2032: Five Trends Shaping the Next Decade of Work

The key future-of-work insights pointing toward tomorrow's new normal.

Future of Work

If the last few years have taught us anything about predicting the future, it's that nobody can predict the future. Indeed, as you'll see below (spoiler alert), uncertainty is one of the few things you can be certain about.

But as the dust starts to settle from the great COVID-driven reshuffle, some major themes and trends look to have even more influence on the future of work. Indeed, most of them were in motion before anyone knew what COVID-19 was. The pandemic didn't introduce new trends so much as it accelerated existing ones, and exposed the holes in some outdated thinking.

So, against that backdrop, what patterns are emerging in 2022 that will shape work in 2032 and beyond? Here are 5 future-of-work trends that smart organizations will start acting on now.

1. The office wars are over. Remote isn't going anywhere.

Sure, some executives still cling to received wisdom and try to order their employees back to the office (we're looking at you, Elon). But the reality is clear: remote and hybrid working are the future. Surveys show that worldwide, at least 70% of office workers want either remote or hybrid work. Top talent is far less willing to compromise their own well-being to sit in an office park for 40+ hours a week; for many, hybrid is the compromise.

If you've been thinking of your company's remote working processes as temporary stopgaps—or, worse, if you haven't been thinking about those processes at all—it's time to take a deep breath and get systematic about digital transformation. Bravo for doing what you had to do to survive 2020. Now's the time to think about thriving in 2030.

2. Virtual work tools not only enable performance, but help measure it.

When considering remote work in the pre-COVID era, two big, scary questions haunted executives: "how will we get everything done?" and "how will we measure productivity for people who aren't physically in the building?"

Then the pandemic forced everyone to answer the first question as best they could. Hence the hasty adoption of a vast range of remote productivity tools. But less than half of those apps are used on a regular basis. And employees spend more time than ever searching for information in the wilderness of platforms and systems. Clearly, a great streamlining is in order for the tech stack at most companies.

Which apps will "win"? The ones that build in ways to answer that second big question: measuring productivity, such as project-management platforms that can analyze what works in your process and what doesn't. Savvy executives will realize that moving work into the virtual realm actually gives them better insights into productivity and more effective tools for improving processes. (And if you're tempted to take the shortcut of measuring keystrokes and mouse usage, just don't. It's intrusive, it damages trust, and it doesn't tell you anything useful anyway.)

3. AI and automation change the roles of managers.

The next wave of those virtual tools is already starting to arrive. AI-powered tech could mean that up to 65% of current managerial tasks could be automated by 2025. That includes everything from monitoring whether jobs have been completed to giving feedback to approving requests.

The fundamental definition of what a manager is will evolve as AI shapes the future of work. Forget the idea of manager as overseer, managing work. The future needs managers who manage people. The manager will be the frontline activator of the organization's Employee Experience (EX) Design strategy, the point person for the employee's entire relationship with the company. Increasingly, AI can handle making sure the sausage gets made. The manager's job will be making sure employees don't get ground up along the way.

4. Employee well-being comes to the fore.

Don't fret if EX Design is a new concept to you. It's just now taking off as companies realize they need to apply the insights of Customer Experience Design to the work experience. In the age of digital transformation, that goes way beyond making sure the chairs are the right height for the desks. It's about holistically, intentionally designing the full spectrum of an employee's social, physical, emotional, and career experience. And it includes testing and iterating based on new data.

Why bother? Because exhausted, unfulfilled employees aren't going to stick around. Over 80% of professionals say they feel more burnout than before the pandemic. It's not just about energy, though: post-pandemic employees value purpose, meaning, and a sense of progress in their own lives, and will only give their time and talent to organizations that understand that. So it isn't just nice to nurture and develop the people behind the titles. It's a business necessity.

5. Unpredictability intensifies. Resiliency is strength.

Think about all the things that have happened in the last few years that you never thought you'd see in your lifetime. The lockdown orders. The bare store shelves. The closed borders, the grounded planes, the empty city streets. And those are only the directly COVID-related disruptions: don't forget the unprecedented frequency of extreme weather events, the first war in Europe in a generation, and a spiralling inflation crisis.

Nobody can say what shocks the next few years will hold. But we do know that rigid systems, with a heavy dependence on each individual component working perfectly at all times, are the first to fall apart when something unexpected happens. Like those just-in-time supply chains that delivered efficiency in easy times, but couldn't deliver anything when times got tougher. Or those business models that were perfectly tailored to serving office workers, but had to pivot or perish when office usage patterns suddenly changed.

The workplace is no different. Take a hard look at how you get things done. Does anything make you say "we'd fall apart without X": a person, a tool, a physical location, a supplier? Then that's your cue to figure out how to build in redundant solutions now, while the pressure is low.

Where do I start?

That's a lot, we know. Fortunately, you're not the first organization to grapple with these questions. WNDYR has helped companies large and small realize their digital transformation. We know there's enormous opportunity for those who can embrace the chaos, and exactly how to work with you to bring that opportunity to life. Reach out and let's get started.

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