Predictions 2023: Abstractions

Long before LinkedIn opened its feed allowing everyone to post, a set of LinkedIn influencers would publish their Big Idea for the year. In 2014, they also came together to publish a series on ‘If I were 22’. Back in those days, I would spend hours crawling through these pieces waiting for the next. As yet another new year began, I couldn’t help but reminisce about the LinkedIn series. But let’s park nostalgia for a moment. The rest of this month and most of the next will likely be littered with posts on predictions on what could have been, should have been and what likely will be. Who knows, I may even come up with my own ‘Big idea 2023’.

For now, we’ll focus on what I hope will be. Reality may end up being vastly different from imagination but for just one post, let’s suspend the thought of reality as I share the top five themes I hope to see in the world of work. Maybe putting my hopes out there is the beginning of making it happen.

Theme #1: Prioritizing Self & New Skills

If you’ve been reading the posts I’ve put out so far, this should come as no surprise. Long gone is the culture of ‘be strong’, ‘_ it up, buttercup’ and the like. After 2020, 21 and 22, this is yet another year of prioritizing self. Avoiding burnout, demanding to be treated more humanely and not expecting people to be machines should be a big focus this year. There are two sub themes that flow into this larger one.

The first one revolves around self-care, finding the right balance and workplaces helping employees to do so. This includes reanalyzing work load, support systems in place and long-term thinking on physical, mental, financial (more on this later) and general well-being. In an ideal world, we’d find ourselves immersed in work at peak productivity and switching off at the end of the workday. Work would understand and accommodate a life outside of work. As 2023 proceeds, I hope this will be a central theme of how we design work and the words ‘trauma informed workplace and leadership’ find frequent mention.

The second related part is skills. We’ve learnt over the past three years that a single set of skills is no longer a guarantee of a fulfilling career. Should I be an HR professional or a podcaster or an author? What other skills can I gather that can be deemed marketable and work as a side hustle? Even more importantly, which of these skills will my workplace help develop? Is my workplace designed to support or inhibit my growth into a multi-disciplinary human? These are questions organizations and individuals will increasingly need to grapple with and I hope organizations see themselves more than just short-term profit puppies but instead pivot to long term future multidisciplinary human builders. Wouldn’t that be a fantastic world to live in?

Theme #2: Alternative work models

Tied in closely with prioritizing self and exploring multiple careers and skills, is the emergence of alternate working contracts. While this is on the rise, many industries continue employing largely traditional contracts requiring individuals to work only a single job for 8+ hours a day. Alternate work models offer a myriad host of benefits including work-life balance, increased access to diverse talent pools and reduced stress. A good place to start is by adding a goal of employing at least 15-20% of your teams/workforce on a job share or a fair part-time work contract over the next 3-5 years. I say fair because I am witness to multiple models where part-time work contracts make you work more than the standard hours but pay you less. Start here before employing a four-day work-week. And once that happens, I really do hope that the four-day work week does take off; even better if it stays five days but has one day dedicated to building a skill of your choice similar to the much coveted 20% Google fable.

Theme #3: Rethinking space

Just like our work, our workspaces are changing too. In March 2020, we went from swanky offices to home offices and sometimes even kitchen tables. Over the next 12 months, the fortunate ones have carved out a desk space which allows us to work uninterrupted thus making our desks at work slightly less precious. Since then organizations have experimented with agile seating, larger meeting spaces, free lunches and almost everything else in an attempt to upgrade the work space to match new work norms.

The best idea I’ve heard so far is one where each team is assigned an allocated amount of space which they then determine how to design best. This uses a few behavioral economics theories including one that says – if you feel like a part of the decision-making process, you are more likely to buy into it. Think of yourself as a part of a 20-member team that’s coming together to determine how to redesign their space given a set of constraints. You may choose to maximize the meeting space or the quiet work space depending on the deliveries and work style of the team and team members. This involvement will also make you feel more connected to the space and if everyone decides to go virtual, you could just donate the space for creative collaboration, community work or a company club. Imagination knows no bounds. As organizations reexamine their space utilization, energy consumption and ways of work, I can’t wait to see how our workspaces transform themselves.

Theme #4: Learning to play with data & AI

With all the buzz around ChatGPT, it is hard to not get excited about how AI will transform the workplace and more specifically HR. I have heard instances of ChatGPT being used to draft excellent emails, rewrite job descriptions, generate search strings, help prepare for interviews and more. There is a lot of excitement on what this means for the next generation of internal HR chat bots. It also opens the discussion on generative AI.

And how do we talk about AI without mentioning data? I am so excited about HR becoming more data savvy in 2023 that I am going to dedicate all of February to talking about data. There’s so much we need to do differently when we look at what, where and how we use data. We have a host of information available that we didn’t have before the pandemic. It’s also finally time to stop going by averages and to start demanding gender segregated data. I really hope that this is the year we see massive leaps in how we engage with data and AI.

Theme #5: Talk about money

The best time to learn how to manage finances is early childhood and the worst time is never. With fears of a recession, high inflation, fall in job security and drop in savings, it is time to start talking about money. Organizations have begun focusing on financial well-being along with physical and mental well-being and there is a plethora of innovative ideas out there to help employees engage with financial education and planning. I have heard of organizations exploring a financial day off every quarter to encourage employees to take a trip to the bank, talk to a financial planner or finish their taxes. Organizations have begun including financial planners in their rewards portfolio and letting employees choose how they want to rearrange the benefits offered depending on life circumstances. The move towards normalizing talking about money is great.

Given the focus on financial well-being, it is also time to fold in talking about how the company decides compensation. I am increasingly leaning towards making pay ranges transparent, investing in explaining how ranges are determined and better equipping managers to tackle team queries on why they are paid what they are. I believe there’s a lot to be done in this space. Maybe someday you’ll convince me that this is a very bad idea and ranges are opaque for a good reason. Until that day, my hope remains that we push for increased transparency – either forced by legislature or by listening to our employees.

There you go. These are my top five wishes for HR in the year ahead. I know a year is hardly enough for us to unleash the full potential of any of these but if you are framing a one year, three year or even a five-year plan, I hope these find a place in there. Maybe in 2024 we return and see how far we’ve come. What are your top hopes from work this year?


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