The 2018 Workplace: Top 3 Trends + How to Address Them

As an international leadership keynote speaker, I meet thousands of professionals working across virtually every possible business vertical, in companies of all sizes—from scrappy start-up endeavors to established Fortune 500 enterprises. And, although each business is unique, I’m always surprised by how many common workplace issues these dramatically different companies share. I’ve rounded up three of the most challenging trends I’ve been discussing with my clients in recent months, along with some proposed solutions.


1. The Virtual Office


My work as a leadership keynote speaker takes me all over the world, so even though I manage nimble brick-and-mortar HQs in the US and UK, the amount of travel I do has always necessitated quite a bit of remote access. Truth be told, I do some of my best work in the embrace of the European rail system!


But while my situation used to be somewhat uncommon, the virtual office is becoming the norm, even for businesses you’d expect to prefer a more traditional relationship. Case in point: a recent study from office supply giant Staples revealed that only about a third of employees spent all of their time working in the office—and nearly half of the company’s workforce said the option to work remotely was a must-have.


In fact, NOT giving your employees this kind of flexibility is now considered a competitive disadvantage. A 2016 Gallup poll found that 51% of workers were likely to leave their current employers for companies that allowed remote access—which means the talent you’ve cultivated may have one foot out the door. Having worked apart from my staff for many years, my advice is to embrace the two most essential components of the virtual office: technology and trust. It may take some getting used to, but it’s the new normal.


2. The Free Agent


According to Upwork’s annual “Freelancing in America” survey, there are now upwards of 57 million freelance workers in the U.S.—an astounding 8.1% jump over the past three years, compared to an overall workforce growth of just 2.6%. This increase is part of a growing flexibility trend that includes workers at every level of skill and experience, from day-to-day “gig workers” like Uber and Lyft drivers to big-ticket freelancers like marketing strategists and creative directors.


But before you pass over these non-traditional employees, consider this: the constant hustle of freelance work may actually create better employees. In a survey of regular and contract employees, only 45% of the traditional workers said they took proactive steps to “skill up” to the meet ever-changing demands of their careers, while 65% of freelancers said they were anticipating and actively addressing these needs. Insurance savings aside, which type of worker would you prefer to have on your team?


3. The Digital Frontier


Just as technology is making it possible to take our workplaces almost anywhere, it’s also revolutionizing the way companies’ handle record keeping. As a leadership keynote speaker, I began adopting digital efficiencies years ago, as it’s essential that I have access to my files when I’m away from the home office. But according to a recent study, the typical business has some catching up to do—about 52% of employees aged 18–44 thought their workplaces had too many paper-based processes.


While the digitization of office paperwork isn’t new, the popularity of cloud-based data platforms (for everything from accounting to project management to human resources) has finally begun to spark meaningful change for companies all over the world. Yes, there is a learning curve—but the upside is significant for businesses willing to invest the time and effort.


Digital systems are instantly accessible, easier to manage once learned, don’t take up physical space, aren’t vulnerable to fire or flood, and have a significantly smaller environmental footprint than paper record keeping. If you haven’t already begun the transition to a paperless office, this is the year to do it.

Richard Bryan