Future-of-Work 2019 Predictions: The Outlook for Businesses

Business expert outlines evolution of the workplace in 2019

By Molly Gluck

Emerging technologies and evolving policies have turned the traditional workplace (and workforce) upside-down. For example, flexible work schedules have shifted from a benefit, to the norm. This past June, the Bureau of Labor Statistics for the first time reported on the amount of people across the United States who are working in “contingent” or “alternative work arrangements” — and uncovered 16.5 million individuals make up the “gig economy.”

So, what’s in store for the workforce next year? We spoke with business expert Greg Stoller to 1) learn what workforce transformations we can anticipate, 2) what areas of focus will be most in-demand for companies — and 3) higher education’s role in helping the current and future workforce succeed. Check out his 2019 projections in our Q&A below.

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1) 59 percent of companies are now using more flexible workers, like remote employees and freelancers, according to Future Workforce Report. What benefits and drawbacks will flexible and full-time workers present to companies in 2019 from a business prospective?

The benefit of flexible workers is that companies have much more control over cost management. Most short-term workers get paid hourly, or by the project, and often do not receive benefits. While it’s good to be able to save money, the challenge of using short-term labor will be maintaining a balance between “doing the work” versus “thinking about the work.” Despite strong corporate earnings, the Dow is in negative / flat territory for 2018 (to-date) and another interest rate increase might be on the horizon. This doesn’t bode well for 2019, despite unemployment being at historic, all-time lows. I predict companies will likely move to hiring more flexible workers in the New Year.

Previously well-trained, flexible workers are a boon to today’s companies. In some cases, their short-term classification has nothing to do with a dearth of job search success, but rather because they’ve made a conscious decision to eschew a 40-hours-per-week, full-time status. However, despite their positive pedigree, very few of these workers are likely to be emotionally invested in a company’s long-term success. They will be the first to raise their hands in terms of being hired to complete finite tasks management lays out for them. However, on the flip side, very few are likely going to think about the project, or the firm’s future, exponentially.

A major benefit of full-time employees is one would hope they not only have pride in their jobs, but also concurrently put the company’s long-term success at heart. Everybody has their regular job to do, day in and day out. But the best employees are ones that are trained to think from their boss’ perspective and also to envision where they think the company should be 12 to 18 months in the future.

2) How can companies get the best of both worlds when it comes to optimizing flexible and full-time talent in 2019?

Millennials often move between jobs more frequently than other demographics. Hiring them short-term to see if it’s a good fit will be another smart 2019 strategy, as opposed to hiring a fully-benefitted worker, and training them, only to watch them depart six months later.

The true success stories of 2019 will be companies that are able to adroitly manage their costs while also optimizing their strategic planning activities. This will come from either better strategic planning and/or the smarter use of flexible workers.

3) What areas of focus will organizations need to prioritize in 2019?

One of the main skill gaps that I see being a priority for closing in 2019 is going to be a combination of 1) accepting that the world has now become international, and 2) improving a company’s strategic planning approach so that it consistently excels outside of its sovereign borders. Despite the US-China trade war and President Trump’s strong US nationalistic agenda, 2019 will be the year of internationalization, more so than any other.

For years, executives primarily focused their collective resources on the US (domestic) marketplace. International was a nice to have, and also had its own convenient pecking order: Europe, Asia, and eventually Latin America. Back then, if collectively international revenue approached 20 or 25 percent, people were fully satiated.

Nowadays, regardless of where one operates in the world, they can’t regard the domestic marketplace as being the be-all and end-all. It will be vital to not only build bridges overseas, but also to put as much traffic on them as you possibly can. Companies in Israel, as one example, often have 100 percent of their sales coming from outside of their home market. In 2019 these trends will be the norm, rather than the exception. Effectively servicing customers, supporting management, and understanding competitors will be must-have skillsets in the New Year.

4) What role can higher education play in preparing students for the workplace of the future?

Higher education can play a value-added role for the workplace of the future by focusing as many resources as we can on experiential learning. Gone are the days of education being narrowly regarded as “memorize and regurgitate” at the undergraduate level, and then a high-level exercise in concept synthesis during graduate school. Arming our current students with as many experiential programs as we can will make them that much better prepared to add value from day one.

Beyond exposing our students while they’re in school to situations they will likely confront in their first month at the workplace, companies simply do not have as much time as they used to, to effectively train newly hired workers. Margins have become tighter, implementation time frames faster, and patience during someone’s honeymoon phase at an all-time low. Newly minted graduates need to be able to demonstrate their value as soon as is practical, after locating their desk, the cafeteria and the closest bathroom. Experiential programs improve a student’s judgment unlike anything else, and also force students to quickly determine a meaningful course of action, often in the face of multiple, and sometimes even conflicting, inputs. I find that case competitions improve teamwork skills at a rate unlike any other group projects try to accomplish while they’re in school.

Experiential learning programs provide far more freedom to give students honest feedback, and continue to keep pushing them to complete their best work. When the context is right, everyone feels comfortable and motivated.

For additional commentary by Boston University experts, follow us on Twitter at @BUexperts. Follow Greg Stoller at @GregoryStoller and Questrom School of Business at @BUQuestrom on Twitter.

Cutting-edge research and commentary out of Boston University, home to Nobel laureates, Pulitzer winners and Guggenheim Scholars. Find an expert: bu.edu/experts

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