As the year winds down, it’s a good time to reflect on the year that was and the trends reshaping the nature of our work and workplaces heading into 2018.
The main driver of this change? It continues to be the increasing scale and use of technological solutions to traditional and modern workplace challenges. As we progress beyond the advent of connected work apps and online platforms of the past five years, we’re preparing to move past other impactful organizational shifts — like the rise of remote workers.
All this is to say that 2018 is going to be another significant and very interesting year for both workers and their relationship with the workplace, and there are some key things those in the HR space should be aware of.
Here are my predictions on what will be making an impact in the year to come.
1 – The app and information overload will continue
Apps and SaaS online platforms have become as standard in our jobs as Microsoft Office, and while they have added some great new tools and abilities to our work day, they are also increasingly making work more challenging. How? By giving us more programs to juggle and making information more scattered and difficult to retrieve.
Though this overload is hard to stop. We’re seeing the rise of a new solution that will greatly expand in 2018: the use of AI-powered assistants that can plug into the various apps and platforms we already use and retrieve the information we seek on our request.
With developments in natural language processing, we can now have a text chat with a helper bot and ask questions about diffuse information sources that it answers in plain English.
2 – Employee engagement efforts will get smarter
Making employees feel more connected, engaged and happy at work has become a major priority for workplaces and their HR teams. We’ve seen a lot of enterprise firms getting flexible with their approach to employee work-life balance and adopting some of the more casual approaches to work and workplace rules seen in trendy tech startups.
This will continue in 2018, but at a higher level: efforts to engage employees will be given a major boost by smart new digital tools that let HR better monitor and react to engagement and office culture.
Underlying AI technology — like machine learning — is now parsing the language used on workplace chat platforms, and even in employee emails, to analyze employee sentiment for potential negativity, a sign of disengagement, and doing so on an office-wide level.
Expect this to become more widespread as new tools read more telltale signals. Researching whether such engagement tech is right for your HR challenges will be key in 2018.
3 – Diversity and inclusion will be an even bigger priority
This past year saw some major corporate scandals around diversity and inclusion, leading to more awareness and calls for change. There have been some major shots across the bow, and we’re seeing executive teams start to make some major reforms to modernize their workplace makeup and culture.
This will be a significant priority in 2018, not only in response to very public scandals but also because of the fact that more inclusive, diverse workplaces have been linked to higher productivity and are now recognized as better for innovation and new ideas (and more attractive to Millennial hires).
At the ground level, HR should be aware of the new set of equity tools designed to eliminate unconscious bias in recruiting practices. You can now have your job-posting text read by an AI bot who will suggest more inclusive language, and another will help screen resumes in a fairer way.
This is a fast-growing area, and one every HR department should be evaluating for fit.
4 – More human workplaces, more collaboration
Can smart tools using AI and machine learning make work better?
We don’t have a complete answer to that yet, but we are seeing the needle start to move with the application of AI software to areas with a direct impact on our workplace mood and empathy levels. This includes the physical design of our offices to be more human-centric, and assistants that can read our emails as we write them and let us know if we’re coming off as unprofessional.
At the same time, the importance of collaboration is rising as the micro-jobs that eat up our work day are automated by virtual assistants — tasks like booking meetings and drafting routine documents. With more time for creative, deep-thinking work, more value is being placed on employee collaboration, which is becoming a key factor in firm performance.
Both these trends are going to get bigger in 2018, and successful workplaces will want to stay on top of them.
5 – Remote workers are the norm, and can do more
Having an employee work from home once elicited some quiet skepticism around the water cooler, but those days are now long gone. Indeed, leading workplaces now treat remote work as a standard feature, one that can not only let employees be more productive, but opens the door to a truly global workforce that provides a deep bench of talent.
Working remotely was once a bit awkward in terms of work routines and processes being locked to a physical space, but the digital workplace has gone a long way to throwing off those restrictions. Come 2018, and beyond, this will become the standard, and expect a majority of high-performing firms to have a constant chunk of their staff permanently off-site.
Our workplace tech stack has adapted to this new reality, and as more software migrates to the cloud with files accessible 24/7, we’ll see remote working grow tremendously.
This will be further accelerated by the rise of smart tools giving remote workers new abilities that would previously have required a visit to the office, such as creating and exchanging routine documents and meeting with HR for basic work-policy questions and assistance. The range of remote applications will continue its exponential growth, and is something the modern enterprise must be aware of and willing to adapt to.
6 – AI will go mainstream and get REALLY smart at understanding data
In what will be a seismic shift in 2018, enterprises will no longer require a computer or data science degree to understand and use the baseline and deeper functionality that workplace AI brings. Non-specialized knowledge workers will see the immediate benefits of these AI-powered tools, from frictionless collaboration and information sharing to quick and accessible new insights.
Yes, 2016 and 2017 both paved the way for the arrival of mainstream AI, and now we’ve reached a turning point, thanks to the standardization of third-party apps and integrations that can be understood and augmented by AI. This will allow employees to do more at work using previously inaccessible data, yielding new discoveries. To pick one example, 2018 will usher in the era of business intelligence beyond the usual, allowing employees to derive success metrics at the click of a button and gain new perspectives.
It’s clear that 2018 is going to be another exciting year for employers, workers, and their relationship with the workplace. HR teams should be aware of the upcoming shifts and opportunities to unlock new value, and, understand how to properly use data, insights and emerging tech to supercharge everything from employee engagement and productivity to organizational structure and IT.
Happy New Year!
Roy Pereira is the CEO and Founder of Zoom.ai, a chat-based productivity tool that helps to offload and automate your everyday tasks like searching for files, scheduling meetings, generating documents and much more. Just plug it into your favorite chat platform and get zooming. Follow him on Twitter @roymap or connect with him on LinkedIn.
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