new minds.”

And it’s not just long-time employees that will be looking to update their skill set in 2020. Ellis says that Harvey Nash have seen a “profound generational shift” when it comes to the job requirements young people are asking for.

“Today’s generation are most interested in innovative projects and learning new skills, more so than in salary and job security,” Ellis says. “They are looking to work for organisations with a clear purpose, and many of them also care deeply about working for a business with strong ethical, environmental and sustainability credentials. As a result, smaller, younger companies are frequently a more attractive proposition to today’s wave of IT talent.”

The other skills-based trend we’re set to see throughout 2020 is a renewed focus on so-called soft skills.

“As more jobs become automated, softer skills like high emotional intelligence and problem solving will increase in value,” Vincent Belliveau, chief executive of EMEA at talent management software maker Cornerstone On Demand explains. “In fact, organisations should hire potential with a view of continually upskilling, because you can’t hire your way through the skills economy.”

Andrew Filev, founder and CEO of project management software specialist Wrike agrees, noting that as the nature of work transforms, “jobs will become more cognitively challenging, boosting the need for creative, empathetic, and strategic career skills.”

Filev states that the recruitment of employees with humanities and arts degrees will see 10 percent increase as storytelling, content, and design become increasingly important to brands.

Lastly, as organisations implement more tech-based solutions such as robotics and artificial intelligence into their workplace, the onus is on employers to ensure employees have the right skills to shape and extend their careers.

In fact, 81 percent of workers expect their employer to provide tools and training to adapt to new roles as technology changes. Furthermore, Filev believes e-learning will become mainstream and even mandatory in some rapidly evolving fields as employees look to keep abreast of emerging technologies. He claims that by 2025, 45 percent of white-collar employees will have used an e-learning platform to improve their job skills or explore new careers.

However, despite the concerns around the current pace of change, a study from Ricoh found that it’s not all doom and gloom. According to the company’s research, more than three-quarters of European employees are confident that they have the necessary skillset to keep and progress their current job over the next ten years.

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.

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