The World of Work: 2020

The World of Work: 2020 - Predictions from a Panel of Experts

The world of work today is a seismic shift away from how it was in the previous decade, and technological advances, societal attitudes, and environmental pressures are only accelerating the rate of change.

With this in mind, we sought to ask a panel of professionals with different expertise spanning tech, people, HR, L&D, and well-being, to share their thoughts on the trends and challenges we can expect to impact the world of work this year.

The panel includes:

  • Andrew Watson (AW), Chief Technology Officer, MHR
  • Garry Turner (GT), Creator and Host, Value through Vulnerability Podcast
  • Rob Hind (RH), Chairman and Director, HR in Law
  • Katrin Kircheis (KK), Learning and Performance Specialist, KiKa Training
  • Vivian Acquah (VA), Workplace Wellness and Nutrition Advocate, Viva la Vive


What’s the one trend you expect to see across all business and industry in 2020, and why? 

 “The uptake of Bot technology will really increase in 2020. It is becoming ever easier to create simple chatbots and these will proliferate with companies being easily able to create these to provide a better customer experience. What really excites me about this is the next opportunity, which will be the extension of these bots to create more advanced Virtual Assistants. Backed by Machine Learning and AI with large data sets as the source, organisations will have the ability to create virtual assistants that will sit alongside employees, helping them to make informed decisions quickly and with confidence.” (AW)

“One key trend I envision is a rapid increase in employee voice, those that often have the information required to drive innovation and proactive change. I am excited by this as it has long been an untapped opportunity that costs little (aside from intention), yet is so often missed, and could yield great value to people, the planet and profit.

I’m excited about an equal weighting being given to emotional connection and emotional intelligence, as it is IQ. This journey from the head to include the heart is critical as we increasingly augment tech. Also, about technology and its power to enable communities (HumansFirst, BCorps, Conscious Capitalism) and I think HR has a huge opportunity to be a key catalyst here.” (GT)

“One trend I foresee is businesses preparing for the legal and practical implications of Brexit such as navigating commercial contracts (new and existing), what Brexit means for UK employment law, TUPE, immigration rights and documentation of EEA nationals and a points-based immigration system.” (RH)

“For me, one key trend will be businesses realising that we are entering a new era of work, with more focus on trusting employees. Why? Because the next generation will not put up with managers anymore that micromanage and demand desk presence from 9-5. This is exciting as it will help bring joy and natural productivity back into work. I feel positive about some of these changes coming along but also negative about many companies and people still being skeptical about it and wanting to enforce the old rules of working.” (KK)

“Unfortunately, the trend regarding stress and burnout will still rise globally in 2020. It saddens me knowing that organisations have a lot of work to do in regards of creating sustainable work environments, to prevent stress and burnout.

I am excited to see that there are companies who are doing their best to create healthy physical workplaces that can energise their people. These companies are using the principles of the WELL Building standard to create healthy workplaces for the future and will have no or little challenges with keeping their talent and finding new talent during the war for talent.” (VA)

Apart from economic factors, what will be the biggest influences on and challenges in 2020?

“Employees: helping them to make informed decisions quickly and with confidence.

The rate of change in the tech industry is becoming a burden to organisations. The demand for talent is putting a squeeze on companies’ ability to implement and benefit from technology effectively and quickly. The further companies fall behind, the harder it will be to get back to parity. Organisations must look to how they bridge skills gap. As a collective group, organisations should be putting more pressure on schools, colleges and universities to develop their technology curriculums to create the future workforce.

Many organisations are going to need seismic changes in their thinking regarding technology and transformation. Agility will be essential. Flexible and effective vendor partnerships will be required.” (AW)

“In my opinion, staying relevant in an increasingly digital world will be a key challenge, as will be keeping friction to a minimum in fixed-mindset industries.” (GT)

“For me there are several:

  1. Companies will have to deal with a growing skills shortage both in terms of numbers (post-Brexit) and a growing skills mismatch. Improvements in education and learning are needed to adapt and prepare for the future workforce.
  2. Protecting data of corporates and individuals will be very important and companies will have to adapt at a faster rate.
  3. The impact of social media on corporate reputations must be addressed by companies adopting a holistic approach to looking after their workforce and brand image. Employees need to be treated more as a stakeholder and a valuable asset of the company.
  4. The legal sector must do more to eradicate the horrendous gender pay gap in the sector and the gender imbalance at the senior management/senior partnership level.” (RH)

“The ability to implement structures that provide employees with more freedom and trust to do their job in a way they see fit. This will prove a challenge if a company struggles to let go of and distribute power.” (KK)

“I mentioned it earlier as a trend, but the war for talent will also be the biggest challenge. There are more job vacancies than people. Therefore, companies have to do their best and go beyond adding the ping pong table or Friday drinks in job ads. What will be more important is asking the following questions:

  1. Do we have a healthy company culture?
  2. What positive measures are we taking to make a healthy change?
  3. Why are people leaving and how can we prevent this from happening?
  4. What tools do we have in place to help our people grow?

Always involve the people, evaluate and improve if needed.” (VA)

Beyond technology, how will companies deepen their connections with employees this year?

“Call me old fashioned here but going back to some of the basics with employees will help to deepen connections. Technology is all very well but I believe we are losing some of the simple social and collaboration skills and these need to be encouraged.” (AW)

“By leaders and colleagues prioritising slowing down, getting away from process-based reviews and truly engaging on a human and emotional level, without fear (or least stepping into more courage).

Leaders will increasingly role-model vulnerability, sharing a bit more of their true selves which will open the door to others to do the same, although they always have that choice of course. More and more examples of this are evident such as the Lloyds CEO António Horta-Osório.” (GT)

“Treat people fairly, equally and as stakeholders in the business, not merely as tools to make profit. Be transparent and create cultures and environments of trust. Be totally committed to equal opportunities for all, create an inclusive environment and support flexible working for everyone.” (RH)

Building trusting relationships with mutual respect which strengthens loyalty on both sides.” (KK)

“My hope is that more companies do more regarding building the team. It is essential to train the team-muscle frequently to achieve greatness. Building a team should not be a once in a year activity, but preferably (bi-)monthly activities where team members learn to connect with each other on a personal and professional level.” (VA)

Will 2020 be a significant year for artificial intelligence in HR and people management?

“As per my point about Virtual Assistants, I think there will be some big strides forward in this area. However, to be of real benefit in this area there needs to be improved access to the data and the current models for most vendors are still restrictive to allow this to happen in 2020. Legislation, fear of data loss and a reluctance to share data is holding advances back.” (AW)

“Development will continue but the costs of implementation are still high and post-implementation teething problems deter many companies.

Law firms tend not to be innovators but systems to assist recruitment (particularly graduate recruitment) are established. Screening and CV scoring mass applications using AI are in place. These also have the benefit of eliminate unconscious bias. AI is utilised to do document review in employment law (particularly subject access reviews) and to review large commercial contracts.” (RH)

“Yes, it will. It is important to invest in the growth of your people, even when using AI. I see AI as a tool to help with strengthening employee engagement, lowering absenteeism, retain talent, etc.” (VA)

What will your HR focus be in 2020?

“A continued focus on wellbeing and resilience particularly in the legal sector, creating equality and healthy working environments by flexibility and making the most of diverse talent.” (RH)

“To provide development opportunities and listen to people's needs and wants.” (KK)

“My HR focus will be on "Humanizing the Workplace". It is essential for people to be their best selves to excel in their work. We have all seen the effects of dehumanizing the workplace where employees feel more stress, end up in burnout, feeling disconnected with the company, spreading the unhappiness at work and beyond. That is also the reason why I recently started the Let's Humanize the Workplace movement online, where different experts and myself are sharing thoughts about the ingredients that are needed to make the workplace more human.” (VA)

Will 2020 be the year of living transparently for business?

“2020 will be a significant year of shifting towards increased transparency, whether business like it or not!

There is a general, in my opinion, disconnect between leaders of organisations striving for ‘digitalisation’ which brings with it increased transparency in terms of what they can see, and the importance of transparent leadership and their communication that all colleagues are adult enough to understand, yet so rarely receive.” (GT)

So, 2020 is set to be a busy year: Brexit and the subsequent repercussions continued rapid technological advances, and companies trying to stay abreast of all of these changes, whilst remaining relevant.

Although predictions are varied; one thing in which all our panel agree is the focus shifting to be on the people in the workforce and the need for employers to be in tune with their wants and needs; in part to boost employee experience and retention, and in part because of the rise of the employee voice as an unavoidable but significant force.

Anything you agree or disagree with? We are keen to hear your thoughts and predictions too. If you have any opinions on the above or there is anything you would add, drop us a message on our social me­­­­­­­dia channels and let us know!