Workplace Trends 2024

RedBalloon For Business

What work will look like in 2024

This week, we investigate emerging workplace trends – which will deliver a bold and dynamic future.
The modern workplace has transformed so much in the past few years, it’s hard to keep up with all the new developments. We’ve seen the rise (and potential fall) of hybrid working – been warned about a ‘Great Resignation’ – and grappled with the meteoric rise of new technology. Here in Australia, the dynamic and constantly-evolving nature of our job market, coupled with relentless technological advances and ‘new norms’ for workers, creates a situation of both challenge and opportunity. So, what’s next for Australian workplaces? As we look toward 2024, it’s clear that change remains the only certainty….

A much more flexible approach

Traditional life and career paths (which are of course inevitably linked) no longer exist. What people once aspired to – and how they got there – has changed. It’s as though everything is up for constant review; and this is borne out by the Accenture Life Trends 2024 survey, which predicts a ‘decade of deconstruction’. The bellwether forecasters noted “As people look at life more flexibly, demographics are being upended,” and “Rising costs and shifts in values are making people tweak their priorities.” In fact, a huge 48% of respondents said they plan less than a year into the future, or even not at all.*

Changes to reward and recognition

Workplaces need to recognise this shift in employee thinking and pivot accordingly. Want to retain those flighty (but oh-so-sharp) Gen X-ers and Millenials? You should – they make up an increasingly large percentage of the workforce these days, and can deep-dive into tech better than anyone. Reward is still one of the best motivators, but in a hybrid working world, the nature of recognition looks different. It’s harder to pinpoint who is do the heavy lifting and who is perhaps coasting a bit. Managers can’t necessarily see outputs the way they can in a bustling office. So we need to be thinking, how can we adapt to this and not fall into the ‘out of sight, out of mind’ trap? Keep your staff (no matter where they work) sweet – whether through bonuses, incentives, team-building or good old-fashioned ‘Thank you’ presents – and they’re more likely to stay, not stray.

The rise.. and rise.. of technology

We’ve been living through a time of hyper-growth in tech. Indeed, the Accenture study noted “Technology feels like it’s happening to people rather than for them—is a shift beginning, where they regain agency over its influence on daily life?” How to work best with technology is a conundrum facing workplaces across Australia. One senior director at a large financial institution observed: “Everyone wants to harness AI, but they don’t quite know how to use it effectively and responsibly.” In terms of an emerging trend, she said we can expect to see “More AI complementing human work embedded in our everyday productivity tools – like Microsoft CoPilot, Google, Figma, etc.”

Now that they are more ‘au fait’ with new tech, employees are also desirous of better access to it and continuous upgrades. The 2021 Ernst and Young ‘Work Reimagined’ Employee survey, with Millennials comprising over half of the 16,264 respondents, found 64 per cent of people want better technology in the office (e.g. faster internet and videoconferencing), while almost half say they want companies to upgrade at-home hardware.* Generative AI is helping people feel more digitally connected, tech-literate and empowered than ever before. The benefits in terms of efficiency and productivity on the uptake of this new technology cannot be underestimated. In a recent article for Forbes, Bernard Marr contends: “The impact of breakthrough technologies (particularly AI) will be felt more keenly than ever as the rate of adoption accelerates. This wave of digitization and transformation will affect everyone, even those outside of the high-tech industries and tech-focused roles where it is already the norm.”

A shift of power back from employee to employer

Has hybrid work had its moment? The needle is shifting. Many companies want more of their employees back in the office at least 50% of their time, to enjoy the collaborative and cultural benefits of face-to-face working whilst balancing remote working. But it’s contentious. A recent article for Forbes stated “Power dynamics are pivoting from the employee to the employer, and it is going to be a tectonic reset for many employees who only know the employee-power version of the world. The awakening has started; for instance, in financial services many CEOs have taken a hardline approach, by setting the default at four or five days a week in the office for all employees and adding guard rails to perks…”

*In July this year, for example, the Commonwealth Bank had to go to the Fair Work Commission over working-from-home rights after employees were told they had to work at least half their hours at the office. The bank contended it was untenable for anyone working for them to work remotely all the time. The Finance Sector Union then lodged a dispute. So already we can see some significant ‘push-pull’ tensions between employers and employees, which may take some time to abate.

The financial services director we spoke to observed that many companies are continuing to experiment with new working models, which may include a compressed week or four-day working week.

Learning ‘soft skills’ and embracing a younger, more diverse and dynamic workforce

Gen Z is predicted to constitute 23% of the global workforce by 2024.* They are young, hungry, inveterate ‘side hustlers’, and ethnically diverse. They understand tech and are full of great ideas, but as many employers have been known to rue, they can also be less understanding of traditional work models. Forbes notes that the generations above Gen Z – including, even, the Millenials – need to be prepared for this sudden wave of fresh young talent. “Gen Z can also proactively seek to polish their soft skills through being more self-aware, attending training to upskill and develop their leadership capabilities, and seeking the mentorship of older generations.”These soft skills – ‘human’ traits like emotional intelligence, empathy, relationship-building and listening, will become more important to organisations, as our thirst for and use of technology gallops ahead

Looking at the work itself – not where it is done

Deloitte put forth an extremely interesting study* in which they posited: Should we not just let the work drive the workplace decisions?

They argue that before organizations can effectively answer any questions about where people should work—physical, digital, or hybrid—they should understand the work that needs to get done. It may not be revolutionary thinking, but there is perhaps an element of clarity here which has perhaps been missing amongst all this talk of hybrid working, tech, power imbalances and so forth. Companies are becoming cleverer about this. Some are even exploring the ‘metaverse’: Deloitte cited the example of FamilyMart, a Japanese convenience store chain, experimenting with remote-controlled robots to stock shelves, so employees can work from anywhere using virtual reality (VR) goggles and controllers.Their finding was “There is no perfect workplace model or universal solution that every organization should adopt….organizations need to look at the work they are trying to accomplish and cultivate a deep understanding of the unique needs and priorities associated with those goals. Only then can organizations effectively determine where, when, and how work should be done.”

In other words, drill down into the guts of the task, and go from there. Sometimes, the opposite of ‘blue-sky’ thinking may actually be what’s required!


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