Approach my child.
The old woman lifts her gnarled hands and gestures for you to come forward. A modest wooden stool is perched in front of her table, looking decidedly wobbly. You sit down gingerly.
What do you wish to see?
Her voice is a rasp, barely audible above the gusting wind.
“I...I want to know about 2017,” you stammer. The words sound ridiculous as they tumble out of your mouth. “I want to know the future of business. What trends will I need to keep up with? How can I stay ahead of the competition?”
The old hag laughs. Businesssss? She hisses. After a moment’s contemplation, she begins swirling her hands above the crystal orb. The room grows dark…..
Ok - now that I’ve got your attention I won’t bore you with any more bad fiction, I promise!
Today we’re looking into our crystal ball to anticipate the future of business in 2017. What trends will emerge? How will the average workplace change?
I might not have psychic powers but 2016 has given us a few clues.
1. Greater Focus on Employee Expectations
In 2017 employees will expect more from their companies than ever before.
This is largely thanks to workplace review websites like Glassdoor which are rapidly gaining traction. Your future staff aren’t just researching the role they’re applying for - they’re also checking out your business culture and whether they can expect work flexibility, fun, decent salaries and special perks.
Businesses can’t control or sensor the reviews on these sites - so if you don’t keep up with trending benefits you could earn a reputation as a dull place to work, and limit your pool of potential future employees. Word spreads fast in the age of digital media.
To counter this risk, increasing numbers of companies are adopting the following perks to increase employee loyalty and satisfaction:
- Free lunches or staff discounts at local eateries
- Fruit boxes delivered to the office
- Pre-paid snack vending machines
- Gaming areas
- Sleeping pods & relaxation rooms
- Yoga or meditation sessions at work
- Flexible hours and job sharing
- Remote working opportunities
We’ve already seen this trend in 2016 and it’s showing no signs of slowing. In 2017 workplace perks will continue to boom, as businesses embark on a race to find the most cost-effective ways of luring in and retaining motivated staff.
2. Wearable Wellness Technology
The rise of wearable technology in the workplace has been predicted for several years, and some companies are already experimenting with it.
You’ve heard of devices like Fitbit which can monitor your quality of sleep and fitness. But the next generation of wearable devices is set to take things to a new level:
- Feel by Sentio (due for release December 2016) claims to monitor your emotions and stress levels. It sends you notifications when you’re in a bad emotional state, with cognitive behavioural therapy exercises to improve your mental wellness.
- Healbe GoBe claims to monitor your actual calorie intake, by detecting glucose levels in the fluid of your skin - no more guessing how much that slice of cake set you back!
- The Gymwatch Sensor (available now) is designed to maximise the effectiveness and safety of your gym routine, by detecting your form and posture and alerting you when you are performing a move incorrectly.
- Levl (due for release soon) helps you plan your weightloss routine, by measuring the levels of acetone in your breath and providing unique insights about your metabolism.
These new devices offer pretty amazing benefits for anyone who can afford them. And with a recent philosophical shift towards promoting ‘wellness’ in the workplace, employers may be keen to get in on the action.
For example, workplace management company Kronos are encouraging their staff to use wearable tech with a rewards based wellness system. Employees at Kronos earn points for monitoring their health and even get lower insurance premiums. Their system is designed to promote a healthier, happier workforce and reduce the likelihood of staff suffering burnout, ill-health or fatigue.
How many companies implement similar programs in 2017 remains to be seen, but it is definitely a growing area. Some experts believe the recent flop of Pebble may push the wearable device market away from consumers and deeper into the enterprise area, where there is huge potential for growth.
It’s worth noting that workplace schemes may face resistance from employees, especially those with privacy concerns. Here’s an excellent article about the pros and cons of this new technology.
3. The Rise of Generation Z
It might sounds like a B-grade zombie movie, but the rise of Generation Z actually refers to the next generation of young people. They’re the follow-up to my own generation, the now infamous millennials. But what exactly is the difference between these labels?
Here’s a basic definition:
Millennials (or Generation Y): Born sometime between the early 80s and mid 1990s.
Generation Z: Born later than the mid-1990s, roughly 1995 onwards.
2017 will be the first year that Generation Z enter the workforce in significant numbers. With their arrival they’ll be bringing their own attitudes towards work, employers and technology.
In many ways Generation Z have similar values to us millennials, but more extreme. If you thought we were good with technology wait till you see their fingers flying across touchpads.
Many of them have known the internet their whole lives (and don’t even remember the dark days of dial-up). They’re more intimate with (and dependent on) social media and smartphone technology than any generation before them. This means they will bring invaluable skills to employers, and at digitally focused companies their careers may be fast-tracked.
More surprisingly, according to a recent survey by Randstad of more than 4000 workers, Generation Z are the first group to care about flexible work schedules more than healthcare coverage. This marks a massive philosophical shift. As more of them join the workforce in 2017 you can expect increasing demands for job sharing roles, part-time work and flexible hours. That staff dental plan just isn’t going to cut it anymore.
4. Virtual Reality in the Workplace
Virtual reality technology has been a booming trend in recent years, especially since the release of gaming headsets like the Oculus Rift and PlayStation VR. These 3D immersive experiences are more accessible than ever for gamers and recreational users.
But what applicability could virtual reality technology have to the workforce in 2017?
Experts have highlighted areas where VR and augmented reality technology could prove extremely useful to a variety of industries.
- Training. Flight simulators for pilots are nothing new, but we can expect a spread of VR technology into other types of training. In jobs where physical risk is involved (e.g. dangerous machinery or substances) or situations which are hard to replicate (public speaking at large events) this technology will be especially useful.
- Architects and design professionals will benefit greatly from VR. Denizen has reviewed the immense potential of VRtisan - virtual reality goggles and controllers created specifically for architects. Another virtual reality product IrisVR already has over 15,000 customers, and 75% of them are in the construction, architecture or engineering fields.
- Team collaboration. Rather than a simple Skype call, increasingly sophisticated VR technology will make conversing with remote colleagues more immersive than ever. Imagine strapping on a headset and noise-cancelling headphones and sitting alongside each other in a virtual boardroom.
This isn’t the distant future, it’s now. In 2016 ‘artificial intelligence’ was one of the biggest trending topics in business. Next year this focus will expand, and virtual reality and augmented reality devices will start to infiltrate more enterprises around the world.
5. Increase in the ‘Blended’ Workforce
In 2017 the ‘blended workforce’ will be increasingly common. This means more companies will choose to employ staff on a variety of different contracts, including part-timers, contractors, and freelancers alongside full-time workers, as part of the growing gig economy.
One reason for this trend is the rise of millennials and Generation Z in the workforce, who are passionate about flexibility and maintaining a work/life balance. These younger workers are more likely to seek part-time or job sharing roles rather than locking themselves into a single position.
What does this mean for employers? For many companies, hiring short-term employees or freelancers holds a lot of appeal. Whether you need a graphic designer for your website, a writer for your blog or a social media guru - there are hundreds of freelancers on websites like Upwork ready to work on your project (sometimes for shockingly low rates).
Of course, this also creates problems for the long-term growth and stability of a business. Part-time workers may be lacking in loyalty or motivation, and a temporary or short-term workforce needs to be continually re-trained. There’s also the risk of staff disappearing in the middle of important projects, a growing culture of disposability, and tension between permanent and non-permanent workers.
To get the best out of a blended workforce HR managers will need to undertake a delicate juggling act. They need to ensure that permanent staff don’t feel undervalued or insecure, but simultaneously create challenges and incentives for employees on short-term contracts. Some companies may increase the appeal of full-time positions by offering flexible hours or remote working.
6. Regular Feedback Instead of Reviews
Yet another side effect of the arrival of millennials and Generation Z in the workplace is that annual performance reviews are being abandoned in favour of more regular feedback systems.
While previous generations were generally happy to work towards a yearly review and financial bonus, younger workers tend to favour more immediate feedback. As a generation they have grown up receiving instant validation on social media posts and tweets, and this means they will value more direct and open communication with their bosses and peers.
The recent survey by Randstad supports this notion. It revealed that about a fourth of Generation Z members would like feedback from their manager regularly, while only 2 percent want annual performance reviews. Many would like feedback to be after every project, or even daily.
With these shifting expectations it is likely that 2017 will see more management practices shifting towards regular performance reviews - monthly, quarterly, or project-based. Many companies will ditch the annual review model entirely. This will in turn create more dynamic work environments, where informal communication with managers is encouraged and hierarchies are less rigid.
So there you have it...Our 6 predictions for global workplace trends in 2017! What are your expectations for the new year? As always we’d love to hear your thoughts.