A global perspective on workplace trends for 2018

2018 is set to be a year of ongoing digital transformation. Gone are last year’s concerns about disruption arising from change and in their place, is a new confidence in the essential importance of the role of people in the workplace and their ability to augment the tools of automation. Going forward, it seems, the challenge for employers will be to realize the possibilities of technology while retaining the human values that make their organization strong.

Forecasts for 2017


In 2017, bh reviewed the literature and identified trends under six headings (in alphabetical order):

  • Benefits and Compensation
  • Candidate/Employee Experience
  • Generation Shift
  • Gig Economy
  • People / Talent Analytics
  • Technology

A survey of predictions for 2018 suggests that although those trends are still present, issues associated with factors such as the Generation Shift and the Gig Economy seem to have slipped somewhat to the background. People/Talent Analytics remains a trend, as does Candidate/Employee Experience, while Technology has emerged as a major preoccupation for 2018.


With respect to trending vocabulary, five terms were defined in 2017: People/Talent Analytics, Gig Economy, Workforce Fluidity, Generation Z, and Boomerang Workers. Of those, two remain particularly relevant in 2018:

  • People/Talent Analytics – a data-driven approach to people related issues in areas such as recruiting, performance evaluation, leadership, hiring and promotion, job and team design, and compensation.
  • Workforce Fluidity – a more fluid, flexible and dynamic way to work, where workers have more choice in how they approach tasks, opportunities for advancement are less linear, and workers define themselves in a more personalized, holistic way.

A vocabulary of transformation for 2018

Looking ahead into 2018, the vocabulary used to describe workplace trends points to a focus on people AND machines (e.g. through the term “augmented”), the importance of human experience, and the necessity of personalizing products and interactions to meet the needs of specific individuals or groups. The terms that follow are representative of the language found in a variety of forecasts for 2018, identified from Google searches, including from sites referenced at the end of this article. They are presented here in alphabetical order by category. All definitions are adapted from Wikipedia, except where noted.


  • A-Commerce or Augmented Commerce is the buying and selling of goods using augmented reality to visualize products virtually in the real-world environment before purchasing. It allows retailers to offer a more personal, interactive experience. It brings realism to potential scenarios by allowing online shoppers to get a familiarity with products that were only flat images before.
  • E-Commerce is a transaction of buying or selling online.
  • M-Commerce is “the delivery of electronic commerce capabilities directly into the consumer’s hand, anywhere, via wireless technology."


  • Experience economy – in the experience economy businesses orchestrate memorable events for their customers, and that memory itself becomes the product — the “experience". More advanced experience businesses can begin charging for the value of the “transformation" that an experience offers, e.g., as education offerings might do if they were able to participate in the value that is created by the educated individual.


  • Augmented Intelligence (AI) is designed to enhance human intelligence rather than replace it. The word augmented, which means “to improve," reinforces the role human intelligence plays when using machine learning and deep learning algorithms to discover relationships and solve problems. (Rouse, 2017).
  • Artificial intelligence (AI, also machine intelligence, MI) is intelligence displayed by machines, in contrast with the natural intelligence (NI) displayed by humans and other animals


  • Internet of things (IoT) is the network of physical devices, vehicles, home appliances and other items that enables these objects to connect and exchange data. Each thing is uniquely identifiable but is able to inter-perate within the existing internet infrastructure.


  • Personalization, broadly known as customization, consists of tailoring a service or a product to accommodate specific individuals or groups. Personalization is a key element in social media, for example.
  • Hyperpersonalization is a model of interpersonal communication that suggests computer-mediated communication (CMC) can become hyperpersonal because it “exceeds [face-to-face] interaction", thus affording message senders a host of communicative advantages over traditional face-to-face (FtF) interaction.


  • Augmented reality (AR) is a live direct or indirect view of a physical, real-world environment whose elements are “augmented" by computer-generated perceptual information.
  • Virtual reality (VR) is a computer technology that uses virtual reality headsets or multi-projected environments, sometimes in combination with physical environments or props, to generate realistic images, sounds and other sensations that simulate a user’s physical presence in a virtual or imaginary environment.

Putting it all together

Together, the language of trends for 2018 creates a complex impression of the coming year. That impression is simplified, especially for employers and managers, in Reshaping the future of work, a blog by Cecile Alper-Leroux, VP of Human Capital Management at Ultimate Software. Alper-Leroux identifies three “megatrends” that she says will help organizations go beyond automating manual tasks and redesigning management processes, to “rethinking the way we manage employees.” A summary of her megatrends which, she says, “intersect in powerful ways,” illustrates why it is important to understand the new vocabulary of business and know how to apply its meaning to the workplace:

  • Megatrend #1: People-First Artificial Intelligence: Machine Learning and Human Intuition Combine Forces

…using machine learning to better understand what motivates employees, how to more effectively recruit and retain talent, and how to improve on the employee experience at work by using both their own skills and knowledge combined with the near-instantaneous analytical power of AI. This type of AI supplements the work that HR and managers already do, rather than replacing them.

  • Megatrend #2: Hyper-personalization: Individualized Leadership Replaces “One-Size-Fits-All” Management

Today’s workers prefer a culture in which leaders seek to develop the whole person, with a deep understanding that one-size-fits-all management is not an effective approach ….

The most effective managers will be able to flex and adapt their personal management styles to the individuals they manage in order to help their employees put forth their best effort and succeed at work.

  • Megatrend #3: Humanizing Work: Breakthrough Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion for the Modern Age

…modern diversity, equity, and inclusion will apply advances in virtual technologies and neuroscience that allow organizations to move beyond the talk and numbers, to evaluate and overcome unconscious bias in the entire work experience—from recruiting to performance management to pay equity—to help companies create workplaces that are truly inclusive beyond traditional categories of diversity.

Trends in benefits

Trends in employee benefits are compatible with trends generally. Within Megatrend #2, Alper-Leroux refers to the importance of going beyond “typical physical-wellness offerings” to help employees “achieve meaningful, purposeful, and productive work and careers.”

Three top trends shaping employee benefits in 2018, as observed by Benefitfocus.com, are representative of the field and relate to:

  • Next Generation of the Workforce – Gen Z and the gig economy are creating the need for benefits accessibility and personalized plans, including for contract workers.
  • Personalized Employee Experience – Leveraging technology can make the employment journey – through attraction, retention and engagement – easier, smarter and more human.
  • Financial Wellness Imperative – Empowering employees with an understanding of their benefit choices in a more holistic way will help them take greater control of their own financial wellness.

In Summary

In summary, in 2018, employers, along with their employees and clients, may participate in either A-Commerce, E-Commerce or M-Commerce, or in all three. Their “products” may be part of the conventional or Experience Economy. They may be created or enjoyed using Augmented or Artificial Intelligence (both AI) or even, Natural Intelligence (NI). They may tap into the Internet of Things (IoT) and be appreciated using Augmented Reality (AR) or Virtual Reality (VR). What happens in the workplace or in the business transaction may include Personalization or Hyperpersonalization that is likely to involve computer mediated communication (CMC), with or without face-to-face (FtF) interaction.

In other words, in 2018, AI may add to the IoT with products, including Experience, sold by A-Commerce, E-Commerce or M-Commerce, created or enjoyed by AI or NI, appreciated by AR or VR, and described using CMC or FtF.

Welcome to the new year. bh


Alper-Leroux, Cecile. 2018, January 10. 2018 HR & HCM Technology Trends: Three forces reshaping the future of work. Blog. Ultimate Software’s Blog. Human Resources Today

Cwirka, Whitney. 2017, December 27. 5 trends shaping employee benefits in 2018. Blog. Benefitfocus.

McDermott, Andrew. 2017, November 13. The top business trends to look out for in 2018. Workzone.

MRINetwork. 2018, January 03. Employment trends to watch and embrace in 2018. MRNetwork.

Rouse, Margaret. 2017, July. Augmented intelligence: Definition. WhatIs.com.

Teixeira, Nancy. 2017, December 15. Looking ahead to the business trends shaping 2018—And beyond. Channelbuzz.ca.

TrendWatching. 2017, November. 5 trends for 2018. TrendWatching Quarterly.

Wikipedia, Various.

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