3 trends that will change your workplace

Culture as brand, virtual friends and augmented reality are all coming our way.

by Alison Webb
Last Updated: 16 Apr 2018

A couple of weeks ago I attended the 2018 Trend Seminar with the London TrendWatching team. If you haven’t come across these guys before check out their website, which has plenty of freely available insights and case studies on the mega trends they’re observing across the globe.

I got so much value out of the seminar – it completely expanded my views around what businesses should be asking their customers and employees, and how to go about finding this out. TrendWatching says it’s not just about asking them what they want now, but what they will want next. To do this, it’s useful to look at breakthroughs and trend-setters in other industries, and draw insights on what innovations people are loving today, and where they might go.

In the seminar we covered a whole raft of innovations (including my new hero Pearl Bro, who made US$4.4m in six months by livestreaming and auctioning freshwater mussel openings to display pearls), and I thought I’d share a few of the trends that particularly resonate with the world of workplace.

Glass box tactics

Trend explained - This trend is all about the relationship between a business and your customers. The premise is that radical transparency has turned the walls of every business to glass, and that means your internal work culture is now a key part of your customer-facing brand. Consumers are increasingly looking for cultures that also work for the greater good.

Case studies:

  • Casper – a US mattress start-up, reported in June 2017 that it offers cash rewards to staff for sleep and exercise (tracked via a fitness-reward app). Staff can earn up to US$130 per month for exercise and US$60 for sleep.
  • Piala – in September 2017, the Japanese marketing firm announced it would offer an additional six days’ holiday per year for non-smokers (aimed to incentivise staff to stop smoking).
  • Kering and LVMH – in September 2017, the French fashion companies, Kering and LVMH, released a charter on the wellbeing of fashion models,  pledging to ban models under 16 from runway shows and ad campaigns, and to only use models if they are over a size 34 (women) and 44 (men).

How might this trend apply to your workplace?

  • Valuing your employee wellbeing is not only good for your teams, it’s good for business.
  • Look for new, creative ways to promote and support your people’s wellbeing – be it through design, incentives or culture. 
  • Example: What if your business tracked and rewarded when employees take a break or a moment for restoration (a walk outside, using a refresh point in your office)? Studies show the most productive people take breaks regularly.

Virtual companions

Trend explained – Consumers are getting more and more accustomed to digital assistants such as chatbots. They increasingly seek out virtual personalities that go beyond ‘assistance’, and also have the power to entertain, educate, befriend and heal.

Case studies:

  • Professor Timothy Bickmore partnered with Boston Medical Centre and the US National Institute of Health to develop a chatbot for terminally ill patients. As well as providing advice to help patients make end of life decisions, the bot also tells stories and holds conversations to act as a companion to patients.
  • KLM Care Tag – for a limited time only in September 2017, Dutch airline KLM introduced the KLM Care Tag: a wearable tag providing tourists with spoken advice on topics like restaurants, bars and navigation.

How might this trend apply to your workplace?

  • We can already see virtual assistants on the horizon at work – Amazon is currently trialling Alexa for business use.
  • You can also see a need in the world of work for virtual companionship as well as virtual assistance. Wouldn’t it be great to have a virtual companion in a room you could practice a tricky conversation with (perhaps on that pay rise you’re after, or a conflict you’re having with a co-worker)?
  • While it’s scary to think of a world where this replaces human interaction, you can see a way it can instead complement human connections and make work better (particularly for more vulnerable workers).

Global sandbox

Trend explained – This trend is largely about applications for augmented and virtual reality, but more broadly looks at how people can build, explore and subvert spaces in the physical world. We’re seeing how these technologies are appropriated for self-expression and ‘for-the-fun-of-it’ thrills.

Case studies: 

  • World Brush – launched in September 2017, World Brush is an AR experience that lets users create 3D images that others can see (through a mobile device). All images are anonymous and only viewable in the location they were created in.
  • Specdrums– these are wearable, colour-detecting rings that allow users to turn the world around them into a drum machine. You can synchronise musical tones and beats (selected via an app or self-recorded) with a specific colour in your environment, and then the chosen sound plays when a ring is tapped on any surface that colour.

How might this trend apply to your workplace?

  • We all know that virtual and augmented reality have the power to fundamentally disrupt our workflows, but we don’t exactly know how yet.
  • VR and AR are already being used for workplace training, virtual collaboration, and to disrupt the creative and design processes. However, through the playful examples shown in this trend, we can also see how this technology could be used for self-expression, personalisation and play at work.

It’s far too easy these days for companies to fall into the trap of focussing on the ‘today’ rather than the ‘tomorrow’ – many tend to follow trends instead of leading the way. But the above trends show that with a little bit of out-of-the-box creative thinking, businesses can go a long way in creating a memorable experience for both customers and employees. 

Alison Webb is head of workspace, Europe, Lendlease.

Image credit: Photocreo Michael Bednarek/Shutterstock

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