Happy New Year, readers!
2023, the year in which WHO officially called COVID to no longer be a global emergency and where AI suddenly took over our conversations and lives, is done and gone!
Looking forward to 2024, the world of work will undergo significant transformations brought about by the major changes of the past few years.
The dynamics of society are reshaping the structure of work itself, while technological advancements and the rapid development of AI are driving the changes at a breakneck pace.
And while challenges ranging from AI, changing weather, and geopolitics continue to rage on, we are optimistic about what 2024 may bring. According to Ipsos panel data, 70% of people think 2024 will be better than 2023, up by 5 percentage points from 2022.
So, what can we expect from this new year in the context of the future of work?
In this newsletter, I highlight 11 predictions from leading researchers at McKinsey, Gallup, and Forrester, as well as individual thinkers like Dror Poleg and David Shapiro. Plus, read until the end for my two predictions.
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1. Generative AI Will Reach New Heights (All)
As I wrote in AI Trends in 2024, Generative AI will continue its rapid development.
Our “Generative AI at Work” research showed that 71% of Gen Z and Millennials use AI at least once a month, which is Incredible for a tool that was only introduced a year ago.
Almost every expert and consultancy has Generative AI on their list of trends to watch in 2024.
If 2023 were about experimenting with AI, 2024 will see AI significantly reshape industries from content creation to enterprise productivity software.
Experts also expect a major advancement in scale and capabilities with the upcoming release of GPT-5 and Google Gemini.
Research consultancy Gartner is bullish on AI, predicting that in 2024, 40% of all enterprise software will have Generative AI embedded, up from less than 5% in 2020, and creating ways to break barriers to AI adoption.
Paul Silverglate, vice chair of Deloitte LLP and U.S. technology sector leader, further underscored the mainstreaming of Generative AI at work and said that:
“Generative AI is poised for a breakthrough in 2024, as it begins to follow through on its promise of improving productivity, creativity and enhancing the way enterprises engage with their ecosystems. Expect to see Generative AI integrated into enterprise software, giving more knowledgeable workers the tools they need to work with greater efficiency and make better decisions.”
From dedicated free AI websites like Copy.AI and Adobe Firefly to using Copilot as part of the day-to-day Microsoft and Teams experience, most employees will learn how to use AI to stay ahead of the competition and be more meaningfully productive.
McKinsey says leaders have to answer three critical questions in 2024, all worth pondering: which parts of the business can benefit, how to scale from one application to many, and how the new tools will reshape your industry.
Forrester mentions AI is moving “away from the cubicles of unicorn technologists to focus on filling pent-up demand that will drive real business growth”. Their analysts predict that 60% of workers will use a personalized AI to perform their jobs and tasks.
The research agency is so keen on the AI takeover that besides calling 2024 “Exploration Generates Progress,” it even predicts that hallucination insurance will be a big money maker in 2024.
2. Companies Will Become Dynamic Organizations, Embracing Talent Marketplaces and Team-Level Performance Management (Josh Bersin)
In his latest podcast, leadership guru Josh Bersin shares that “this year is a tipping point that changes business forever because we’re entering a world of labor shortages, redesign of our companies, and business transformation driven by AI. We’ll look back on 2024 and realize it was a very pivotal year.”
He mentions that many of the themes discussed in years past are entering reality in 2024 at speeds higher than many may expect. In part driven by record-low unemployment and in part by AI and other new technologies, he sees this year as one of major changes.
No longer beholden to the principles of the industrial age when companies set up large corporate structures with dedicated R&D departments to sell products and services at scale, companies will embrace models to innovate continuously and rapidly.
According to Josh, this means flatter organizations, job titles and descriptions that let people move around, cross-functional teams, agile working groups, pay equity, and performance management focused around teams and projects, not around individual goals and cascading goals.
As I wrote in “Never again just one job. The rise of fractional work, gig economy jobs, and talent marketplaces,” this is very positive development. Having personalized our work by choosing where to work thanks to the remote work boom of 2021-2023, it’s now time to create roles that are more tailored to what we love doing and are good at.
For some, it may even mean a bundle of fractional roles rather than just one full-time job. This aligns our wants and needs better with work, and will create more happiness at work.
3. Companies Will Become Smaller – Cue the AI-driven 3-Person Unicorn (Ben Parr, Octane AI and James Currier, NFX)
Another level of agility is what Octane AI founder Ben Parr predicts: the three-person unicorn. It’s exactly why I believe Josh is on the money – because enterprises will now compete with many more supercharged teams of the type Ben describes.
Ben argues that there's an opportunity to build real businesses with lower costs by using AI correctly. He says you no longer need a technical co-founder; instead, you use ChatGPT and some of the new AI tools to quickly build your prototypes and working products. In an episode of The Startup Podcast, he said:
“It's already kind of there, and it’s more about how long it takes for these changes to shake out, with people realizing how much of their companies they could automate. I believe that there will be a billion-dollar company built in the next five-ish years that has one to three people tops because you can automate almost everything else. It's going to happen.”
NFX’s James Currier added that with AI tools, “teams of three very talented people will be able to grow software-centric businesses to $100+ million in revenue with automated workflows.” He believes a handful of people could create the next unicorn, a company valued at over $1 billion:
“They will be able to develop software faster and better with AI dev co-pilots. Run sales prospecting, qualifying, and outreach with AI automated systems. Run marketing campaigns with AI optimizations. Run AI customer service and success faster and with higher quality. Run accounting and legal cheaper and faster. Run analytics with more detail, less fuss, and better results. Set up self-healing data pipelines. Set up automated workflows. File taxes and other government requirements. All with AI.”
James rightly points out that the cost of large teams isn’t just in payroll. Secondary costs like recruiting, interviewing, hiring, onboarding, coaching, performance reviewing, culture building, office space, IT, and other overhead add to the ‘cost of large teams.’
While the three-person unicorn may not see the light in 2024, Hubspot’s David Groechel predicts, "We'll see our first $10mm+ revenue company by a solo founder who uses AI to handle 75-80% of the work.”
Here at FlexOS, we transitioned to this kind of team in 2023. With a small group of high-performing team members, we keep things agile and can innovate quickly. We combine this powerful core team with fractional talent and advisors, gig workers, and contracted freelancers.
4. Human (Soft) Skills Will Be More Important Than Ever (Jenn Lim, Delivering Happiness)
As I wrote in AI Creates $100k+ WFH Jobs – But What About Women?, especially in the age of AI, companies will be seeking people who possess strong human skills. LinkedIn data shows that even in AI roles, human skills are more important than ever. And if you think about it, that makes sense: it’s the only part machines can’t do.
In 2024, it’s indeed all about those human skills, says Jenn Lim, the CEO of Delivering Happiness (the company culture consultancy spun out of Tony Hsui’s Zappos.)
In FastCompany, she writes that we’ll see more of a focus on skills like emotional intelligence, communication, interpersonal problem-solving, high-level strategy, and thought leadership:
“According to the Society for Human Resource Management, a staggering 77% of organizations have shifted their focus to beefing up these soft skills. And to add some credit to this trend, Harvard Business Review analyzed data from Russell Reynolds Associates, an executive search firm, and found when companies are searching for C-suites, they “prioritize one qualification above all others: strong social skills.”
“We need to become exponential humans in the world of exponential technology. Anything you do that’s structured, repeatable, predictable, could I write an ‘if this than that,’ then either it’s already being done by machines or will be done by machines.
Humans are good at design, imagination, inspiration, creation, empathy, intuition, innovation, abstract and critical thinking, collaboration, social intelligence, and judgment. These are the primary human skills in a world where machines do everything structured, repeatable, and predictable.”
To be competitive in the new year, leveling up in human skills is key for yourself and your teams. As the LinkedIn data shows, even for AI roles, skills like communication and leadership are must-haves.
Future Work FlexOS Predictions
5. Managers Quit Under Increasing Pressure (Gallup)
As I wrote in The Critical Importance of Managers, managers have TWICE the attrition risk compared to other employees and a 25% increase in burnout since pre-COVID days.
Sadly, nothing positive changed since: Gallup reports that the percentage of managers who say their organizations care about their well-being is down to 22%.
In other words, almost 8 out of 10 managers believe their company doesn’t care about them. Worse, they’re out looking for new jobs more than ever.
As Gallup shares:
“Changes to the workplace have hit managers especially hard. In 2023, managers were more likely than non-managers to be disengaged, burnt out and job hunting.
These manager struggles are bad news for organizations because they trickle down to their teams. Managers serve as crucial connectors for team collaboration and effectiveness, accounting for 70% of the variance in employee engagement.
Overall, the “manager squeeze” largely comes from increased responsibilities and navigating numerous organizational changes. Managers now have more work to do on a tighter budget with new teams and find themselves caught between aligning with new directives from leaders and meeting the changing expectations of their employees.”
The question, of course, is – you can quit, but toward what?
One prospect is to leave management altogether and become a ‘Business of One,’ finding a role where you can work much more independently. As WSJ author Alexandra Samuel shared in our interview, this is more possible than ever, thanks to the advent of remote work and AI technology.
Managers who want to keep leading teams also have the option of going for an organization that better supports managers, is better organized, and has a healthier company culture.
Companies who want to avoid such a disaster should read Gallup’s enlightening essay “The Manager Squeeze: How the New Workplace Is Testing Team Leaders,” and follow McKinsey’s advice to “rethink their philosophy about middle managers and recognize them for what they actually are: the core of the company.”
6. HR May Buckle Under the Pressure with the Added AI Agenda (McClean)
Another group under immense pressure is HR, as reported by McClean & Co.
While stress levels are consistent for regular employees, HR is 38% more likely to say they “experience higher levels of stress related to my job today compared to one year ago.”
The report shares that the many external factors affecting employee stress disproportionately affect HR.
Reminding us that “HR staff are employees too!” the report highlights how HR professionals are expected to provide emotional support and help navigate difficult situations while dealing with the uncertainty of changes that might affect their roles.
And more stress is incoming for HR, as the function needs to embrace generative AI themselves, bring new AI-enabled talent into their companies, and upskill all others to become AI-proficient. A huge undertaking that will make an already complex job even more challenging.
Sania Khan, the chief economist at Eightfold AI, predicts “a surge in jobs related to AI transformation, where members of transformation teams will be tasked with choosing AI tools and building workforce strategies to keep organizations agile, productive and engaged.”
This is on top of existing challenges like recruiting talent in a tight labor market as resignation levels remain elevated.
Khan suggests offering more workplace flexibility and upskilling programs to prevent people from leaving as “despite the tight labor market, employers are hesitant to shed staff, reflecting the sustained high demand for labor.”
7. Remote Work Will Hold Steady, Then Increase Like a Nike Swoosh (Nick Bloom)
Stanford professor and the world’s leading Work-from-Home researcher Nick Bloom predicts that remote work numbers will stabilize, then increase in the coming years as companies adjust to the trend.
His WFH Research data shows that remote work numbers have decreased since 2020 but will remain steady throughout 2023. As Nick shared: “Return-to-office died in ‘23. There’s a tombstone with 'RTO' on it.”
Bloom called remote-work numbers in 2023 “pancake-flat." Yes, large companies like Meta and Zoom made headlines by ordering workers back to the office. But, Bloom said, just as many other companies were quietly reducing office attendance to cut costs.
He expects the share of employees working from home to pick up as companies adjust to remote work, possibly starting as soon as 2025 or 2026. Imagine the chart mapping the data to look something like the Nike swoosh, he said.
One reason for this trend towards more remote work is that companies are accepting reality. While many tout productivity as the reason to return to the office, in our interview, Nick disagreed, saying that his research shows no real negative impact on productivity.
But as he says, offering remote working days is a huge benefit for employees who value it about the same as an 8% pay increase. By my calculations, employees are even willing to take a $12,000 pay cut just to retain their remote privileges. That's not a huge surprise, given all the benefits of remote work.
The willingness for pay cuts clarifies why Gallup and others show that as long as employees have some bargaining power, remote won’t go away. Their latest numbers highlight how long-term employee preferences are increasingly hybrid and remote, with only 6% saying the office is their preferred location.
Leaders are wise to offer remote and hybrid roles to engage and retain their top talent. In 2024, we’ll continue to share best practices for managing remote teams.
8. AI will make remote interactions richer and more compelling. (Dror Poleg)
As I wrote in “6 out of 10 CEOs Predict We’re Returning to the Office Full-Time. I Don’t Think So,” one of the reasons the office will be even less popular in coming years is that technology will create experiences very similar to working together in person.
Dror Poleg makes this one of his key predictions for 2024. He shares:
“In May 2021, during the Covid lockdowns, Google announced a new technological solution for virtual meetings. Project Starline enabled people to have holographic meetings that felt incredibly real. The catch? These meetings required one to sit in a very expensive booth decked with special sensors, lighting, and cameras.
Less than two years later, generative AI enables Google to provide a comparable solution with much cheaper hardware and smaller cameras that can fit into every office or home.
How does it do it? Instead of scanning every bit of your body from every angle, the AI generates aspects of the image and video that seem real based on the limited information it takes through the cameras.
Meta has also made incredible progress in making virtual communication feel more real, as exemplified in this virtual conversation between Lex Friedman and Mark Zuckerberg.”
Making virtual meetings as engaging and productive as in-person ones will take one more argument away from the pro-office crowd. For me, this is why this technology can’t come soon enough.
9. AI Will Create Breakthroughs in Longevity Research [Living Longer], Disrupting Our Retirement Plans (David Shapiro)
Maybe it’s because I’m 40 now, but I’ve been very interested in following updates about AI’s potential to speed up longevity efforts. AI-thinker David Shapiro believes we can expect good news as early as this year.
He points at AI developments alongside incentives like the $101 million XPRIZE and new Biden initiatives to “treat aging as a disease.”
“Longevity research is going to kick into high gear in 2024. Artificial Intelligence transforms this by analyzing vast datasets to uncover aging biomarkers and biological processes.
AI's predictive capabilities enhance our understanding of aging and aid in developing anti-aging interventions.
The integration of AI is pivotal in accelerating the discovery of compounds and treatments that could extend healthy lifespans. From Data Analysis to find patterns related to aging, to Compound Discovery, where AI assists in finding new anti-aging compounds like rapamycin.”
As David shares in this and other video essays, AI will eventually play a big role in lengthening lives by creating new and more effective medicine. Just last week, researchers found the first antibiotic in over 60 years, thanks to AI.
The advent of AI will also drastically reduce the need for healthcare. A recent Bank of Korea report, for example, already showed AI would disrupt doctors more than almost any other job. But even for us without a medical degree, there’s cause for concern.
If AI helps us live longer, healthier lives, we will have to work much longer or find new ways to sustain ourselves over a much longer lifetime than we thought. Pension and other investments towards retirement may not be sufficient.
I’ll add two of my own predictions as well, based on a fantastic year of discussions about the future of work with experts on the Future Work podcast and writing the Future Work newsletter:
10. Verified Personal Branding Becomes a Must, Thanks to Gig Work and Deep Fakes
As I wrote in one of 2023’s top posts, “Who Wants A Slice Of The $480 Billion Creator Economy Pie?” building strong social content skills will be key to thriving in the marketplace of tomorrow.
Whether you’re a full-time creator or want to profile yourself on social media or talent marketplaces like Fiverr or Upwork, participating in the gig economy and diversifying your income streams means that creating content is key.
This creates a much bigger ‘creator economy’ than we think of more narrowly now. As Marta Binno, the Creator Economy Reporter at Business Insider, shared with me:
“How do we define the creator economy? We can talk about people who make money with it, even pursuing it as their full-time job. But many more people aspire to be influencers. And even more are building their profile and reach on a platform like LinkedIn. In that definition, the creator economy is much larger than even the research studies show.”
Driving the momentum for verified personal branding is the further advent of deepfakes, manipulated images, videos, and audio that look and sound incredibly real. Sure, so far, deepfakes have been the domain of targeted celebrities, politicians, and popes (above), but that won’t last.
As the technology to create deepfakes becomes more accessible and affordable, like Google launching zero-shot text-to-video with VideoPoet and the "idea-to-video" platform Pika, deepfakes will increasingly target regular users. Already, internet creators are amongst the most searched deepfakes search terms according to Ahrefs data.
The NSA and FBI issued a Cybersecurity Information Sheet in which they highlight how easy new AI tools make it to create deepfakes:
“These fakes can be produced in a fraction of the time with limited or no technical expertise. This is largely due to advances in computational power and deep learning, which make it not only easier to create fake multimedia, but also less expensive to mass produce. In addition, the market is now flooded with free, easily accessible tools (some powered by deep learning algorithms) that make the creation or manipulation of multimedia essentially plug-and-play.”
How do people online know it’s you and your content?
LinkedIn may have a great leg up here for the business community, but new startups will also aim at your ‘verified me budgets.’ Similarly, verified profiles in games and the metaverse will prove more valuable as it becomes exponentially easier to fake an identity.
Tools like Google Deepmind’s SynthID, a watermarking tool designed to detect AI-generated images, will provide additional ways to verify what’s real and what’s not.
11. People Will Go on A Search for Identity and Purpose
My prediction is that many of the trends above will wake more people to the impending impact of AI.
As I shared most recently in “A Jobless Future? Interrogating Musk's AI Prophecy” and “The 3-Day Workweek is Here, Says Bill Gates. I Agree.”, the pace at which AI develops makes it likely that large swaths of jobs will be disrupted or replaced by the technology.
Goldman Sachs research underscores this threat: "AI could expose two-thirds of current jobs to some degree of automation and disrupt up to 300 million, or 18%, of all jobs globally.” This is especially true for administrative, legal, engineering, science, and operations jobs.
McKinsey researchers concluded that “up to 30 percent of hours currently worked across the US economy could be automated and that “12 million occupational transitions may be needed by 2030,” especially in office support, food services, business and legal professionals are most at risk.
And already, 64% of people think AI will take away jobs in 2024, according to recent Ipsos data, although regional differences are stark:
Countries in Asia, known for their tech-driven growth, remain undecided about AI. In China, 74% say AI may create new jobs in their country, whereas 70% say AI could lead to job losses. In contrast, countries from the West, like the UK, display a more negative perspective towards AI, where 65% are more likely to believe AI may lead to job losses, compared to 35% who think it could lead to job creation.
Typically, retirement is a time for people to rethink their purpose now that work is no longer what they’re valued for. AI may force retirement on certain groups – triggering the search for meaning.
Ikigai is a great model for finding your purpose, and even though the “what you can get paid for” may change, staying active and agile as the world of work develops will help you future-proof yourself better.
The Bottom Line
While financial outlooks are improving in large parts of the world, AI will bring opportunities and challenges.
Staying ahead means investing in future-proofing yourself, your teams, and your organizations. These 11 predictions for 2024 should be a great starting point for that.
What will you prioritize? Let me know!