Looking back on the future of work in 2016

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When it comes to the future of work, there’s a lot of trial and error involved – technology and trends move quickly, and what seems foolproof one year is obsolete the next. Yet, as the year in work in 2016 comes to a close, we can take stock at the progress made and differentiate the fads from the true solutions. Twitter

Recurring themes can be observed in the world of work in 2016, with some of the most significant changes in three areas in particular: workspaces, employee satisfaction, and the rise of the gig economy.

Innovation in workspaces

The traditional office setup of closed spaces and cubicles has long made the way of the dinosaur. We’re now seeing new, refreshing solutions to the workspace that promote mobility and collaboration.

Take for instance the remodeling of adidas’ headquarters PITCH, consisting of three floors each featuring different workspace concepts. The entire building functions as a mega testing ground, where employees can move freely throughout the day to experiment with different workflows and find their most efficient rhythms.

Coworking spaces – open offices shared by workers of all stripes, from freelancers to employees – have been popping up in cities all over the world, too. They’re a great solution for those looking to work in a more professional setting that provides the usual necessities like desks and wifi, as well as a sense of camaraderie and support. As a concept, they’ve been steadily evolving, offering out-of-the-box solutions for the unconventional worker. Coboat, for example, has set up a floating office on a catamaran, carrying freelancers and entrepreneurs alike to inspiring destinations.

The Happiness Factor

Employee happiness has become an essential asset to work in 2016. More than ever, employees are looking for deep satisfaction with their work, as well as a more meaningful connection with their companies.

In order to facilitate this, companies can focus on work-life balance in a different way. Now, that doesn’t necessarily mean keeping work and private life completely separate from each other. Instead, it’s about being aware of employee values and understanding how company values can be more aligned with them. That could mean keeping company ideals and missions transparent, creating an office culture that places employees first, or offering extra flexibility and non-monetary rewards.

A step towards flexibility that many companies have taken, like Apple and Oracle, is allowing employees to work remotely from either home or (the aforementioned) coworking spaces. Meanwhile, flextime has also been adopted by other companies, like MIT, leaving scheduling up to employees so that work revolves around their own needs and not the other way around. By shifting focus from the means to the ends, these companies show great confidence in their teams, which proves their appreciation and trust.

And these very types of adjustments contribute greatly to employee happiness:

happiness at work in 2016

In showing employees that they’re being taken care of, companies that dedicate ample time and resources to their wellness are sure to attract and retain top talent, and in turn see an increase in both engagement and productivity.

The Rise of the Gig Economy

Tying in closely with the concept of flexibility is the rise of the gig economy. Seduced by its perceived freedom, workers have been turning away from companies to focus their own personal goals, schedules, and work habits as freelancers or on-demand employees. In fact,  the number of freelancers in the United States alone rose from 53.7 million to 55 million this year, making up 35% of its workforce.

Yet, while this may sound detrimental to companies, they have as much to gain from this newfound “freedom.” Companies can benefit from motivated workers with a variety of specializations and backgrounds and see a higher quality of output. As such, companies have been responding accordingly, pushing for outside consultants, freelancers, and contract workers for different assignments. You don’t have to look far for an example of how this kind of setup could work: jovoto, for example, leads conversations between companies and a community of 80 000 creative professionals through crowdstorms to come up with ideas for different projects.

Now, there are some downsides to this particular perk – when work is dictated by fickle demands, it leads to unpredictable dry spells that could leave freelancers scrambling. Plus, some jobs just benefit from longevity; Glassdoor’s chief economist, Andrew Chamberlain states:

“The fastest growing jobs today are ones that require human creativity, flexibility, judgment, and ‘soft skills.’ That list includes health care professionals, data scientists, sales leaders, strategy consultants, and product managers. Those are exactly the kind of jobs least likely to function well in a gig economy platform.” Twitter

Companies that can sustain this setup, like jovoto, position themselves in between these two dynamics, with employees leading strategies and projects, and freelancers working assignment-to-assignment according their skillset and interests. Striking this balance can keep this system working long-term.

Studying the developments in work in 2016 can hopefully lead into an even more successful 2017, where companies and workers can come together to create a new future of work. jovoto is especially proud to take part in the conversation through the ForeWork initiative and help facilitate the progress in developing new ideas that can improve company and employee experiences. Twitter

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Anna Piazza

Anna is a digital nomad living the future of work today, traveling and working through the US, Italy, and Germany as a corporate storyteller.