Four Surprising Trends Impacting the Future of Work

Cheryl Cran

April 15, 2019

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There are four surprising trends impacting the future of work.

When we think of future of work, we often hear and think of AI and robots.

However, there are some surprising trends that are impacting the future of work that are all about real human value shifts. The reality of ‘technology fatigue’ is in full force. The pace of digital transformation has created many ‘change weary’ workers. There is a boomerang effect creating a desire for a workplace that is engaging and meaningful.

1. Mix of Nostalgia and Future Focus

With the influx of technology and automation many employers are seeking ways to help workers feel more connected and engaged. The trend of people seeking nostalgia is impacting the workplace too. For example, the same people who use Spotify and watch Netflix are also enjoying vinyl record players. The trend of mixing nostalgia with future is impacting work in that workers are looking for ways to ‘gather’ in a meaningful way. Storytelling is making a resurgence as employees seek to make meaning of their work. Leaders who deliver the snazzy PowerPoint presentations need to build ‘story’ into the narrative especially if the topic is about technology or digital transformation. An idea for the workplace is to provide a vinyl record player in the lunchroom and make it a team activity to choose ‘music’ of the hour.

2. Redefining “Masculine” and “Feminine”

In the workplace, the rules around what it means to be ‘male’ or ‘female’ are shifting. The future is about honoring the traits of gender and having a focus on integrating the attributes of masculine and feminine. For example, where being bold and aggressive is a ‘masculine’ quality it is a quality necessary in certain situations and can be attributed to men or women. Conversely, being sensitive and caring is a ‘feminine’ quality and in certain situations is a valuable approach used by both men and women. In the future, the focus will be on all attributes being integrated into a human approach regardless of gender. Redefining masculine and feminine helps to eliminate gender bias. In the past, ‘people skills’ were viewed as ‘soft or feminine’. People skills were seen as not as important as driving business, when in fact the future demands that leaders and teams have traditional masculine approaches such as driving business and elevated people skills.

3. Daily and Incremental Innovation Focus

With innovation a buzz word and a focus for many organizations, there has also been a backlash. A Workfront report found that many workers say they do not have time to innovate. The report also goes on to say that workers do not feel that employers provide opportunities for innovation. The focus is shifting from big innovation, which often results in workers thinking of building on what has been done in the past. The trend is toward workers building the daily innovation muscle. This means helping workers think of ways to create in real time during the job not as a separate activity. Shifting the focus of innovation as a concept into real daily action is a future trend impacting the future workplace.

4. Empathy at Work

The other human trend is the increase of emotional intelligence in the workplace. In the past, emotional intelligence was grouped in with people skills and was not seen as a necessary skill. In the future, he or she who has the ability to empathize, relate, and connect to people will have great advantage. The empathy trend is impacting companies as they compete to attract and retain workers. Everyone in the workplace benefits when workers have developed the ability to empathize. Empathy is the ability to view people and situations from a multiple perspectives approach. Eighty-seven percent of CEOs agree that companies’ financial results are linked to empathy.

These trends are directing the reality that people want to feel and be treated as human beings more now than ever before. While technology innovation continues to rapidly progress, equal attention needs to be paid to the impact on people. Leaders and companies that stay abreast of the human behavior trends will have the opportunity to stay ahead of the competition as it relates to attracting and keeping good people.

Cheryl Cran is a future-of-work expert and the founder of, a future-of-work research and consulting firm that helps leaders, teams, and entrepreneurs be future-ready.

She is the author of six books, including her new one due out at the end of 2018 titled
, NextMapping—How Great Leaders Inspire People to Create the Future of Work.

Opinions expressed by the author are not necessarily those of WITI.

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