Throughout this year, I’ve been carefully observing the seismic shifts in the realm of work, spurred by ongoing economic uncertainties and the rapidly evolving technology landscape. Both of these factors has made it unusually challenging this year to anticipate the forthcoming trends and paint a clear picture of the future of work in 2024. Yet, amid the turbulence, I believe the pivotal shifts have begun to crystallize, illuminating the path ahead in the digital workplace, as workplaces continue to traverse the top-level shift to hybrid work.
Two closely-watched reports this year, the McKinsey Global Institute’s “The Future of Work After COVID-19” and the World Economic Forum’s “Future of Jobs Report 2023,” have unveiled significant insights about the trends I’ve observed in 2023 that will undeniably mold the digital workplace in 2024. Accordingly, I note that there has been three major shifts: A significant surge in the adoption of advanced technologies in the workspace, a heightened focus on employee well-being, and especially the rise of remote and hybrid work models. These priorities are not only reshaping our present work environment but also setting the stage for a more digitized, flexible, and employee-centric future.
As we gear up for 2024 and as I having budget conversations with CIOs and digital workplace teams, it’s becoming increasingly evident how these key shifts will unfold into next year’s trends. The accelerated adoption of AI, machine learning, and data analytics will continue to automate tasks of every kind, giving employees the liberty to engage in more strategic and creative endeavors.
On the other hand, the continued commitment to employee happiness (typically viewed through the lens of retention activities), coupled with the rapid expansion of remote and still largely-unproven hybrid work models, will ultimately cultivate a more inclusive and flexible work environment, even though we largely aren’t there yet. These progressive transformations will empower employees, drive productivity, and can genuinely foster a culture of innovation and resilience for those that embrace them. As we embark on next year’s journey, leaders and workers both will need to keep an open mind, adapt, and learn, for the future of work in 2024 actually holds great promise and potential in its uncertainty.
What Will 2024 Hold When It Comes to Digital Workplace and Employee Experience?
I’ve identified eight trends that I believe will be the most overarching and important for organizations to grapple with successfully. While there are more trends than this, if organizations just buy down progress towards most of these eight in a meaningful way next year, it will be a definitive win for them, given so many simultaneous threads that IT, HR, and digital workplace teams currently face.
The following are the eight trends most likely to make a real difference and improve not just the quality of digital employee of experience but provide substantial business benefits to those that adopt them. They will also aid in attraction and retention of leading talent next year, probably the most important issue of all.
1. AI Work-Enablement
Since ChatGPT entered the work landscape late last year, I’ve been closely observing the paradigm shifts created by the rapid rise of generative artificial intelligence. The myriad capabilities AI brings to the workforce are expansive and truly transformational. Yet, as with any potent technological advancement, it also presents its unique set of challenges. Over the next two years, I believe we’re poised to witness the true essence of AI’s potential and the ways it will enable and empower the workforce.
Firstly, AI is set to enhance the tactical efficiency and productivity of our workforces by automating repetitive tasks. AI will thus liberate workers from mundane duties, providing them more time to engage in strategic and creative undertakings. This reallocation of human capital to areas where they truly shine is likely to significantly boost productivity and job satisfaction. On the flip side, this shift will necessitate reskilling and upskilling efforts, to prepare workers for these elevated roles.
Furthermore, AI is set to revolutionize decision-making processes. With advanced analytics and prediction capabilities, AI can offer managers and executives crucial insights that drive more informed and strategic decisions. However, the challenge lies in maintaining the right balance between human intuition and AI-guided decision-making, ensuring we don’t compromise on the human touch in our operations.
Lastly, the advent of AI in the workplace promises more personalized and effective training and development programs. Leveraging AI’s ability to adapt to individual learning patterns, businesses can create personalized training content that resonates with every worker. Yet, the successful implementation of such systems requires robust infrastructure and careful data privacy considerations.
Accenture’s seminal report on AI, “Reworking the Revolution“, further supports these observations, underscoring that AI, if used strategically, holds the potential to boost business revenues by an estimated 38% and employment by 10%. In short, AI’s advent in the workforce presents both exciting opportunities and substantial challenges. As our workplaces venture into this new era, we must strive to maximize its benefits while consciously navigating its hurdles. That said, I’m also seeing real reservations about blindly deployed generative AI in the workplace. I’ll be releasing some new data on this topic soon.
My Related Research: How Generative AI Has Supercharged the Future of Work
2. Delivering on the Promise of Digital Employee Experience
As we venture deeper into the digital era, it is becoming apparent that crafting robust and usable digital employee experiences isn’t merely an option, it’s now a necessity. Work is digital, today. While we have made significant strides in this arena, there’s still significant work to be done in most organizations, especially when it comes to integration, design, analytics feedback loops, support for hybrid work, and of course, the integration of AI.
When it comes to integration, we need to create more unified digital workplace environments that promotes seamless interaction between different systems and tools. The goal should be to ensure that the digital workplace mirrors the interconnectedness of tasks in the physical workspace. However, integration is a challenging endeavor, especially considering the vast array of tools and platforms in use today. Nevertheless, the benefits — improved workflow, enhanced productivity, and reduced redundancy — are worth the effort. Achieving this is also far easier now due to recent technical advances.
Design, on the other hand, demands a far more empathetic user-centric approach than we’ve typically used in digital workplace or employee experience. We need to ensure that our digital tools are not just functional, but also intuitive and aesthetically pleasing. Poorly designed digital work experiences can lead to inefficiencies and frustration among employees, hindering rather than promoting productivity. However, good design can increase user adoption and satisfaction, making the digital workplace a more engaging and productive environment. I also see that, as EX and CX efforts blur, CX-style journey mapping is appearing more often in digital workplace design.
We also need to improve our feedback loops from analytics. Organizations are collecting vast amounts of data, but most efforts are not leveraging it as effectively as they could be. With better analytics feedback loops, organizations can gain more insights into employee behavior and preferences, allowing them to refine our digital tools and strategies to better meet their needs.
Finally, we must not overlook the specific needs of hybrid work. The digital tools we provide need to support remote work as effectively as they support in-office work. This might include features for remote collaboration, project management, and even social interaction.
In a recent report by Harvard Business Review, the importance of all these factors is reinforced. It highlights that a thoughtfully designed digital workplace can enhance employee engagement, productivity, and satisfaction, ultimately driving business growth. As we look forward to 2024, it is essential to tackle these challenges head-on, to fully harness the potential of the digital workplace. For many of us, it’s vital to finish a job that started when COVID remade the workplace suddenly and dramatically in 2020.
3. Autonomous Business Digitization and Operations
As we move deeper into the world of automation in the workplace, we stand on the cusp of a revolution characterized by pervasive automation and something known as hyperautomation. The very way we perceive and conduct work is poised for a transformative shift, driven primarily by democratized platforms and AI-enabled automation. These emerging technologies are set to rethink operations across industries. This will catalyze efficiency, productivity, and innovation in the process.
One of the critical levers of this impending revolution is the democratization of a new generation of automation platforms, especially those built around the model of low code. These platforms aim to make automation accessible to everyone, regardless of their technical expertise. By employing user-friendly interfaces and intuitive design, these platforms enable workers across all levels of an organization to design and implement automated processes. This form of democratized automation could profoundly enhance operational efficiency and empower employees to take greater control over their work processes. However, the challenge lies in ensuring adequate training and cultivating a culture of acceptance and adoption. This is not a theory about what might come. I’m seeing this actively in my practice, as I’ve been exploring recently.
AI-enabled automation is another major force in this automation revolution. It takes automation to the next level by allowing systems to learn from data, adapt to changing circumstances, and make intelligent decisions. From predictive maintenance in manufacturing to intelligent customer service in retail, AI-enabled automation is reshaping operations across many sectors. Yet, it brings its own set of challenges. Ethical considerations, data privacy concerns, and the fear of job displacement are some hurdles that we need to navigate conscientiously.
Hyperautomation extends automation beyond routine tasks to adaptively encompass more complex operations. By combining AI, machine learning, robotic process automation (RPA), and other advanced technologies, hyperautomation aims to automate almost any repetitive task. The benefits are immense, including cost savings, enhanced accuracy, and freeing up employees for more strategic tasks. However, hyperautomation requires significant upfront investment and ongoing maintenance, which can be a deterrent for some organizations. Day-to-day IT operations and business operations will be most transformed by this trend.
4. Improved Digital Onboarding and Adoption
Digital transformation continues to sweep across the business landscape, with most organizations hovering between early successes and just building a head of steam according to my CIO surveys. In this era of rapid change, improving digital employee onboarding and sustaining momentum through digital adoption platforms is becoming increasingly critical to move quickly in getting newly hired/contracted workers adapting and existing ones better absorbing change. These two focus areas present the ripest untapped opportunities, or the “low hanging fruit,” for organizations to improve the immediate impact of the digital workplace on workers as they initially come on board and progress through their worker lifecycle.
A smooth and effective digital onboarding process is essential in setting the right tone for a worker’s journey in an organization. In a digital workspace, traditional onboarding methods typically fall short, making it imperative for organizations to design a more tailored, interactive, and digitally adept onboarding experience. This not only ensures that new hires are well-acquainted with the digital tools and processes they will be using, but also boosts their confidence, productivity, and job satisfaction right from the start.
The benefits of digital onboarding extend beyond the initial phase of a worker’s journey. A strong start sets the stage for continued growth and productivity, leading to higher employee engagement and reduced turnover. However, to sustain this momentum and ensure employees continue to use digital tools effectively, organizations must invest in digital adoption platforms, the easiest way to keep them climbing the learning and productivity curve
Digital adoption platforms provide ongoing support and learning to employees, helping them to understand and utilize digital tools effectively. These platforms typically use interactive guides and in-app support to provide real-time assistance, reducing the learning curve and enhancing user engagement. The benefits include improved productivity, higher user adoption rates, reduced support costs, and an overall improved digital experience.
In a world where the digital workplace is becoming the norm, focusing on these aspects can provide organizations with a significant return on investment. Not only do they enhance the employee experience, but they also increase the overall efficiency and effectiveness of the digital workplace, leading to substantial improvements in organizational performance.
My related research: Digital Adoption Platforms ShortList
5. Getting More Results with Hybrid Work
As we continue to navigate through our new, more distributed organizations, we are learning from early experiments, refining our approach, and adjusting our hybrid work models and culture. The goal is clear: To balance and optimize work from anywhere for productivity and well-being. However, the path to achieving this balance is still fraught with challenges and demands innovative thinking, strategic planning, and a willingness to adapt.
One of the key issues with hybrid work is maintaining a cohesive and inclusive culture. In a hybrid work environment, which most organizations are today, fostering a sense of belonging and maintaining consistent communication can be challenging. To overcome this, organizations are leveraging technology to create virtual water cooler moments and maintain regular touchpoints with their teams. The lessons learned in the industry point towards the significance of empathy and understanding in leading remote teams. Virtual team building activities, regular check-ins, and open communication channels can help maintain a strong team dynamic. Visual collaboration is also becoming a leading tool for bringing teams closer together, and I’ll have a report out soon taking a look at this.
Another challenge is managing productivity and work-life balance. The lines between work and personal life can blur in a hybrid setup, leading to burnout and reduced productivity. Organizations are learning to set clear boundaries and expectations, while also providing flexibility to employees. Tools for project management, time tracking, and productivity analytics are being employed to monitor and enhance productivity without infringing on personal time.
Lastly, the physical and mental well-being of employees has come into sharp focus in a hybrid work setup. This has highlighted the need for robust wellness programs and mental health support. The benefits of addressing these challenges are very non-trivial. Apart from improved productivity and employee satisfaction, a well-managed hybrid work model can attract and retain top talent, reduce overhead costs, and foster innovation.
In the face of these challenges, organizations must continue to learn and adapt in 2024, refining their hybrid work models, while leveraging technology and feedback to create a balanced and effective work-from-anywhere culture. The journey has been and will continue to be challenging, but the potential rewards make it a worthwhile endeavor, and mutually reinforce several of the other trends on this list.
My Related Research: What Leading Vendors Are Doing About Hybrid Work
6. Shifting Towards More Dynamic Work and Careers
As we journey further into the digital age, the very nature of employment is undergoing a profound shift. Traditional career paths are giving way to more dynamic, fluid, and personalized models. Both the nature of a career and work assignments themselves are evolving to be more gig-centric and marketplace-based, ushering in a new era of on-demand work. This shift is not only changing the way we work, but it’s also fundamentally reshaping the concept of a career itself.
Gig-centric and marketplace-based work models provide a greater degree of flexibility and control to workers. They can choose projects that best align with their skills, interests, and work-life balance. This is a stark contrast to traditional models where the trajectory of a career was largely pre-determined and rigid. The gig economy offers an element of dynamism, enabling workers to continually reinvent their career paths based on their evolving interests and life circumstances.
On the flip side, this shift also benefits employers. They get access to a diverse talent pool equipped with the latest skills. Furthermore, workers in the gig economy are often highly engaged because they choose projects they are genuinely interested in. This can result in improved productivity and innovative outcomes. I’ve examined the data from several hundred white collar gig economy projects in a rigorous analysis and these points are borne out in hard data. While the shift is very uneven, I’ve seen IT and professional work in particular shift steadily towards this model in recent years, and a cottage industry of white collar gig marketplaces form.
Yet, this new career model also comes with challenges. Issues around job security, benefits, and the lack of a predictable income are areas of concern. Addressing these concerns will require reimagining labor laws and employment practices. Despite these challenges, the shift towards a more dynamic, marketplace-centric, and on-demand model of work is gaining momentum. As we embrace this new reality, it’s clear that the future of work is not just about where and how we work, but also about the very nature of what we consider a career.
7. Proactive Management of EX and CX in a More Unified Model
The digital age has unleashed a multitude of transformations in the business landscape, a key one of which is the increasing overlap between customer experience and employee experience. Although I’ve projected it for a long while, as organizations chart their course into 2024, I’m finally seeing this emerging companies are preemptively managing both realms in a more unified way. The recognition is growing that an enhanced employee experience is not just a perk, it directly translates into improved customer satisfaction and loyalty. Never mind that from a brand, design, development, platforms, and orchestration perspective, it make great sense to coordinate the efforts.
As we’ve seen in our annual AXS conference, which I help chair, organizations are now recognizing that the experiences and engagement levels of their employees can significantly impact the customer experience they deliver. It’s not just that employee experience is used to deliver a great deal of customer experience. It’s that engaged employees who feel valued, respected, and supported are more likely to exhibit a higher level of commitment and dedication to their roles, resulting in better service to customers. It’s the basic principle of internal service quality: Treat your employees well and they, in turn, will treat your customers well.
In the past, challenges in achieving this included disparate data sources, inadequate technology, and the lack of a cohesive strategy to link employee experience with customer experience. However, recent advancements in AI, data analytics, and digital experience and integration platforms are overcoming these hurdles. These tools are providing insights into both customer and employee experiences, enabling organizations to identify gaps, implement changes, and monitor the impact in real-time.
I predict 2024 will be a banner year for this approach. The convergence of employee experience and customer experience is poised to create a win-win situation: Happier employees, satisfied customers, and consequently, successful organizations. It’s an exciting time for businesses willing to embrace this holistic approach to experience management, signaling a major shift in their strategic focus. As we move forward, this blurring of lines between the customer and employee experiences is expected to create a more harmonious and productive business environment.
8. Worker Flexibility and Inclusion
In 2024, workplace flexibility and inclusion will continue to strongly emerged as two intertwined leading trends. Each of these are shaping the future of work and are, in essence, redefining how we perceive and interact within our workplaces. The workplaces of the future will span increasingly broader human and technology dimensions, accommodating not only hybrid workers in highly distributed environments but also individuals from a vast array of diverse backgrounds.
Workplace flexibility, empowered by advances in digital technologies and collaborative tools, has been a key driver for the shift towards hybrid working models. This shift has offered workers the freedom to tailor their work schedules and environments to best suit their needs, thereby enhancing productivity, engagement, and well-being. In parallel, we are witnessing an increased focus on diversity and inclusion. Companies are recognizing the value of a diverse workforce and are making concerted efforts to create an inclusive culture where everyone feels valued and heard.
The confluence of these trends is creating a workplace ecosystem that is not only flexible but also inclusive, fostering more dynamic, innovative, and representative teams. In this model, team members are not bound by their geographical locations, and the collaboration occurs across time zones and cultural boundaries. This fluidity of collaboration brings together diverse perspectives, sparking innovation, and driving growth.
The fly in the ointment is that business leaders and workers are often far apart on the flexibility of work issue, which then curtails the diversity element, preventing many from joining into workplaces that lack needed flexibility, which can be well-provided by our digital workplace technologies like never before.
As we step into 2024, we’re still have work to do to realize the possibilities that these two combined trends can bring, as well as overcoming the challenges we face in realizing them. The fusion of workplace flexibility and inclusion promises to unlock immense potential. The transformation will have real challenges, but with a forward-thinking mindset and a commitment to embracing change, companies are gearing up to create workplaces that are a melting pot of ideas, innovation, and inclusivity.
The Future of Work in 2024: The Transformation Depends on Us
As we cast our eyes to next year, I can see a landscape of immense potential and change. The realms of work and employment are being reshaped, driven by rapid advancements in emerging technology, evolving socio-economic trends, and a collective reimagining of what work can and should be, and given a solid push by the rather different Gen-Z expectations of work.
The tech shifts will continue to arrive at a rapid pace: AI will increasingly empower our workforce, transforming the digital workplace and enhancing the employee experience. The advent of a gig-centric, marketplace-based work model is redefining the concept of a career, giving rise to a new era of on-demand work. The convergence of customer and employee experiences is creating more harmonious and productive business environments, while the intertwining of workplace flexibility and inclusion is paving the way for more dynamic, innovative, and representative teams. What’s not to like?
Yet, amid this hopeful outlook, resilience is as important as ever. The transformations that lie ahead will not be without their challenges, including “legacy mountain”, talent shortages, and technical debt. The ability to adapt will be crucial. There will be hurdles to overcome, lessons to be learned, and adjustments to be made. But as recent history has shown us, we are more than capable of rising to the occasion. The future of work in 2024 promises to be a fascinating journey, marked by a new high water mark of innovation, inclusivity, and unprecedented change. Unlike the years of recent disruption, for those organizations willing to make sufficient commitment, there is a great deal of potential to be captured next year.
My Related Research