Three trends set to define work in the new decade

The workplace has changed beyond recognition in the past decade. Changes in mindset and an evolution in technology have led to major shifts in how, where and how long we work. Ten years ago, there was a big focus on cool workplaces with tangible benefits such as free lunches. Tech giants like Google offered 24/7 cafeterias, recreation rooms and colourful beanbags. Other firms offered two-hour lunch breaks so employees could hit the gym. Instead of genuinely being about work-life balance, many of these “perks” were aimed at keeping employees at work for longer.

With a new decade underway, organisations must think more about culture and ways of attracting, engaging with, training and retaining employees. Not everyone is prepared to trade free lunches for sixty hour weeks, and as concerns rise over deteriorating mental health, a new way of work is emerging, with three key trends taking centre stage.

1. Human-centric HR will create safer workplaces

HR has traditionally been all about ensuring the safety and future of a business – it hasn’t always included the rights of employees. It was only in recent decades that the wellbeing of an individual has become a top priority. The next decade will see this trend evolve, and workplace safety for women in particular will be front-and-centre of this change.

This is thanks to a change we’ve seen at the societal level, with growing awareness of issues such as the #MeToo movement. Calls for culling toxic testosterone-fuelled work culture are getting louder, and people are becoming more human-centric. HR departments must recognise that it’s critical for them to be human-centric by placing a stronger focus on ethical business practices, and having a zero-tolerance policy for discrimination, bullying and harassment.

Protecting staff protects a brand, and workplaces need to take decisive action and remain transparent while doing so. The old days of covering up problems and getting staff to sign NDAs are long gone.

2. Flexibility will be non-negotiable

One of the biggest changes we saw in the 2010’s was the push towards a more flexible and distributed workforce, with the inclusion of work from home days and the rise of co-working spaces. Going forward, this trend will accelerate, as the internet and new collaboration platforms enable “virtual” employees to work from anywhere at any time, for any required amount of time.

The “four-day week” has been making regular headlines in recent months, with tech powerhouses like Microsoft taking part in a trial last year to test the productivity of such an approach. With this trial in Japan increasing the productivity of team members by 39.9%, the 20’s are shaping up to be the decade where employers look at how they can adopt such tactics, with employees settling for nothing less than complete flexibility.

Not every role fits neatly into a flexible approach, and not all roles will support a traditional work-from-home day. Some jobs require employees to be physically present during conventional “business hours”. In this situation, it’s a matter of looking at how else, if possible, organisations can support a flexible approach to work. This might be shifts, or job shares, or extended lunch breaks. Organisations can also segment the workforce into those who want a more regular schedule with predictable pay and hours, and those who want more flexibility.

Companies who resist flexible working will be left behind. With access to more data and an increased ability to carry out better tracking and analysis of human and organisational productivity and performance than ever before – there’s no excuse for refusing to allow team members to work from home. Governments and business will continue to grapple in this arena as flexibility becomes the norm, but steps can be taken towards making such changes.

3. Lifelong learning will be central to success

Employees need to keep learning and upskilling – both for the benefit of the company and its team members. Nurturing and supporting a team to further their careers – even if they eventually leave a role – is essential for Australian businesses. While some may view this approach as risky, it’s much better than letting skills stagnate. Research by LinkedIn into workplace learning even shows that offering learning increases retention – 94% of employees would stay longer at a company if it invested in their careers.

Investing in learning is not just good for staff morale, it’s central to the success of a business. Countries like China are leading the way – implementing multi-decade education programs designed to position the nation as a strong leader in the technology industry.

In order for Australia to adopt this approach, companies, employees and governments must shift their thinking away from the old pattern of an employee getting a degree, entering the workforce, and receiving access to a few corporate training days or a job-relevant courses every few years. Smart, personalised, ongoing learning systems are being integrated into advanced Talent Management Systems, not only enabling but encouraging employees to upskill and new-skill. Individual learning programs, with targeted training that’s relevant not only to someone’s job but also their wider interests, can be integrated throughout the working day thanks to mobile learning solutions.

The workforce of the 2020s will have as much emphasis on the “force” – the people doing the work – as it does on the work that they do. It’s no wonder we’re starting to see HR rebranding to “talent management” and job titles such as “people and culture manager” replace “HR director”. Unhappy people make for unproductive employees, and humans are not a “resource” like coal or raw materials. The next decade will demonstrate just how important employees are to the success of a business, as they drive strong organisations towards success.

By’s Dan Fish

This article was first published by IT Brief