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11 Future of Work Trends in 2023

future of work ideas trends Jan 16, 2023


By 2040, Asia is expected to contribute to 50 percent of the world’s GDP. More than 50% percent of the world’s population lives in Asia and over 50% of the world’s young people. I believe the future will be shaped by where and how the young people of Asia go to live, learn and earn across longer lifespans.

For those looking to work, lead and grow globally, here’s what to expect from the future of work.

Among other things, we see:

  • Tech exponentially augmenting processes so humans can curate outputs and invest in collaboration and communicating (let's admit it, we all have some work to do on both)
  • More work without jobs, with a need for governments or other stakeholders to step in to provide social security
  • Work without walls as the frenzy of flexwork, remote work, hybrid work becomes just work and we settle into infrastructure and policies that embed that
  • A shift from wellness awareness to digging deeper into what works to create competitive advantage, including a rise in peer networks to support each other.


With this in mind, I asked a globally minded cohort in Asia across business, tech, education, media and academia to weigh in on what they see in the future of work. 


  1. Welcome to Post Normality

Lavonne Leong, Futurist

The last several years have provided an object lesson in what it’s like to live in what futurist Ziauddin Sardar has called Postnormal Times—a “contradictory, complex and chaotic” period from which previously unbelievable circumstances emerge at a dizzying rate and do not often stabilize as expected.

“Megatrends” like climate change and AI act like tsunamis of change that build from different directions and then collide, rippling out in unpredictable ways—both for institutions and for the people who work in them. PostNormality is both a trend itself and a complicator of other trends.  

For the future of work, that means an increased need to design and prepare for constantly changing conditions—for example, not just for one-time reskilling, but continuous reskilling. At an organizational level, more initiatives such as Singapore’s SkillsFuture program may be needed. Individually, a recent IDC report found that the majority of Asia-Pacific workers want more flexible work options—which may become less of a preference and more of a necessity.  


  1.  Skill Development and Lifelong Learning are the New Loyalty

Hsern Wei, Head of PwC’s Academy, Malaysia

Businesses across the globe can learn from the unique challenges that Asia-Pacific companies will confront in 2023. The fundamentals that drove the region’s growth and prosperity over the past decades are insufficient to support it through this period of continuous disruption and geopolitical challenges. Traditional value chains are changing as a result of trade and technology, and new regional growth prospects are emerging. As supply chains shift to regional markets, organizations need to make investments in new knowledge and skills.

Employees with specialized skills are in high demand in Asia-Pacific and progressive organizations will have a continued focus around Digital, ESG related upskilling and importantly, core critical skills (soft skills). On a governmental level, policies and budgets will take aim at continued upskilling and also around inculcating lifelong learning. For Leaders, the ability to nurture learning agility and adaptability in themselves and for their teams will be more important than ever to remain relevant and in demand.


  1.   Pervasive AI/ML forces the Transformation of Work Processes

Amber Matthews, Director Workspace Futures APAC/EMEA, Steelcase

As AI/ML technology matures, it continues to become embedded in daily experiences, often without users’ awareness of the tool. It’s also becoming more prevalent within the world of work. While most of the hype focuses on companies trying to replace human workers with AI/ML tools, the real transformation will come from humans and machines working side-by-side, with the machine performing certain tasks and the human performing others.

Few jobs lend themselves to be entirely replaced by AI/ML, but the insertion of these tools into work processes will mean affected workers will act as curators, not creators.  AI/ML will be a key player in the hybrid workplace as an "assistant" to hybrid collaboration, ensuring these interactions are seamless and effective for all participants. Employees will also likely need to be re-skilled to learn to work effectively with their machine partners, and government policies will need to be rewritten to provide support for workers as they adjust.  


  1.  AI won’t fix the Issue of the Rise of the Detached Worker

Prina Shah, Founder, Ways to Change the Workplace Movement

Quiet quitting, presenteeism, or simply having checked out – call it what you may, this phenomenon is here to stay. Workers have a renewed sense of their needs, worth and talent in the workplace.

"Quiet quitting" refers to employees who disengage from their work and gradually reduce their contributions without formally resigning.

McKinsey states that “Delivering performance feedback can already feel fraught” for leaders who have workers that have checked out. Performance management is not the only area which will be affected.

One option is to use AI to perform basic operations. However, for organizations who rely on the knowledge worker and connection, AI won’t be able to meet these human needs. There are other areas that organizations will need to put clear attention to in order to avoid further disengagement; there will be a need to focus strategically on engagement and culture initiatives within the workplace.

Workplaces will be required to move beyond generic approaches to optimizing their culture and hone in on personalized initiatives that speak to their own workforce and desired future culture.


  1.  Remote Work Remodeled

Pete Cohen, Partner at RMIT Forward, Vibrance Partners

Remote work remained a hot topic throughout 2022. By this stage of the pandemic, the novelty and any sense that we are in the “experimental” phase has certainly passed. 

However, based on my experience, many organizations are yet to settle into a pattern they are comfortable with. While everyone acknowledges that the flexibility of remote work presents a net positive, many teams and individuals are experiencing a lack of connection.

2023 is the year I foresee that organizations will need to take deliberate steps to shape a sustainable, longer term approach that is compatible with their strategy.

For example, many office spaces will need to be remodeled to enable hybrid teams to collaborate. Cues will need to be taken from remote work veterans Basecamp and The Ready, who invest in activities such as hosting frequent offsites for all staff. And importantly, the “chicken and egg” conundrum of people seeking connection encountering an empty office will need to be addressed.


  1.  We Are All Gig Workers

Erika Fille Legara PhD, Assoc Professor of Data Science, Asian Institute of Management

At the height of the pandemic, we saw the rise of the gig economy, particularly in freelance work. According to a study by Payoneer, the Philippines' freelance workers grew by 208% while India's by 160% in 2020. As the pandemic accelerated digitalization by leaps and bounds, freelance work has indeed become much more effective, accessible, and practical for many. Moreover, for many who have experienced first-hand the practicability of earning a living while enjoying flexibility and convenience, returning to the office is not an option anymore. 

There are, however, numerous concerns associated with the gig economy. The uncertainty of income and job security is a critical issue. Many gig workers have scarce access to social security benefits due to the contractual nature of gigs. As a result, governments are expected to develop policies addressing these issues, including the potential exploitation of workers in the gig economy. 


  1.  New Frame of Mind for Workforce Mental Health Investment

Megan Lam, Founder of Neurum Health

The pandemic has pulled the rug back on growing workforce mental health needs. Testament to this, 75% of Gen-Zers and 50% of Millennials cited mental health as the core reason for leaving current roles. We’ve seen first-hand industries such as Hospitality, F&B, and Aviation with large talent exodus, in search of prioritizing shared values in safety, stability, and wellbeing. 

“Awareness campaigns” shifted sharply to investments in “engagement/what works?” within a mere couple of years. 

In the present-of-work, mental health is no longer just a benefit. Investments at the individual-level aim to engage needs meaningfully — getting it right from everyday mindset growth, to emotional distress and crisis. 

In the (near) future-of-work, it would include a larger systemic change within internal environments, and be a competitive advantage to invest in the mind and lifestyle wellness of talent and wider customer communities.


  1.  The Rise of Employee Communities as Support Systems

Ester Martinez, CEO and Editor in Chief, People Matters

One trend we are seeing in the world of work is the emergence of employee communities. Despite forecasts of an economic downturn in the months ahead, 80% of workplace leaders interviewed through People Matters' project, The Art of the Possible, predict the strengthening and growing diversity of work communities.

During tougher times, people show a greater tendency to lean in and formulate support systems on their own in their workplaces – especially when they know others in their midst are going through life-changing ordeals such as illness or job loss, from massive socio-economic upheavals such as a global pandemic or recession. 

Such work communities aren't simply based on shared interests but more importantly on shared experiences. We all witnessed this during the pandemic. Today, with the risk of a recession, people are once again finding strength in numbers. 


  1.  Sustainability, Beyond Just the Environment

Sriram Iyer, CEO & Founder, HRTech

Since the 1987 Brundtland Commission’s spotlight on the “Sustainability” agenda, organizations have traditionally focused on reducing the environmental impact. This year will be the year we focus on yet another important resource that organizations possess – the Human Resources.

Sustainable Human Resource Management (HRM) focuses on delivering policies and practices that are socially just, ethically acceptable, morally fair and economically sound. These might include holistic employee wellbeing and professional development, enhancing candidate and employee experience through human-centered design and diversity, equity inclusion and belonging.

A data-driven and a tech-centric approach can help HR teams deliver on the Sustainable HRM agenda despite budgetary constraints. Apart from increasing the HR team’s productivity, Sustainable HRM delivers high ROI through improved employee morale and retention, reduced people related costs and risks, enhanced reputation and competitiveness, and not to forget, superior sustainability of the community and environment.

HR teams will continue to face internal resistance while adopting sustainable HRM practices, as organizations tend to follow economic rationalities (and not value-based rationalities). 2023 is truly an opportune time for HR practitioners to convince the Board & the Leadership team, and embark on the Sustainable HRM journey to deliver strong outcomes, not just for the community, but for the organization too.


  1.  Thriving Requires Whitespace and Creative Inputs

Natalie Chan, Founder, OWN Academy

As a real-world experience provider that enables learners to explore different careers and equips them to succeed in their chosen field, we are at the forefront of understanding what young people want. One thing we’ve learned from our students and our team is that people thrive when they are given the space to do so. 

Reporting remotely across APAC, our team is encouraged to work from anywhere and go beyond the confines of their desks at home. As the world opens up post-Covid, we walk the talk and seek out our own real-world experiences by traveling, pursuing our passions, and making authentic connections that help us grow as individuals and enrich the work we do as a team. 

We've discovered that work-life balance is no longer just about compartmentalizing—it's about strengthening the relationship between work and life so that they ultimately nurture and give meaning to one another.


  1.  The Future of Work is Human.

Theodora Lau, Founder, Unconventional Ventures

As a society, we have experienced massive changes in the past few years. Many organizations shifted to remote or hybrid operations almost overnight, as workers were urged to work from home. Our work and personal spheres merged, and life as we know it, was never the same.

But it didn’t end there.

As we settle into the post-pandemic world (which is different for everyone), and return to our work and social habits, something else has changed. Perhaps as one of the many side-benefits of spending extended time at home with our family and loved ones, we have become more attuned to our own needs and the environment around us. More workers are demanding change. There is more development in local economies and more funding supporting local innovation ecosystems, beyond Silicon Valley, New York City, and Boston. 

And there are more intentional efforts from entrepreneurs and businesses alike, innovating for good and taking on difficult challenges for the many: from digital inclusion and workplace equity, to agritech and renewable energy.

The future of work, as it turns out, is not so much so about AI, robotics, or emerging technologies. It’s about all of us — and our shared future. As we start the year anew, I hope we will continue the momentum, and keep human in the center of everything that we do.


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