Future of Work Trends for 2023 and Beyond
Introduction (What is the Future of Work?)
The past several years have seen major shakeups in how we think and talk about work, jobs, and the workplace. Where work happens, how companies engage human talent, what makes workers stay or leave, how worried they feel about their future, and what technology is likely to do to each of these issues: these are just a few of the themes making the discussion rich and complex — and fraught, in many cases, with anxiety and uncertainty.
It’s natural, since humans derive tremendous meaning from the work we do. It’s not just about the money we make, although that’s a factor. For centuries we have shaped our identities around our work. Many people’s last names even hint at ancestral trade origins, such as Carpenter or Baker. Or Messerschmidt. It’s a phenomenon that’s been true throughout the world and throughout time.
So it will benefit us to review what some of the trends shaping this moment have been, and where they are likely to go from here.
We’ll start with place: where the workplace has moved, why, and how it’s likely to adapt going forward.
Remote and Hybrid Work Environments
The most apparent shift in work trends has been where it takes place. Of course the COVID-19 pandemic forced the issue initially, but as the necessity for remote work quieted down, managers and workers were still left with questions: Is it —gasp— better this way? Do we get more done? Did we really need to be in the office (or wherever) all the time before? Or is remote work largely a solution whose problem has passed? How can managers manage remotely? Can we still build culture from afar?
How all of this will play out in the long term remains to be seen, but many managers are making their preferences for on-site work known, and that has left many employees with the choice of whether to seek other work that lets them continue to work from home or remotely.
In the meantime, hybrid work models have arisen in many environments: calling for a few days each week in the office, say, or gathering in person only for meetings with particularly nuanced requirements.
AI, Automation, and the Future of Work
Another major factor in reshaping work processes has been automation and artificial intelligence. Everyone still has questions about the potential impact on job roles and skill requirements. And how should responsible leaders integrate automation and AI into the workforce? We have a lot more to unpack and explore here; stay tuned for more articles about this topic specifically.
Utilizing Freelancers and Flexible Talent
The employer-employee contract itself is not what it once was: many more job roles are satisfied by contract and freelance labor; many business models rely on gig workers; many workers are holding down two or more jobs to make ends meet or satisfy their benefits requirements. Elizabeth Altman, author of Workforce Ecosystems, has said that 30-50% of a company’s workforce now tends to be contingent in some way. Some people are embracing this disruptive moment to build independent businesses out of this emerging structure, whereas others are more likely struggling with the lack of security and stability. In any case, the leadership challenge is the same: treating workers with respect, making the compensation process straightforward, and communicating expectations clearly.
In the past years, workers resorting to collective bargaining has been more frequent and more top of mind and media than at any other time in recent history. From Starbucks baristas to Hollywood writers and actors, the range of laborers who have sought to redress grievances of pay and security is wide.
The Importance of Workforce Diversity and Inclusion
The past decade has brought increasing awareness to the importance of diversity and inclusion in the workplace as well as the benefits of a diverse workforce. Studies increasingly show that diverse teams outperform less diverse teams, and inclusive product development reduces the risks of introducing harm and bias. But leaders have also found that diversity initiatives need to be backed with concerted efforts toward inclusion, belonging, and psychological safety in teams; otherwise talent may not stay, or may not be motivated to participate in a full and integrative way.
These All Add Up
What makes this moment so particularly challenging is the additive effect of so many of these trends. Cities have long used tax incentives to businesses as a spur for economic development, but when talent and labor are more or less decoupled from place, the economics of that model change. And when automation reduces the need to hire categories of workers, the forecasting across that whole scenario becomes increasingly muddied.
The Future of Leadership: Adaptability and Emotional Intelligence
The integration of these trends means that leaders today and for the foreseeable future need to be adaptable and cultivate clear communication and greater emotional intelligence. This was never not true, but the consequences grow more acute in environments where people are spread out, where their formal relationship to the company varies, where workflows and processes are constantly shifting due to digital transformation, and so on.
For hybrid and remote environments, leaders need to adopt a communication approach that is frequent and transparent.
When teams are not working in proximity to one another, one of the most critical success factors is defining projects and assignments well.
One nice thing about the generative AI moment is that good prompt writing is about specificity. Good delegation and management also relies on specificity: being clear about what needs to be done, and the expectations around how it will be accomplished. When leaders communicate this way, they stand the best chance at having human workers understand their motives and perform well as a result — and the best chance at having machines deliver reliable output. Clarity of purpose and intent is a key management skill for the next iteration of work.
An opportunity to understand how these all connect is in Kate’s book, A Future So Bright.
The future of work is being shaped every day by business owners and executives, and by workers themselves. We all need to adapt proactively where we can, and we all need to embrace change as best we can. Reading articles like this is a good step to keeping yourself informed, so you are on the road to future success through the actions you’ve already begun to take.
Don’t stop here. If your company, association, or organization is discussing these issues, you can bring us in to advise, or bring Kate in to speak on the future of work and other trends shaping the future.