Which trends will alter the working world by 2020?

Tom Blower from Black Isle asks the question?

As the fourth industrial revolution kicks into gear and technology moves at an ever-faster pace, societal advancements will affect the future of work in many different ways.
Continuous developments in mobility, social media and cyber trends are impacting lifestyles and expectations in the workplace, requiring businesses to actively reflect on their processes and enact change to prepare for the future.

Which trends are on the radar to have substantial impacts on the workplace of 2020?

The growth in Enterprise Leadership

The phrase ‘enterprise leadership’ is already a boardroom buzzword. Businesses are moving away from a command and control structure to a more collaborative style in which common goals are chosen and staff are encouraged to join together to achieve them.

Research indicates that up to two-thirds of success in leadership is attributed to Emotional Intelligence (also known as Emotional Quotient or EQ), rather than IQ, with the implications of this shift being profound. As EQ becomes more important, the value we place on IQ will reduce. This is supported by recent research by the World Economic Forum[1] highlighting people management skills as being one of the most important skills for the next decade. Indeed, many organisations are already adapting their internal code – their purpose and values – to represent the need to be more human and empathetic towards employees and customers.

To embrace this development, employers must consider several issues such as mental health in the work environment and placing greater emphasis on ensuring the right personality types are hired. Considering how to attract younger workers – who instinctively understand emotional intelligence over their predecessors – is also key to future-proofing.

Gen Z

By 2020, over 36% of the workforce[2] will consist of individuals born after the baby boomer generation. In the coming years, employees are projected to stay in the workforce for longer than previously seen, equating to five generations of workers from diverse backgrounds interacting together in collaborative teams. Therefore, those team members with the best ‘soft skills’ will flourish over others.

There are behaviours of Gen Z which will work to their advantage in this environment and some which will hinder. Millennials are characterised by their collaborative approach to tasks, whilst Gen Z are observed as being more individual and competitive[3] and also being more likely to opt for face to face meetings over digital[4]. Having grown up as digital natives, Gen Z are excellent at multitasking[5], but their familiarity with being distracted by multiple notifications mean they have a shorter attention span than Millennials by an average of four seconds.[6]

Employers will need to harness these qualities via several methods, including introducing shorter meetings and giving Gen Z-ers their own development projects.

However, businesses will also need to keep in mind Gen Z’s reasons for work are largely driven by job security and pay rises, having seen the struggles their parents may have experienced during the recession. Keeping this cohort engaged, challenged and with a sense of job satisfaction will be crucial in ensuring they are utilised to their full capabilities.

Social media and transparency

Predicted to amass 2.9 billion users globally[7] by 2020, social media has seen an increase of two billion users in just ten years.

Reports show that 82% of employees[8] believe social media can improve work relationships, and employees who use social media at work are more productive and engaged. This has led some managers to encourage staff members to use social media as a collaborative platform, whilst some have gone so far as to use social media to recognise members of staff who are performing well.

The greater transparency offered by social media can be a force for good, but it can also open the gates to immediate reputational damage if social media is misused. To avoid employee slip-ups online, more companies are likely to adopt social media use policies for staff. Regardless of when it is published, one thoughtless tweet or post has the power to ruin a reputation, so adequate training regarding appropriate posts will also be important.

Increase in Social Enterprise

According to a study by Social Enterprise UK, British social enterprises are outperforming mainstream business in growth and innovation and reporting a 47% growth in turnover in comparison to 34% of SMEs. Big businesses are already taking social enterprise more seriously, with increased demand from both customers and a new generation of recruits[9] assessing the Net Promoter Score of their suppliers and future employers.

As a response, modern-day businesses must go beyond being a money-making vehicle and look at its place in society and within its local community. This must encompass more than CSR box-ticking, but cut to the heart of a company’s values and mission.

Preparing for roles that don’t exist

A recent study[10] by the World Economic Forum predicted that 65% of school children will, in future, be employed in jobs that don’t yet exist. Many of the most in-demand roles in today’s workforce did not even exist[11] five or ten years ago, highlighting the rapid pace of industrial change.

Leaders of the future need to begin preparing now to ensure access is available to a pool of talent who adapt well to an uncertain future. Nearly nine in 10 workers already anticipate having to learn new skills throughout their lifetimes in order to keep up with developments and managers should incorporate experiential learning[12] into workplace training programmes to ensure employees are constantly learning and adapting to new workplace requirements and skills.

Businesses should also prepare for the need to redeploy employees to new roles should their older role become obsolete, either through AI or otherwise. In fact, a whole new role of ‘Skills Mapping Manager’[13] may need to be created with the sole purpose of redistributing employees to stay on top of a rapidly changing workplace.

AI and Augmented Reality

Reports of automation and artificial intelligence and the possible impacts on the jobs market sends shivers down the spines of many. A variety of predictions[14] estimate the percentage of job roles at risk of being automated, with highs at 47% and lower estimates at 14% (though this still equates to 66 million job losses in OECD countries alone).

Further speculations predict that machines taking over mundane tasks should not lead to the assumption that job losses will take place. Instead, as less-skilled tasks are increasingly handled by AI[15], employers may expect more creative and complex tasks to be completed by their employees.

Augmented reality will also play a role in the workplace of the future, with wearables and other technology influencing how we interact with the office spaces around us. With 79% of businesses viewing wearables[16] as crucial to ongoing success, their increase seems inevitable. The effects these may have, ranging from predictions of increased productivity[17] to concerns of decreased employee privacy[18], should all be hot topics for consideration in any modern business.

Although the above list may at first appear daunting and vast, many of the developments impacting the workplace of the future can be combined. Encouraging enterprise leadership will take place naturally through Gen Z employees who possess instinctive emotional intelligence. Businesses can improve their reputations by becoming more socially conscious but will also need to protect reputations by addressing employee use of social media. By incorporating experiential learning into work development programmes organisations prepare their staff for redistribution into new roles as older ones become obsolete, and entirely new ones are created.

By looking at these developments in a holistic rather than fragmented manner, businesses can more easily future-proof themselves for the world of work in 2020 and beyond.