Future of Work

5 workplace trends to watch in 2023, according to an expert

Lynda Gratton predicts what the work and workplace trends for 2023 will be.

A professor of Management Practice at London Business School, Lynda Gratton predicts what the work and workplace trends for 2023 will be. Image: Unsplash/austindistel

Kate Whiting
Senior Writer, Forum Agenda
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Future of Work

  • Lynda Gratton spoke to the World Economic Forum Book Club Podcast about her book Redesigning Work: How To Transform Your Organization and Make Hybrid Work for Everyone.
  • A professor of Management Practice at London Business School, Lynda Gratton is an expert on the future of work.
  • Here, she predicts what the work and workplace trends for 2023 will be.
  • Visit the podcast page here, and subscribe to listen on your favourite podcast app here.

A bit more time in bed, or to exercise, to go on the school run or maybe just enjoy a coffee without having to rush. What would you do with an extra free day each week?

For 2,600 people working at 100 companies in the UK, that question is no longer wishful thinking, but a reality as their employers have just signed up for a permanent four-day week, with no loss of pay, reports The Guardian.

The 4 Day Week Campaign, which is running a pilot scheme for companies in the UK, says employers are reporting no loss of productivity, but huge gains in terms of staff retention and wellbeing.

How participants in a four-day week trial in the UK used their day off. workplace trends
How participants in a four-day week trial in the UK used their day off. Image: 4dayweek

Future of work expert, and professor of Management Practice at London Business School, Lynda Gratton, spoke to the World Economic Forum’s Book Club Podcast for her latest book, Redesigning Work: How To Transform Your Organization and Make Hybrid Work for Everyone.

She says a four-day week is just one of the work trends we could see developing in the coming months, as part of a wider trend around greater flexibility with time.

Workplace trends to look out for

Here, Gratton highlights some of the workplace trends to look out for in 2023…

1. The four-day week or greater flexibility

If you look at historic trends, we know that the hours of work have gone down, primarily because of technology. Technology does a lot of the jobs that humans did - humans need to do less work as it's distributed across a population, so working hours go down.

The reason why I think the four-day week might stick is not actually because of technology, it's because of social trends. And specifically, because many parents now have two incomes. When you have two incomes, working 10 days out of 14 days is very, very hard, with very little time off. So I think that's going to be a real pressure.

I can see more and more people already saying ‘I want to work four days a week, five days is just too much. I don't have enough time to do all the things I need to do in terms of administration, in terms of bringing up kids, in terms of looking after older parents’. I think it's pretty inhumane for a couple to work a full five days a week. I can see how debilitating that is and tiring that is. So I think that there will be a push for that.

But I think that the question of time is also going to come onto the agenda. I wrote a Harvard Business Review article at the beginning of the pandemic and I said that there are two elements of flexibility. One is place and one is time. I think we've really explored the place bit. But now we're also exploring whether we could be more flexible about time.

2. More people join the workforce

There are many things happening with regard to inflation, with regard to cost of living, and so on. It's quite difficult to predict the labour market and predict what people do, but certainly what we know - and I remember this because I lived through the last inflationary period in Europe - is that during times when people are worried about their income, they're worried about their savings, people are much more likely to work. So we can anticipate the number of people working to increase. The truth is in most countries, we already have very high levels of labour participation.

3. The balance of power shifts again in the war for talent

I've been talking to senior people who say in the [balance of power] between the employee and the employer, it felt as if the employee had more. They can see that some of their most talented people are leaving. I think that balance is going to shift again as things tighten up more, and people are worried about losing their jobs, they're going to be less likely to move. You're already hearing some executives say, ‘We want to go back to how we were before, we don't want any flexibility’.

4. People want more autonomy

Most people want to go to work and feel, ‘I've learned something about the world, about myself, about the job’, and they want autonomy. When a company gives flexibility, what the individual gets is autonomy: I have some choice. For example, I could see my children’s nativity play. That's worth a lot. And of course, the interesting thing about time is it has different values to it, the value of being able to see your child's nativity play is a lot more valuable than two hours where you hadn't planned anything.

Quite a lot of the things I think, are going to be really important for work, come back to this question that people need autonomy, they need a choice about how they work, when they work, and where they work.

5. Going back to the office for friendships

It turns out the reason that many of us are going back to the office is because we have a friend at work. I just spent the day today at London Business School, and I just walked around to talk to all my friends, and it was absolutely brilliant. Do I want to do it every day? No, I don't, because I'm a writer, and I like to write from my home. But friendship is something that we really love.

The challenge for a CEO is to design work around that. So to say, ‘When you're in the office, it's going to be an opportunity for you to socialize with each other and maybe talk about important things, to have a giggle or to have lunch together. And when you're at home, we're expecting you to do more focused work. That sort of narrative is really important and it’s still missing. I still feel this is a message that hasn't landed yet.

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