Recent years have seen an exceptional awareness and prioritization of workplace culture by both employers and employees. Culture is a company’s “personality,” including the behavioral expectations, practices, and other norms that influence how people interact both internally and on its behalf. Ignore it at your own risk. Recent research by Hired found that company culture is the second most important factor candidates consider when considering whether to work for a company.
At the same time, workplace culture is being influenced by disparate factors in significant ways. Demographic shifts, diversity and inclusion initiatives, talent shortages, automation, evolving technology, and an onslaught of data are converging to create both immediate and long-term changes.
PwC chief people officer Mike Fenlon likens the changes to the cyberpunk writer William Gibson’s popular quote, “The future is already here. It’s just not evenly distributed,” he says. “What we’re seeing today will be dramatically, dramatically accelerated [in a decade].” Workplace culture will face some significant challenges and shifts by 2030. Here’s a taste of what the future holds.
Teams will be more diverse and inclusive than ever
As a shortage of knowledge workers forces organizations to cast a wider net for talent, tapping new regions or underutilized demographic segments, cultures will need to focus on inclusion to create harmonious, productive work environments. Teams may be more far-flung, have different backgrounds, and have varied communication preferences. Tech solutions will play a role in this culture shift, facilitating collaboration across time zones, providing accommodations for people with disabilities, and even helping managers conquer their own biases, Fenlon says.
Fenlon recently participated in CEO Action’s Check Your Blind Spots unconscious bias bus tour. Using virtual reality, gamification, and other tools, various exercises challenge user biases by encouraging them to think differently. Trying to convince people that they’re biased is a challenge–few people believe they are, Fenlon says. But when they’re in a situation where they see their own reactions, they can then figure out how to improve, he says. Such tools, as they evolve, will help both employees and leaders see where their biases or problematic behavior are and work to correct those issues, leading to more effective interaction and inclusive environments.
Being an effective communicator is going to be tougher
Finding employees and leaders with great communication skills is a perennial challenge for companies now. And our current workplaces don’t do much to cultivate these skills, says Allen Adamson, cofounder of marketing firm Metaforce and coauthor of Shift Ahead: How the Best Companies Stay Relevant in a Fast-Changing World. Open floor plans where employees work with noise-canceling headphones further erode communication skills, he says. “And if they need to talk to somebody right next to them, they’re more likely to text them than tap them on the shoulder.”
A decade from now, the communication skills gap will likely widen. In addition to voice, text, and video, advances in virtual reality (VR) will change the way people meet and interact, and being an effective communicator is going to include mastering various media. Adapting to and being adept at using multiple platforms is going to be essential, says Jeanne Meister, founding partner of Future Workplace, an HR advisory and research firm providing insights on the future of learning and working. And managing the platforms themselves in an inclusive way is going to be essential as workplaces become more diverse.
The trust factor will be trickier
As artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) permeate virtually every area of work, employers will have access to a great deal more data about employees, productivity, and work patterns. This transparency will allow employers to find ways to improve productivity, such as providing training in areas where employees seem to be struggling. However, such data will also lead to new concerns about privacy and trust, says industrial-organizational psychologist Steve Weingarden, PhD, founder of Innovators of Change, an HR consulting firm, and a faculty member at Wayne State University, where he teaches a course in organizational change.
“There’s always a challenge in making sure that the data we have is accurate,” he says. As a result, leaders will need to analyze and check data to ensure that they’re “reading” it correctly and balancing decisions about individual employees with their own knowledge. Employees will also need to feel that employers are safeguarding the data collected about them, so being transparent about how data is collected and used will be necessary to foster trust between the employer and employee, Fenlon adds.
Workers will always be upskilling
As technology automates more rote tasks and changes the jobs that need to be done by humans, it also creates anxiety about being “left behind,” Fenlon says. Workers and employers will need to partner to create lifelong learning pathways to keep pace with technology and other workplace developments.
As AI and ML change the nature of work, leaders who wish to retain their investment in talented employees will need to be explicit about their commitment to them. If 20% of a job is being taken over by an AI solution, “I want to know what the commitment is of the organization to ‘upskill’ me so that I continue to have a job,” Meister says. Building confidence to overcome the nagging fear about being replaced by technology will be an essential cultural strength in companies with strong retention rates.
As skill development, learning and development, and diversity and inclusion become more urgent needs for companies seeking talent, chief human resources officers (CHROs) will find their roles elevated as well, Fenlon says.
Effective work spaces may make offices popular again
Culture is also affected by the spaces in which people work, says Elina Cardet, associate principal at architecture and design firm Perkins + Will in the firm’s Miami office. Backlash against open-space floor plans is causing some companies to create more flexible, thoughtfully designed workplaces that facilitate employees’ workflow and needs, she says. Redesigns will include more private spaces and work stations that facilitate concentration and deep work. As connected tools and environmental controls get “smarter”–controlling everything from lighting and noise levels to temperature–offices will be optimized for employee performance and comfort.
In addition, accommodations will need to be made as technology advances. The firm recently redesigned its own office to include virtual reality lounge. Perkins + Will already has a virtual reality app that allows users to view the environments it has created. It recently added a VR lounge to one of its offices to create an immersive experience for clients.
Beautiful spaces that have exceptional technology and facilitate work may even attract more remote workers back to the office on a regular basis, she says. Technology allows people to work from anywhere, “but you have to come together,” she says. “To really build your brand and your culture, you cannot just have everyone [working] remotely.”
If technology develops as expected and is used properly, inclusion, trust, and investment in employees will drive workplace culture in a decade. Employers will need to embrace transparency and build long-term relationships with employees to create cultures employees seek out and don’t want to leave.