5 Trends Influencing the Workplace

Offices everywhere are undergoing significant transformations driven by societal changes and technological advancements. For organizations to thrive, it’s essential for leaders and employees alike to understand what changes are occurring, as well as the implications for the ways people work.

Here, we will explore 5 trends that are reshaping the modern workplace. Every trend presents new opportunities for companies. They range from sustainability to generational shifts and rapidly advancing technology. Learning more about these trends isn’t about staying up to date on what’s popular—it’s about helping organizations adapt and innovate to the best of their ability.

1. Sustainable Materials Invoke Emotional Response

The materials used to make products today are a hot topic in sustainability. We understand that shifting to more sustainable materials is essential for meeting organizational goals. However, the trend we are seeing in materiality is not only around environmental impact, but how sustainable materials invoke emotional connections.

A good material isn’t just good for the planet, but also aesthetically pleasing. Reclaimed timber and bamboo are trending because they connect us to nature, and people understand them to be sustainable. Hemp and straw are natural materials that tend to be locally abundant, easy to use, and can be turned into something beautiful.  

Metals are also trending in this direction. Grungy and unfinished metallic looks are in. Aluminum is the main material considered here, for its cost and reusability. Metallic finishes, in general, are popular because they offer the opportunity to create an ethereal or iridescent vibe, triggering the kind of emotional connection that companies are looking for.

2. Learning from the Air Travel Industry

Improving the emotional experience of space is a key theme, with companies in a variety of industries aiming to make their spaces more inviting and welcoming. Airlines and airports, for example, are working hard to make their spaces and experiences more desirable.  

Much like the feelings many people have around commuting and working in the office today, the popular sentiment toward air travel is that it has become too cumbersome and an emotional burden. The spaces and their offerings are simply not appealing or inviting enough to entice people to experience them.

To reverse this trend, the air travel industry is aiming to improve the emotional experience—something workplaces are seeking as well. Creating strong elements of attraction through amenities and design within the workplace will fuel employees’ desire to be there.

In the air travel industry, we’re seeing an increase in luxury experiences, both in flight and at the airport. More amenities are being made available closer to or within the airport, creating a place where people are more willing to spend their time—even when plans go awry.

From a design perspective, biophilia and natural materials are important in transforming what have been sterile spaces into lively, green places that support the physical and mental well-being of travelers. This biophilic approach offers the same benefits to employees in the workplace. Additionally, the air travel industry is working to create more spaces that specifically accommodate commuters looking to settle in and get some work done. Workplaces can learn from this by transforming their environments in similar ways—offering comfortable, supportive spaces for a variety of activities.   

Finally, airlines are pushing to improve accessibility, not just for those with physical disabilities but mental and cognitive issues as well. Just as work can be stressful, traveling can be very stressful for those with hidden disabilities. Some airlines are allowing neurodivergent children to experience the airport and airplanes days before their trip to reduce anxiety. Others have offered tools and guides for autistic passengers to feel more comfortable when flying. Consider how workplaces can provide resources to anxious employees, which might put them at ease regarding their commutes or time spent at work.  

3. Changing Times & Time Shifting

New patterns are emerging in the way people spend their time during the week, splitting work and personal time in new, non-traditional ways. Remote and hybrid work have driven a significant trend toward the development of a late-afternoon economy, for both practical and personal reasons.

The primary drivers for this time shift are things like childcare, running errands, and chores. People are no longer stuck in the office until 5 o’clock, 5 days a week, which gives them more schedule flexibility. In fact, research shows that workers are leaving the office earlier to tend to key personal needs. With a new perspective on work-life balance, it’s possible for employees to fit in appointments or important errands in the middle of the day. In turn, people are more willing to return to work in the evening to finish the day’s tasks and answer some emails.

As people continue to value control over their own time and schedules, Monday and Friday are now frequently spent working from home. And, many organizations are seeing the bulk of their business done Tuesday through Thursday. In essence, the traditional system of Monday through Friday work has largely been upended, and new norms around the best times to accomplish tasks have been established.

4. Gen Z’s Impact on the Workplace

Between the pandemic, climate change, and a general sense of global instability, Generation Z’s behavior is being heavily impacted by the world around them. Like older generations, Gen Z is primarily concerned with the cost of living right now, even more so than topics like climate change and social justice.Growing up in this world of uncertainty and coping with constant change has meant that Gen Z is increasingly driven by pragmatism and practicality. A knock-on effect of all this change is that Gen Z has little affinity for tradition or doing things the way they’ve always been done. They see a reality where falling in line and following traditional life paths haven’t delivered success.Gen Z has also experienced delayed maturation—caused largely by educational and social effects of the pandemic. As a result, Gen Z is increasingly reliant on their parents—both financially and behaviorally—in a way that the last few generations have not been. This has affected Gen Z’s perception of work and finances, with the idea of reaching adult milestones feeling unattainable.Gen Z’s work behaviors are exemplified by the social media trend “Act Your Wage,” which encourages people to work only to the stated, expected level—without going above and beyond. This is again related to Gen Z’s pragmatism and life experiences: consistent economic disruption and a deep distrust of corporations. As such, Gen Z sees work as a simple transactional obligation between employee and employer—no more and no less.

5. Embracing New Technologies

Technology trends continue to evolve at an extremely rapid pace. Today, much of the debate centers around artificial intelligence and its role in the workplace.

In the United States, there is a lot of discussion around both the safety and legal aspects of AI usage. Not only are organizations trying to figure out how AI can help them improve their products, services, and employee productivity; they are also concerned about issues like copyright and intellectual property. States all over the country are deciding on the appropriate level of government oversight and the restrictions and protections that should surround AI and its outputs.

Along similar lines, digital privacy and security have once again come to the forefront of conversation. Many organizations have an interest in how AI can help unite people, which serves as a positive focus in an otherwise contentious topic. Staying up to date on the latest developments around AI is important for any business, regardless of its size.  

Many people thought that virtual and alternate reality tools were deemed impractical too soon. With the release of Apple’s Vision Pro headset, it’s clear that there is still a future for VR and AR technologies, even if the ones we saw during the pandemic may have been too ripe. While the technology is still somewhat limited, it’s a tremendous leap forward in ease of use for the consumer. Like AI, these new technologies will be an important consideration for certain companies in determining ways to improve their solution offerings.

An Evolving Landscape

The evolving landscape of work presents a whole host of opportunities for businesses and organizations to capitalize upon. With sustainability, we see that organizations are seeking an emotional response from their eco-conscious material choices. Furthermore, the emphasis on improved hospitality builds on this desire for emotional comfort and experiences. This is a fundamental shift toward the prioritization of employee well-being and satisfaction—creating a workplace that values the employee experience.  
The rise of new time structures and advancements in technology are also poised to change traditional work structures, offering greater flexibility and efficiency to their workers. Embracing these changes is crucial. It helps businesses stay competitive and adaptable in the fast-changing global economy. As we navigate the next generation of work, it is essential that organizations remain agile and proactive in harnessing these trends to drive success for all stakeholders.  

This article was originally posted on Haworth.com