From the outside many jobs appear to evolve slowly overtime, as new technology comes along and is integrated into an organisation. Yet, during the last few years we have seen seismic changes that have had a profound impact on many jobs – especially those working in offices.
I want to share with you my observations about five significant trends within the workplace that you should keep in mind when exploring the job market.
It is important for me to say, these are only my observations within the software engineering industry I work in; clearly there are many jobs that have not experienced these changes. Yet, with many graduates entering office jobs after their degree, I think it is of interest to explore how these jobs have changed in recent years – giving to a better context to the workplace you might be joining post-graduation.
A great example of a sudden change to the workplace, was the overnight shift from in-office to remote working. Keep in mind, for many firms a “flexible” work from home policy prior to the pandemic might have seen employees work from home one day a week, so the shift to complete remote working was revolutionary. It touched almost every aspect of office work and life, with companies embarking on many different avenues to try to shape this new world of work for their employees.
Not only changing the experience of work, through removing long commutes, decreasing in-person interaction, impacting the technology used to communicate and most of all massively increasing screentime for all. All of this done to the backdrop of a pandemic, with all the fears, health and economic impacts that brought with it. Looking back, it is amazing to me how well the industry transition during that period, perhaps because there was no other route but to innovate.
During the first year of the pandemic, from my experience there very much was an underlying feeling that at some point employees were likely to return to the office in some type of pre-pandemic setting – it was only a matter of time. However, as the pandemic when on it became clearer that remote working was here to stay or more correctly, hybrid working was the future post pandemic.
Of course, it wasn’t just office workers that experienced this change, every industry was impacted as businesses scrambled to try to continue to operate in a virtual world, then find their feet in the new hybrid world. I saw how my local yoga studio transition online overnight and have remained hybrid ever since. The same is true of the accountancy course I was taking during this transition period, that switch from in-person to online and now offers hybrid learning. This trend is across industries, where hybrid is the new normal and I believe it is here to stay.
Merge of home and work life
One of the consequences of remote working has been bring the workplace into the home setting. An obvious statement to make, but with colleagues children occasionally making an entrance on Zoom calls (few will forget a great example of that happening during a live BBC interview cats appearing on camera or a supermarket delivery order arriving at your door – work has had to become more flexible and understand of employee’s home and family life.
In my experience, this increased flexibility has not impacted productivity, as responsible employees have been managed their time to deliver their workload – perhaps spreading their hours over a longer day, to cater for family or home life responsibilities during the day. As you look to enter the workplace, it is work asking the companies you are interviewing for their policies around remote working. As well as thinking hard about what you want; being remote is not for everyone – indeed, those entering junior roles might benefit more from a company that is more in-person, enabling them to learn and build networks within a company through face-to-face interactions. Those living by themselves might find the experience very isolating.
Conversely, those who already have families or other caring commitments might find remote working one that fits far better to their lifestyle that a pre-pandemic work schedule would have. Ultimately, explore this with employers and consider carefully want you want when it comes to remote working.
The workplace is social
If you were to walk into a generic corporate office in the early 2000s, desktop computers and landline phones might well have been sitting on the desks in front of you. Communication was linked to a physical location, but that didn’t matter since most significant meetings took place in person and you would be in the office almost every working day. As time moved on this was virtualised, using software like Skype. Skype included a message/chat feature that was the precursor of what we have today; a workplace that very much feels like communication is conducted through the medium of social media.
Of course, that social media medium is not Facebook or Twitter, but instead software like Microsoft Teams or Slack designed for internal use. Take Microsoft Teams for example, with the layout of chat, concept of user profiles and use of emojis is much more aligned to an experience a user would have on a social media platform than through say Outlook. Why does this even matter you might ask? Well, if the primary method you use to communicate with colleagues is through a platform that in effect is an internal social media platform, you might want to consider if that aligns with the way you want to interact with colleagues.
Indeed, almost every aspect of internet communication follows this trend to mimic social media – for example, on the tech platform I founded prior to joining Deloitte I have seen how their music forum have been relaunched as a social media platform to create an online music student and teaching community more aligned with social media user experience. With this in mind, I would suggest keeping an eye on how the leading social media company develop their platforms over the next few years – as the workplace (and wider internet) is likely to mimic these developments. If virtual avatar meet-ups appear on Facebook, where members can sit and chat in a virtualise room – the workplace will not be too far behind in introducing it.
Increased focus on mental health within the workplace
A combination of a greater focus in society around mental health, as well as the impact of the pandemic, have led to an increase in focus around the mental health of employees. This was again part of the impact the pandemic had on the workplace, with mental health being an important topic for many as we navigated that very stressful time. Whether it is through highlighting events, like Mental Health Awareness week , a greater internal support for colleagues experiencing mental health challenges and better understanding of time off due to mental health – I believe many companies have changed the way they look at and support the mental health of their employees. This is a positive step and a trend that I believe will continue; an interesting question to an interviewer might be to ask them to talk about how the company supports their employee’s mental health if this is a topic that is important to you.
Impact of climate change shaping policy
Climate change has also been a trend that has featured in a lot across different industries. Whether it is companies trying to adopt more climate friendly policies or employees taking on the initiative to drive change in their organisations. With more conversations, events and focus on the climate – this is a trend that is likely to continue with every new generation coming through. If you are passionate about climate change then do ask the companies that you are interviewing for what their policies are around climate change and if they support their employees in climate change initiatives.
The rise of AI
The most recent change has no doubt been the raise of AI tools, with ChatGPT being the most well-known. As a tool, from a software engineering perspective, it can dramatically reduce the time to research and understand solutions to technical challenges. Indeed, the research aspect offers dramatic time savings for employees of all types – well beyond those who work as software engineers.
Yet, it also comes with its challenges to ensure that it is being used in a manner that has been agreed upon by the organisation, whether that it is a company or an institution like a university. New guidance on this is being released all the time, reminding me of the early days of switching from in-person to remote working, which would lead me to believe that over the next 18months we will see a more common consensus by companies and institutions around how they recommend using AI software.
While the impacts of AI will be huge in changing the workplace, we are still right at the start of that process, so questions to interviews about how the rise of AI might change the role you are interviewing for or a company’s current policy around employees using AI. These types of questions might give you an insight into that company’s approach to this change, as well as how they deal with dramatic changes more generally.
I wanted to share these trends with you to highlight that the workplace changes both gradually and suddenly. It is more in a state of flux and therefore, I believe it is important for students to ask perspective employers questions about these types of topics so that they understand the type of organisation and work culture they might be joining. This is especially true if you have a particular interest in say climate change or mental health, to ensure that the company you choose to work for aligns with the values you want to share with the world.
It is also vitally important to reflect on what you want to get out of your career and workplace. Not a all roles, companies and industries operate in the same way, so thinking first and asking the right questions can help you find the right fit in the workplace – after all getting the right employment match will make your enjoyment of the role far higher.