Trend & Insights

Business briefing: Workplace trends to watch in 2018

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What are the forces shaping evolution in the workplace? What is driving change as businesses adapt to economic trends, shifting customer and employee demands, and the development of disruptive new technologies? No one knows for sure what the future holds. But looking at the data, here are four big themes theDesk expects to dominate attention in the coming year and beyond.

Get ready for another 12-months of high-speed change for you and your employees.

theDesk Leighton Centre Hong Kong
Rows of cubicles in a traditional open plan office. But companies increasingly understand this is no way to foster sharing and interaction.

1) Face-to-face communication is king

More companies are promoting and designing their workspaces to encourage interpersonal relationships between employees. It’s been a big trend in recent years to convert traditional, open plan offices and provide spaces that increase opportunities for people to come together, to collaborate, spark creativity and kickstart innovation.

You’ve probably heard about Apple’s new spaceship campus in California, designed so people can bump into each other. Google’s cafes and whacky offices are famous for being at the forefront of workplace innovation. Both companies are at the top of tree and we can speculate their people-centred workplaces are a factor in that success.

One study reported in Forbes shows regular face-to-face conversations between co-workers can increase individual performance by as much as 20%.

Enhanced productivity is good in itself but personal connections at work can lead to better staff retention. The study found that 72% of employees who have a best friend at work are more satisfied with their job. We can’t force people into friendship, but we can give space and opportunities for people to meet and form relationships.

When people work in a shared space, they naturally meet people from a wide range of backgrounds, with diverse industry experience and expertise. As Forbes’ study reports, encouraging personal connections will lead to more committed, satisfied and productive workers.

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2) In-company training gets a makeover

Uncertainty and disruption mean there is greater urgency for companies to innovate and evolve their business models to align with new customer demands and expectations.

To do this requires an adaptable, skilled and knowledgeable workforce. And that means the market for learning and development professionals will continue to be in high demand. We believe professional development will remain a growing area of focus for businesses.

As markets and customer behaviour changes, and new technologies become embedded, in-company training needs to encompass a wider spectrum of roles than simply providing compliance and new joiner onboarding.

US studies indicate that when teams are well trained, companies can save an average of U$70,000 annually. And it’s a gift that keeps on giving. The same research discovered a 10% increase in productivity as a result.

Taking all this into account, we believe that employers will invest more money into their training in the coming year. And the types of learning and development activities will adopt new formats to better motivate and engage talented staff.

“Every operator needs to keep in mind that we’re no longer in a place where you can only focus on what you’re doing right now. Keeping on learning and finding ways to solve challenging questions, that’s the way to go.”

Kenneth She, General Manager Uber Hong Kong

With a growing skills gap in today’s economy, the current model of hiring and professional development is inadequate. How many of us can say we understand the uses of blockchain or how to apply machine learning solutions in our businesses?

Recently, American communications company AT&T bluntly told 100,000 employees that their job roles probably won’t be relevant in ten years. One survey suggests 65% of the jobs that young workers need to fill don’t even exist yet.

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3) The machines are (still) coming

There’s one buzzword filling media and business with both excitement and fear right now – artificial intelligence. We’ve been bombarded with coverage about how AI will change the world. In many ways, it’s already here. And it’s only going to become more central to business.

One clear example of AI’s growing influence is chatbots. Today you’ll find chatbots being used as personal assistants, for 24/7 customer support, to mine data, streamline business processes, recover product information and to answer employee questions.

Companies stand to save millions of dollars by using the technology to replace customer service staff who are always available, removing the barriers of time zones and language.

Data from the United States shows that already more than half of Americans spend more time interacting with chatbots than with their spouse. And most people aren’t even aware of it.

4) Less pain, more gain

We’re stressed out, burned out and it’s affecting not only our productivity but our job satisfaction. Greater numbers of employees seem to be struggling and it’s affecting our health. Grit and determination get you through but businesses are starting to deal with the root of the problem.

Human resource departments are increasingly needing to act as counsellors, dealing with the effects of anxiety, depression and other work and lifestyle ailments. Surveys suggest that up to 84% of employees experience physical, psychological or behavioural issues.

The impact is tangible as companies deal with people missing up to 5 days a month due to depression alone. Symptoms like depression can result in about five missed work days and 11.5 days of reduced productivity every three months.

Disconnecting from work

A survey by career experts Right Management found that more than a third of workers get after-hours email from management. Nearly 10% get emails when they’re on holiday. We can blame technology for this. But we also need to look in the mirror and see if we ourselves are fuelling the situation by responding to after-hours communications.

Recently, the French government introduced legislation that gives workers “the right to disconnect” from work. Isn’t it time we changed our company cultures so we worry less about our reputations if we don’t reply after hours?

Maybe it’s easier said than done. But looking ahead, we can be certain that companies benefit greatly from a skilled, motivated and healthy workforce. We can expect to see wellness programmes, such as mindfulness, become more established as part of in-house training.

Enhanced productivity, retaining talented staff and reduced sick leave are all clear benefits for companies. Those who provide the environment, policies and procedures conducive to the health and wellbeing of staff stand to gain the most.

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