Learning & Development, Technology

3 Key Workplace Trends for 2024

As we near 2024, business leaders and HR professionals are actively envisioning the upcoming year and strategizing to enhance their operations. No doubt many will be paying close attention to a number of emerging trends, with special interest in the push to end remote work, and the further integration of AI into workflows. However, success in business is not dictated by one’s ability to read and follow trends. Rather, it is reserved for those who understand trends, but make careful and fully informed decisions as to whether they’ll follow them or blaze their own path forward.

In this article, I’ll discuss a few emerging workplace trends and offer thoughts on their merits as well as potential drawbacks in the hopes of providing an informed starting point for making such decisions.

The Push to End Remote Work

As the memory of the COVID lockdown becomes increasingly distant, companies are losing their appetite for the permissive work-from-home policies that characterized 2020-2022. Many, in fact, are opting to terminate remote work altogether.

Blanket policies, however, are often neither smart nor beneficial. As with other sweeping mandates, organizations shouldn’t implement them unless they have stronger reasons than, say, the fact that their CEO thinks it’s a good idea. The potential benefits must be weighed against the risk of losing valuable talent or compromising employee satisfaction.

Executives may assume that requiring people to come to a physical office will produce superior work, both at an individual and team level. But consider a few counter-arguments:

  • Productivity. Despite indications that many managers believe productivity suffers due to remote work, some evidence suggests remote workers are often more productive than their office-based counterparts. Possible reasons for this may include fewer overall distractions and better time management, as well as less workplace stress. 
  • Better employee engagement. The improved work-life balance that often comes with remote work can help reduce burnout, leading to happier and more engaged employees.
  • Access to a wider talent pool. Rather than being limited to local talent or people willing to relocate, organizations can attract and retain top talent from around the world. If you’re hiring for positions experiencing talent shortages, this benefit of remote work can be particularly appealing.

So while it certainly is possible that for some organizations on-site work delivers better results, evidence suggests that in many scenarios this is not the case. Furthermore, allowing employees to work remotely can save organizations money on office space, utilities, and other expenses. One 2019 study even found that 34 percent of employees were willing to take a pay cut for a remote work position. This can be especially beneficial for small businesses or startups with limited resources.

Executives considering eliminating remote-work options should carefully way these benefits against the presumed costs before making any decision. Most organizations will find that a better course of option is to improve the dynamics of a hybrid workplace. Psychometric assessments can provide an excellent starting point offering insight into how people function in-person vs. on remote teams. The FIRO assessment, for example, sheds light on how people’s interpersonal needs may play out both remotely and in-person, allowing organizations to ensure they get the best performance out of remote and hybrid teams

AI and Technology

A year after the launch of ChatGPT, workers and companies are moving past the positive and negative hype and becoming acquainted with AI’s potential utility. With that said, there’s widespread agreement that, when misapplied, AI-based tools can do more harm than good. Organizations and HR professionals, therefore, must consider its costs and implications as they formulate policies regarding certain tools.

Here are some general points to consider:

  • Productivity. AI tools can help automate repetitive tasks, freeing up employees to focus on more complex and creative work. This can lead to increased productivity and efficiency.
  • Customer service. AI tools built on large language models such as OpenAI can help improve customer service by providing quick and accurate responses to customer inquiries. Their ability to scale may provide a particular advantage at times when website volume or levels of inquiries are much higher than normal.

These largely positive considerations, however, should be weighed against:

  • Costs. Implementing AI tools can be expensive. In addition to upfront investments in software, there will be costs associated with training employees to use these tools effectively.
  • Ethical considerations. Organizations must consider the ethical implications of using AI tools, including issues related to privacy, bias, and transparency. Organizations can quickly get into hot water if these tools are not used in a responsible and ethical manner.

For most companies the question is not a black and white “should we or should we not use AI” but rather, how do we implement AI tools in the most effective manner possible, mitigating any associated risk? I would submit that, despite the sophistication of these tools, human beings are still the most important asset possessed by any organization.

One of the first steps in implementing any AI-based tool should, therefore, involve fully understanding how such tools will affect employees and customers, and how they may react to them. One of the best approaches, when it comes to understanding how a change will affect people, involves use of psychometrically validated personality assessments. The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator® (MBTI®) assessment (MBTI), for example, offers insight into thought and behavior patterns and preferences that can be applied to an almost limitless number of scenarios (disclosure: my firm sells the MBTI assessment). As AI emerges as a workplace reality, understanding of personality type can help organizations better understand how employees are likely to most effectively engage with AI, and where problems may emerge.

A Greater Focus on Communication

While along with my first two predictions I presented both upsides and downsides, there’s not really any downside to improving communication within an organization. Here are some benefits of implementing a program to improve employee communication at work:

  • Increased employee engagement. Effective communication can help employees feel more connected to their work and their colleagues, leading to increased engagement and job satisfaction.
  • Improved productivity. Clear communication can help ensure that employees understand their roles and responsibilities, leading to improved productivity and efficiency.
  • Better collaboration. Effective communication can help teams work together more effectively, leading to better collaboration and more successful outcomes.
  • Reduced conflict. Good communication can help reduce misunderstandings and conflicts in the workplace, leading to a more productive work environment.
  • Increased innovation. Effective communication can help foster a culture of innovation by encouraging employees to share their ideas more freely.

Perhaps if there is a downside to improving communication, it’s that in some companies it requires overcoming significant barriers. If there is a golden rule for success in a communications strategy, it’s to never assume anything and to seek to understand the communication needs of each team or individual.

The importance of never assuming anything stems from the fact that people have wildly different communication preferences. Sometimes these differences are counterintuitive. However, personality assessment can also help to shed light on these differences and identify areas where misunderstandings are likely to arise.

In summary, successful companies in 2024 are likely to focus heavily on improving their communication strategies, thus fostering productivity, better outcomes from conflict, and a collaborative and innovative environment. They’ll pay attention to trends related to AI and remote work, but their own actions should be dictated by careful cost-benefit analysis rather than gut instinct or executive preferences.

John Hackston is Head of Thought Leadership at The Myers-Briggs Company and leader of the company’s Oxford-based research team.

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