Workplace predictions for the New Year

Workplace predictions for the New Year

Workforce trends 2019
  • More companies will build freelance marketplaces to address skill gaps
  • Data‑driven personalized benefits programs will improve employee satisfaction
  • Natural language processing advances will boost virtual assistant performance
  • More firms will ditch annual reviews in favor of continuous performance feedback

Fifteen years ago, when consulting firm Accenture envisioned the future workplace, it saw employees wearing “geo‑badges” so it could track them anywhere, anytime through a network of infrared sensors.

That particular prediction didn’t pan out. Thanks to other technologies, however, corporate employees are usually connected and accessible 24/7. And IoT sensors are everywhere, including offices. Deloitte estimates 1.3 billion sensors will be operating in commercial spaces by 2020.

In the near term, what emerging tech and management trends will shape organizational life in 2019? Based on interviews with analysts and other experts, here are the four trends we see achieving critical mass in 2019.

Freelancer platforms move in-house

In recent years, many organizations have started to source contractors on external platforms like Upwork, Fiverr, and They pay for the privilege, via subscriptions or a cut of the worker’s fee. Upwork reports that 12 million contractors currently hang a shingle on their site. Fiverr logs one million hiring transactions each month.

Increasingly, companies are cutting out the middleman with the goal of lowering costs and better integrating contract workers with full‑time staffers.

Many big companies have already created freelance marketplaces to fill their contingent hiring needs, including Accenture, Aon, Deloitte, Ernst & Young, Microsoft, KPMG, and PwC. Faced with the long‑term reality of a blended workforce, expect more organizations to launch their own contractor platforms in 2019.

The reason: A sharp rise in the use of gig workers. More than 90% of business leaders say they use external workers, according to a State of the Workforce survey of 1,000 executives by Toptal. Most expect their reliance on freelancers will grow significantly over the next five years.

Currently, 36% of the U.S. workforce (roughly 57 million people) are freelancers, according to the World Economic Forum, which predicts that the majority of workers will be contractors by 2027. The blended workforce is here—and it’s here to stay.

“Many leading organizations are creating freelance talent‑management platforms,” says Avinav Trigunait, a research director at IDC. “This will actually have a huge impact on how organizations source and manage talent.”

Benefits get personal

In January 2019, General Mills will roll out new benefits for its 40,000 full‑time employees to meet “the needs of an ever‑evolving workforce.” These include paid caregiver leave, the option to work from home while a pet recovers from surgery, and even the flexibility to ditch work midday for a doctor’s appointment.

General Mills isn’t alone. More than half of large companies offered personalized benefit plans in 2018, and an additional 14% said they plan to do so in the future, according to the Thomsons Global Employee Benefits Watch report.

The demand for personalized benefits has never been higher. Nearly one in three employees surveyed by Thomsons say they ask about benefits in first‑round interviews. And 91% of employees at small and medium‑sized companies view benefit options as key to their job satisfaction, according to a 2018 TriNet survey.

“Cafeteria‑style” benefit plans have been around for almost 20 years, according to Amit Mohindra, founder and CEO of People Analytics Success (and former head of people analytics at Apple). “Benefits have long been a slow‑moving, traditional thing,” he adds. “Now heads of HR are looking at data analytics and saying, ‘Why not use that to drive benefits?’”

As companies embrace new AI tools like Glint, TINYpulse, Workify, and others to help them track employee satisfaction, HR benefit managers have access to a slew of data‑driven insights into which offerings are most likely to keep workers happy.

Beyond traditional benefits, research suggests that workers value flexible schedules, remote‑work options, educational reimbursement, childcare support and improved work/life balance.

Workers are more likely to stay at companies that offer such plans. And with better analytics, employers can allocate benefits more strategically.

“There’s money on the table if benefits are not being optimized,” he says. “If you can optimize supply and demand, you’re going to save money.”

Virtual assistants grow up

Siri, Alexa, Cortana, and other voice assistants are starting to make the shift from consumer playthings to increasingly useful workplace tools.

In 2019, 40% of businesses with 500 employees or more expect to integrate virtual assistants or AI chatbots on internal infrastructure, a Spiceworks study reveals. In large part, virtual assistants are reaching a tipping point in the enterprise because natural language processing (NLP) technology has finally grown up.

“The technology is mature now,” says IDC’s Trigunait. “For years, how we communicated with computers was very command‑driven. Now, thanks to advances in NLP, we’re moving towards naturally interactive computing.”

Voice‑assistant providers are making it easier than ever to integrate their tech into popular enterprise tools like Slack, Skype, and Hangouts.

“Voice as an interface is getting embedded into a lot of enterprise applications,” Trigunait explains. “All the large enterprise technology players are doing it. The technology is really going to make collaboration much more interactive.”

Among companies using voice AIs, nearly half (46%) are using them for voice‑to‑text dictation, 26% for team collaboration, and 24% for schedule management.

But with the voice market growing exponentially—from $113 million in 2015 to a projected $994 million by 2024—we can expect virtual assistants to play an even greater role in everything from project management to providing actionable business insights.

Manager as coach

What do bosses expect of their employees? Half of employees report that they’re not sure, according to a recent Gallup study. Just 14% of employees feel that traditional performance reviews inspire them to improve their job performance.

Today, many large companies are ditching annual reviews in favor of continuous performance feedback. Increasingly, managers are also taking on a coaching role focused on guiding employee behavior rather than outcomes.

Expect this trend to pick up steam next year. Within three years, 35% of businesses will have replaced traditional KPIs (key performance indicators) with KBIs (key behavioral indicators) to measure collaboration, communication, problem‑solving skills, deliverables, and objectives, according to IDC’s Future of Work 2019 Predictions.

AI‑enabled assessment tools such as Fuel50, Ambit, Humu, and Trybe are designed to support the manager‑as‑coach model. They offer managers job performance metrics and “nudges” they can use to recognize employee achievements in real time.

The other reason data‑driven coaching is gaining traction is that more employees want it. “It’s cultural now,” says Mohindra. “Almost everyone has a Fitbit or Apple Watch and they’re more used to seeing data about themselves and trying to get better. It’s not a stretch now to provide that information about work performance.”