Workplace Predictions for 2020. What Can You Expect?

Whether you’ve been working for one year or 20 years, you’ve likely already experienced some changes in the workplace and workforce. Take the unprecedented pandemic that’s swept the globe; what might have been an isolated experience for many people — the idea of working from home, remotely — has suddenly and nearly overnight become standard practice for those people who are able to do so. Even before this dramatic change, however, the workplace was changing in other ways that are likely to have an effect on how we do business in the coming years and decades.

For one thing, the workplace is currently older, but that’s because a huge chunk of the population is getting ready to retire. Once they do retire, the workplace will change again to become younger and more diverse, reflective of the population as a whole. What else can you look for? This graphic explains it.

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Workplace Predictions for 2020. What Can You Expect?

Millennials Will Lead the Way

The millennial generation will dominate the workforce in 2020. But Generation Z, often defined as people born after 2000, entered the workforce in 2018. They’ll have an increasing influence on how we work during the next year and beyond.

And don’t count out Generation X and baby boomers yet. Baby boomers make up the smallest percentage of the American labor force, but experts expect them to be the fastest-growing segment of the workforce from now to 2024. They’re healthier, better educated, and have longer life expectancies than previous generations. Thus, they’re staying in the workforce longer.

Millennials are the ones to watch in 2020, though, since they’re the largest group in the American workforce and will continue to be for many years. Millennials are often unfairly labeled as lazy and entitled. But the available evidence suggests those stereotypes are nonsense.

The reality is that millennials think long-term about their personal and professional lives. In global surveys of millennials, 37% are excited about their opportunities, and 36% are confident they’ll be successful. Only 8% said they don’t think far ahead. Millennials are also more loyal to their employers than the media portrays them. When comparing millennials and Gen Xers at the same age, millennials stay with employers longer than the previous generation.

Millennials also understand that the only constant is change. From world events to new tech, millennials know success depends on adaptation. They understand that the key to professional growth is through lifelong learning and training, and they’re comfortable rising to new challenges and opportunities in the workplace.

What this trend means for the workplace in 2020

Companies must be prepared to meet the needs of four generations working together in the American workplace. Employers should understand the expectations and management styles of millennials, who are taking over as the majority generation in the workforce.

Expect More Workplace Technology

Advanced computing, networking, and mobile technologies have already revolutionized the workplace, and those changes won’t stop anytime soon. Millennials are a digital-native generation. They grew up using computers and then mobile devices and intuitively understand how to use technology to enhance productivity. Generation Z is even more tech-savvy.

As voice-controlled tech, automation, wearable devices, and artificial intelligence (AI) systems advance into workplaces, millennials and Generation Z will quickly adapt to these new ecosystems. For instance, video conferencing will likely replace many in-person meetings in the next few years, and millennials are embracing it. The majority (87%) of millennial executives consider video a positive for organizational health and profitability, according to a study conducted by the video software company Cisco.

What this trend means for the workplace in 2020

At a minimum, companies need mobile-friendly websites, relevant social media accounts, and a firm grasp on using technology to achieve business goals. Companies’ use of AI increased 25% last year, according to the latest Mckinsey Global Survey. Thus, employers and employees should also be ready to adapt to AI tools.

Collaboration Is the New Teamwork

Millennials get the most press for being collaborative in the workplace, but members of Generation X also expect to be part of tightly knit teams that work across departments and disciplines. According to one study, a large majority of Generation X managers are effective at hyper-collaboration, meaning they work to break down organizational solos. Whether using chat tools such as Slack, social networks, text messaging, or online wikis, these generations see work goals as collaborative efforts. However, early research suggests Generation Z may put a higher value on privacy and working alone than the two previous generations do.

What this trend means for the workplace in 2020

With an increasingly diverse labor pool, employers will benefit from offering a combination of spaces that allow for collaboration and individual work, including these types of areas:

  • Enclosed offices with space for small-group collaboration
  • Open-air and enclosed conference rooms
  • Open-office areas
  • Small private rooms for individual work

More Flexibility and Remote Work Options

Just as previous generations have valued and expected company benefits such as retirement plans, health insurance, and paid time off, millennials and Generation Z consider these benefits essential. In addition, three-quarters of millennials consider remote work policies important, according to a Deloitte study.

Remote work has been an option in many industries since the 1990s. Over the next few years, though, up to 50% of all employees may work remotely or at least have access to remote working and flexible location options.

As millennials start families, they don’t want to choose between work and home. They expect employers to enable them to work remotely and maintain flexible hours as long as they meet their managers’ expectations. More than a third (37%) of the new majority generation would change jobs to work offsite, and more than 50% would switch jobs to gain flexibility in work schedules. In essence, millennials place a high value on being able to get work done while having meaningful relationships with partners, children, and other loved ones. As Generation X becomes the sandwich generation (meaning they’re taking care of aging parents and children at the same time), they also value remote work and flexibility.

Paradoxically, Generation Z may value remote work less than the two previous generations. Some research suggests members of Generation Z appreciate the security of a nine-to-five job more than their predecessors because they grew up during the Great Recession. And they seem to value physical offices more. According to a survey of 1,000 workers, 57% of Generation Z believe a physical office will be necessary to perform work in the future compared to 51% of millennials and 43% of Generation X. (Of course, Generation Z may favor remote work as they get older and have children.)

What this trend means for the workplace in 2020

Employers who maintain solid performance expectations and enable flexible work times and location independence can expect to attract and retain more talent in 2020. This trend may be good news for those companies too. When employers hire for remote jobs, they attract talent from wider geographical areas, making it easier to find the right person for a job. Plus, a randomized Stanford study suggests remote workers are more productive and perform better. However, physical offices will endure, since Generation Z may favor them.

Increased Focus on Sustainability

Nearly half (40%) of millennials consider sustainability a critical factor in choosing an employer. Millennials prefer to work for organizations that reduce their negative environmental impacts and help their local communities. They believe good business is about more than the bottom line and want companies to work for broader social benefits.

Generation Z seems to value sustainability more than previous generations as well. In one survey, 68% of Generation Z shoppers had bought an eco-friendly product in the last year. And members of Generation Z were more willing to pay 50% to 100% more for eco-friendly products than any other age group.

What this trend means for the workplace in 2020

More companies will do well to adopt sustainability as a company-wide priority that touches on all aspects of business development and day-to-day operations.

Employee Well-Being Will Be Front and Center

From thoughtful lighting to noise reduction measures, a healthy workplace in 2020 will extend beyond office snack selection. Workplace wellness programs traditionally focused on physical health, but more employers now address other factors, including mental and emotional health, office layout, light, sound, and sustainability.

In general, employee wellness programs will incorporate whole-health approaches to well-being in 2020. Companies are incorporating plants into office design because research suggests they improve productivity and well-being. Many companies are stocking their snack bars and office fridges with healthy choices and offering rebates for exercise classes to encourage physical fitness. And some employers are reviewing how they can improve office culture by increasing their sustainability efforts.

What this trend means for the workplace in 2020

Wellness initiatives will become more popular in the coming years because they benefit employers too. Healthier employees are more productive, and workers who see their company as caring about their well-being may be less likely to leave for other opportunities. By reducing turnover, companies cut costs, decrease work disruptions, and improve their bottom lines.

Freelancing Will Expand

Can you gig it? Freelance workers may be the majority of the U.S. workforce by 2027, according to a study conducted by Upwork and Freelancers Union.

For the past few years, independent contractors and freelancers have accounted for more than one-third of the U.S. workforce. While older workers may see freelancing as a side hustle, younger workers are attracted to full-time freelancing for freedom of location, flexible schedules, and better work-life balance. Plus, Generation Z seems to values entrepreneurship more than previous generations. Nearly half of Generation Z said they wanted to own their own business in a study.

At the same time that more workers turn to freelancing, some states are limiting the ability of companies to rely on freelancers. In 2019, California passed a law named AB-5 that limits how many projects companies can outsource to an individual freelancer. The law goes into effect in January, and lawmakers hope it will compel businesses to hire workers full time and offer them benefits. Other states may follow California’s lead.

What this trend means for the workplace in 2020

Companies may want to focus on accommodating and making the best use of independent contractors. But at the same time, they should assess how California’s AB-5 and the possibility of similar laws in other states may impact them.

Other Factors to Look Out for in 2020

Outside events and developments will shape the 2020 workplace in unpredictable ways. Here are a few to watch for.

Climate Change

A September 2019 report from The International Panel of Climate Change concluded that the planet has already heated 1 degree Celsius above Earth’s typical pre-industrial temperatures. Growing concerns about climate change will likely drive workplace sustainability initiatives. And experts expect demand to increase for many green occupations and industries throughout 2020 and beyond. These occupations include:

  • Water quality technicians
  • Clean car engineers
  • Green residential and commercial builders and design professionals
  • Solar cell technicians
  • Wave energy and wind energy producers

Labor market

Despite a tight U.S. labor market and record-low unemployment, approximately 7 million jobs are sitting vacant in the U.S., according to the recruiting website Glassdoor. Nonetheless, because of tighter profit margins and difficulties hiring, some companies may begin to decrease headcounts in 2020.


The U.S. has experienced its longest-ever period of consistent economic growth, but most economists expect growth to slow in 2020. And because of a growing number of warning signs—trade wars, interest rate cuts, tech IPO failures, bond market ups and downs, and more—some economists think the economy is at its highest risk of a recession in 10 years. While a recession isn’t necessarily looming in 2020, job seekers may want to seek out in-demand careers in fields such as application software development or health care.


It’s impossible to predict the outcome of the 2020 elections in the U.S. But races up and down the ticket may inspire employees, managers, and executives to hash out politics at the office, which could lead to workplace tensions. More companies are also likely to take stands on policies and social issues that matter to them.

Onward into the Future

Many of 2020’s workplace trends will be 2030’s business as usual. Your company can start adapting today for tomorrow’s challenges. Millennials will lead the way into the future. But don’t count out Generation X and baby boomers yet, and look out for Generation Z, who will impact the workplace in 2020 and beyond. Also, watch for outside events and developments to shape the 2020 workplace in unpredictable ways.

By Anthony St. Clair

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