2024 is promising in terms of work-life balance, greater workplace diversity, incremental adoption of artificial intelligence and climate change practices. This trend is likely to continue.
In 2023, the world pushed aside the ghosts of the pandemic, and rebooted. However, remote-work habits acquired in the pandemic have survived. In addition, economies the world over have been confronted with geopolitical unrest and high inflation, even as artificial intelligence has made shattering advancements and headlines. What does the ‘Future of Work’ look like in the new year onward?
Flexible and hybrid work. Thanks to the pandemic, work from home became the norm. However with restoration of normalcy, people are not eager to return to the pre-pandemic full-time work at office model. Hybrid seems to be the way of the future with options to work full-time from remote locations. Numerous research studies indicate two-three days in the office is the optimal hybrid working arrangement. A State of Remote Work Study 2023 by Buffer, a US-based online marketing software firm, says that 98 percent would like to work remotely, at least for some of the time, for the rest of their careers.
Generative AI will get the nod for workplace adoption. Generative AI tools like Facebook’s Llama and OpenAI’s ChatGPT has made a big impact on knowledge work, increasing productivity multi-fold. Employees in education, marketing, law, technology, arts, architecture will increasingly be able to access AI tools in their workplaces. For example, Generative AI tools can be readily used for written copy, image, video, audio, and code generation. While companies were still learning and figuring out how to skilfully use the technology in 2023, it’s likely we’ll see an adoption leap in 2024, as workers and companies become more comfortable and confident about Generative AI, right from the CEO to newly recruited college graduates.
Employee health costs will push preventive measures and outcomes. The current state of high inflation, labour shortages, and developments in the healthcare industry will sharpen focus on employee healthcare. For employers, this will mean offering higher-quality care options as well as greater emphasis on preventive care. Offering programs to better manage specific health conditions, reducing specialty prescription drugs and focusing on generic options, virtual care, and providing self-help and education tools, are on the cards. Workplace employee health extends beyond physical healthcare. The pandemic, recession, wars, and general social unrest have spiralled anxiety levels worldwide. Therefore, mental health and general well-being will also receive greater attention in the future.
Climate change will continue to pressure companies to be part of the solution. Big business was responsible for 71 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions over the past three decades. Increasingly consumers, investors and government regulatory boards are demanding business and industry to reduce carbon emissions. In 2024, organisations will start to slow climate change and support health of the planet. EU corporates are already complying with mandatory environmental, social, and governance (ESG) disclosure requirements and reporting their impact on nature under a Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive. It is expected that at least 10,000 foreign companies will also be affected by the EU’s Sustainability Rules. California — a state in the forefront of sustainability — has legislated new laws that require large business entities to report emissions and prepare climate-related financial risk disclosures, and voluntarily disclose carbon offsets and net zero emission claims on their websites.
Workforce monitoring will increase. Hybrid and remote employees should also be more vigilant when they are working from home. It is widely accepted that companies that permit hybrid work are already using monitoring software to ensure employees are working productively at home. Increasingly, monitoring tools are being installed to ascertain whether they are reporting to work on the days they are required to be in office.
Increased globalisation and migration of workforce. With hybrid work becoming normative, corporates now have the option to hire people from around the world to recruit the best talent at best price. Geographical boundaries are slowly being eroded as the hunt for global talent acquires momentum. Advanced digital technologies enable global legal compliances and payroll management. Nevertheless international migration will accelerate as people from Africa and Latin America in particular, search for better opportunities. Willingness to migrate is particularly acute among youth.
Incremental workforce diversity. Workplace diversity provides a more robust talent pool, understands customer needs better, and enhances corporate profit. Companies are initiating conversations and discreet surveys that encourage employees to talk openly about racism, sexism, bias and prejudice in their workplaces. Women, disabled, and the LGBT communities will receive greater support as corporates become global and more inclusive.
In sum, 2024 is promising in terms of work-life balance, greater workplace diversity, incremental adoption of AI, and climate change practices. The trend will continue, revolutionising the workplace for future generations.
(Rajesh Mehta is a Delhi-based international investment consultant and Vasudha Badri-Paul is a Silicon Valley (USA)-based consultant)