Current Issue
This Month's Print Issue

Follow Fast Company

We’ll come to you.

5 minute read

The Future of Work

6 Ways Work Will Change In 2016

Workplace trends for 2016 will be set in large part by what's happening in the freelance world right now.

[Photo: Ed Gregory via Stokpic]

Most major workplace trends don’t evolve overnight, and if you know where to look, you can already witness their approach.

Many of the trends that will come into focus in 2016 already exist today, but their significance is expected to grow and become mainstream in the year to come.

While such trends used to be set by the world’s largest companies, today many are championed by the smallest. Freelancers and independent employees need to stay ahead of future needs to ensure they are up to date with the most in-demand skills. Therefore, activity in the freelance market often serves as an early indication of the growing needs of traditional businesses.

At the same time, large organizations today are under greater threat of disruption, requiring early adoption and a heightened awareness of the surrounding business environment.

Here are some of the workplace trends that are expected to have far-reaching effects in 2016, from the boardrooms of Fortune 500 companies to the home offices, cafes, and coworking spaces of the freelance economy.

Remote-First Businesses

In recent years, many companies have become "remote friendly," but in 2016, that paradigm will shift towards companies that are built to be mobile from inception.

Enabled by advancements in communication technology, the remote-first structure provides a variety of conveniences. For example, research by online freelance marketplace Upwork suggests that finding and onboarding talent in the brick-and-mortar world takes an average of 43 days, compared with three days in the virtual world.

"Companies who are looking for an edge, looking for the best talent, and they see they can hire someone in three days, that's where you see companies building remote-first workforces," says Rich Pearson, the senior vice president of marketing and categories at Upwork. "Communication tools are the bedrock to enable this, but we're seeing some inspiration in how companies are being formed."

"You can create a virtual company today very, very easily," adds Josh Bersin, who founded his research and analyst firm, Bersin, as a virtual company in 2002, before Deloitte acquired it three years ago. "Organizations really aren't companies, they're like networks of teams. Even big companies are being reorganized like this. Everybody is working with a team that is somehow connected to another team, and that team may or may not be inside the company. "

The Rise Of Independent Consultants

While traditional IT consulting firms are experiencing a slowdown in growth, the number of businesses hiring independent consultants for large IT projects on Upwork has grown 22% in the last year.

The transition, according to Pearson, has been ushered in by the availability of highly specialized consultants—which were previously only found in large consulting firms—within the freelance market.

"You have these pools of talent that are available, who are ready to work on demand," he says. "We're actually seeing Fortune 500 companies engaging with us. We've got large brands using us to help them move faster and access really discrete skills."

Pearson adds that there will always be a place for large consulting firms, especially when it comes to major projects like mergers and acquisitions, but the market is also quickly growing for independent consultants.

Less PowerPoint, More Video

"Presenter," which was renamed PowerPoint by Microsoft in 1990, has remained the standard presentation tool ever since. But in 2015, demand for PowerPoint skills was down 5% on Upwork, while projects on dynamic presentation platforms like Prezi and Keynote grew by 23% and 18%, respectively. The site also witnessed a more than 115% increase in demand for Adobe After Effects and motion graphics skills.

Static presentations are quickly being replaced by motion graphics, while video is becoming a preferred presentation medium over images and infographics.

"The costs for doing video have dropped dramatically, and we're seeing a shift from infographics to video," said Pearson.

"It's true that video is becoming the new medium. It's sort of replacing photos, slowly," adds Bersin, who is now the principal and founder of Bersin by Deloitte. "Little by little, videos are catching up."

Work-Life Balance Revisited

In recent years, the emphasis on work-life balance has hinged on the life side of the equation, with companies providing more flexibility to allow their employees to better manage their time. As employees are given more freedom, however, there is a new expectation to be always on, always responsive, and always available, leading to a more overwhelmed workforce.

"Tech has eliminated the barriers between work and life, and we're getting more and more information, news, emails, and conference calls every day, and people can't deal with it," says Bersin. "Employers are trying to figure out how to make work easier and more meaningful to people, to attract both the very ambitious people that want to really move up and drive change and run things, and the people who want to work hard but not ruin their lives."

New Leadership Expectations

Leaders have traditionally been selected based on experience and company loyalty, but those leading today’s biggest organizations aren’t necessarily those who have spent the most time climbing the corporate latter. That’s because the very nature of management has drastically changed in recent years, resulting in a new set of expectations for those at the top.

"Most companies, even big companies, are much less hierarchal and much less top-down in their execution than they used to be," says Bersin. "Leaders are finding that they have to be more inspirational, they have to be more collaborative. The traditional approach to performance management and performance appraisals is being revolutionized, they're throwing away ratings, they're putting in systems to provide feedback, and the gap that's being created is, 'Who are the right leaders?'"

Consumer-Grade Design As The New Normal

While design has remained a focal point for consumer products, the proliferation of well-designed tools, devices, and applications is creating new expectations on the enterprise. In the coming years, there will be a renewed focus on design in places where it hasn’t traditionally been an area of consideration, such as HR and IT.

"The way it works now is everything on the consumer Internet is really easy to use, and everything inside the company is hard to use. That doesn't work anymore," says Bersin. "Design is important in consumer products because it entices people to buy things, but at work we have too much noise and distraction every day, so we need well-designed tools, well-designed systems, apps, all that stuff at work."

Related: What's The Future Of Innovation?