Future-of-work: Transformations, trends, and challenges to anticipate in 2020

Global busi­ness expert Gregory Stoller shares workforce predictions

By Molly Gluck

Photo by Marvin Meyer on Unsplash

Over the past decade the workforce has had one constant: disruption. Technology has enabled employees to pursue more flexible working environments, but has also created an always-on mentality sparking an increase in employee burnout. We’ve also seen a growing emphasis on advancing diversity and inclusion in the workplace but we are still on a path to achieving total equality and equity. Additionally, skillset prioritization is shifting: a recent study uncovered that last year, 80% of employers gave equal weight to soft skills as they did to hard skills.

With all of this in mind, what’s in store for the workforce in 2020 and how will it continue to evolve? We spoke with business expert Gregory Stoller to uncover what we can anticipate in the New Year. Check out his future-of-work projections in our Q&A below.

Almost half of Americans have side hustles: working as Uber or Lyft drivers, renting their spare rooms and properties on Airbnb, delivering food, or getting additional freelance work. What are your thoughts on the side hustle phenomenon?

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Side hustles are great, and definitely something that many people are pursuing today — and will increasingly explore. There are both advantages and disadvantages that correspond with freelance and gig positions. The advantage is it allows you to provide yourself with career and thought diversification. Instead of doing the same thing day in and day out, or solely concentrating on the same industry, having a side hustle enables you to apply different skillsets across new industries and professional experiences. The downside, of course, is taking focus and precious time away from your primary work activity. We all think we can seamlessly multitask, but the downfall emerges in attention to detail.

A survey from Accountemps found that 96% of senior managers say their team members are experiencing some degree of burnout. In a separate survey, 91% of workers said they are at least somewhat burned out. How can the we better manage burnout in 2020?

Gone are the days of simply checking email and voicemail through a mobile device. In addition to professional emails and calls, we are constantly receiving updates, notifications and texts from LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and all of the other news and social media channels we follow. As productive as these notifications on our phones, wearables and work devices may make us feel, it can become exhausting and distracting to keep up. In 2020 I recommend adopting the mentality that not replying to an email or a text within minutes doesn’t indicate a lack of support for your company’s mission, your job, or your boss.

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The US workforce is obsessed with productivity. Do you see that changing? Increasing or lessening? Will technology help or hinder productivity?

Productivity used to be defined as 1) working longer hours than the people seated to your left and to your right, 2) being the one to always raise your hand for a new project or 3) trying to mind more details than someone else. I believe that productivity is now defined as actually executing what you say you’re going to do — and doing it well. For example, over the next month, be mindful of the number of people who say things like “I will finalize that by tomorrow” or “reviewing now,” compared with those who actually follow through. Whether technology can assist with productivity is always a consideration, but I think technology should be viewed as a means than rather as an end.

Will a particular skillset — or suite of skillsets — come to the forefront in 2020?

In three words, big picture thinking. We seem to have adopted a short-term mindset by focusing on individual projects, individual clients, and the here and now. It’s important to take a step back and look at trends, lifetime value of a customer, goal, or initiative — and bigger-picture perspectives.

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What policies can workplaces put into practice to ensure not only a fair and equal experience for their employees, but also an equitable one?

It’s important to view a relationship with your employer as being a marathon not a sprint. I recognize that it is far easier to recommend this than to suffer through it individually, but ju­st because you knocked it out of the park professionally yet only received a 2.5% raise doesn’t necessarily mean that you are tethered to that number for the rest of your career. Companies go through ups and downs, just like we do personally. If you are concerned about equality in your work group, my advice would be to avoid taking a reactionary approach, but rather start with an informal conversation with your supervisor about the future.

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.

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