11 Predictions About the Future of Work & the Role of Associations

Eight months ago, when talking about the future of work, remote work might have been a trend to consider. How things have changed. Now, remote work is the present, no longer the future.

What else has changed? What new ideas do you need to include in your future scenarios planning? Granted, nothing is certain, but you can’t go forward without thinking through different outcomes and making sure your association is positioned to take full advantage of opportunities while minimizing risks.

11 Predictions About the Future of Work

We’ve identified eleven emerging trends that could affect the future of work and create opportunities for your association and its professional development programs.

#1: Accelerated change increases the need for new competencies

During the pandemic, medical professionals had to ramp up their skills under crisis conditions to deal with a new infectious disease. Restauranteurs had to figure out a new carryout and delivery business model. Event planners shifted gears to become experts on virtual experiences.

Your association’s leadership, professional development, and marketing teams need to respond quickly to changes in your industry. How long would it take to launch a new digital badge program when the next crisis or market shift hits? Think in terms of months, not years.

During the pandemic, companies discovered that their ability to change direction and adapt to new conditions determined their viability. Their employees must have the willingness, capability, and resources to learn new skills quickly. Lifelong learning is now a corporate imperative. Seize new opportunities by continuously marketing the value of your online learning programs to both employers and employees.

#2: Businesses stuck in place

Are there companies and business owners in your industry that can’t easily switch from a “bricks and mortar” to an online business model? Will they remain viable? How can your association assist them?

What about the ones who have developed a new online business model? What do they have to teach? What skills do they still need to learn?

future of work

#3: New leadership skills are in demand

The pandemic revealed which leaders were equipped to handle change and which weren’t. Some people had the skill set to manage remote teams and some still struggle with that responsibility.

People who are really good at managing stable systems and processes aren’t necessarily the ones who can lead a team through times of change. The most successful leaders will be the ones who can manage amidst uncertainty.

Leaders must be able to balance priorities, keeping an eye on both profits and people. They must ramp up their empathy so they stay in tune with the needs of their employees (and customers) during stressful times.

Leadership now requires fumbling forward with grace, staying creative and curious, and taking advantage of emerging opportunities. Leaders must know how to nurture an organizational culture in which agility and innovation are prized, and relationships are built on trust and empathy.

Your association can help your members and staff develop these leadership skills through online courses, discussion groups, masterminds, and book clubs.

#4: Outcomes matter, not hours worked

Going remote has been tough for managers who are sticklers for hours worked in lieu of results produced—in other words, lousy managers. However, organizations that have knowingly or unknowingly adopted a Results Only Work Environment (ROWE) aren’t experiencing as many challenges.

In a ROWE, results are the focus, not the number of hours worked. ROWE creates “a work culture where there is an equal balance between accountability and autonomy for every person.”

ROWE only works if everyone has an understanding of the organization’s goals and how their work fits into the organization’s strategy. It requires a culture built on trust—and that means hiring and promoting the right people.

Would employers in your industry—or managers in your association—benefit from learning how to implement ROWE or adopt similar practices and mindsets?

#5: Millennials setting the agenda

Millennials—the 24 to 39 year old generation—are moving into management and leadership positions. By 2025, they will make up 75% of the workforce. Millennials have always been focused on work-life balance, which is especially challenging now when working from home. Watch for this new generation of leaders to influence organizational culture and workplace norms.

Working conditions have become more flexible because of the pandemic’s unusual demands on employees’ personal lives. But this flexibility is something millennials have always valued—and it’s here to stay.

In survey after survey, millennials have emphasized their interest in professional development. Make sure you have sufficient certificate/digital badge and online learning programs for early- and mid-career professionals.

#6: Here comes Gen Z

Generation Z—ages 23 and under—are now entering the workforce. Gen Z takes professional development seriously because they know that’s how to get ahead financially and professionally. They understand the need to pivot and adapt to keep moving forward.

Gen Z values early-career resources, such as information about career pathways, networking, interviewing, and navigating your industry, particularly when working remotely. They’re an eager audience for introductory certificate programs and digital badges.

This is a generation that never knew a world without the internet. They grew up learning new skills from watching YouTube on their phone. Are your online education programs compelling enough for them? Can they access everything you offer on their phone? If they can’t do something on their phone—like join, renew, read, network, learn, register, or purchase—they may never do it.

future of work

#7: The rise of HR

The role of the HR department has become more significant as companies adjust to a permanent state of remote work and the need for effective diversity and inclusion initiatives. New training needs are emerging, for example, communicating with a virtual team and cross-departmental collaboration.

Staff hiring, onboarding, and training has moved online. If you don’t have relationships with the HR teams at industry employers, now’s the time to start building them. Talk to them about partnering on corporate training programs.

#8: Scalable staffing

Many organizations are laying off staff or freezing hiring until they can stabilize their budgets. The outsourcing trend is still going strong since it allows companies to “staff” up without worrying about benefit packages.

Keep an eye on outsourcing trends in your industry. If more professionals are becoming freelancers (independent contractors) or solo practitioners, they will need industry-specific training in business management.

#9: The urban exodus

As remote work becomes permanent for some companies, their staff no longer have to pay higher rents or mortgages to live within commuting distance of the office. They can live and work anywhere.

Companies can downsize or give up expensive office leases. As a result, office and apartment rents, as well as housing prices, could fall, as people move out of metropolitan areas. Expensive cities could become more affordable.

What impact could this have on your chapters after the pandemic? For example, they could still have a geographic focus but offer a mix of in-person and virtual activities to a larger audience beyond their metropolitan area. You may need virtual chapters to serve those who’ve moved well away from population centers.

#10: Intensified challenges for women

Women are shouldering extra responsibilities during the pandemic, particularly childcare and virtual schooling challenges. For many, this situation is not sustainable. One study found that women are nearly twice as likely as men to report that they will leave their workplace within the next year.

How can your association help women who are experiencing career setbacks? Can you find ways for them to stay involved in their professional community? Consider alleviating leadership burdens for association and chapter volunteers by sharing responsibilities and leveraging technology.

#11: The COVID divide

In the coming months, many companies will invite their employees back to the office, but some may choose to continue working from home. They may not be willing to brave public transport or spend hours around other people all day. Will this result in a two-tier culture—those who see each other frequently in the office and those who are out of sight and, perhaps, out of mind?

The same phenomenon could happen when in-person conferences and other on-site training programs return. Will you continue to serve your virtual audience as effectively as you serve your in-person audience? Are all your educational programs available online or will people have to attend in-person programs if they want to earn certificates or CE credits?

The pandemic caused an acceleration of digital transformation for associations. In a matter of weeks, the way we work and deliver value to members changed and may never go back to what it was before. But these changes also bring opportunities as disruptions continue to affect your industry’s workforce and new educational needs emerge.

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