Stay in the know
We’ll send you the latest insights and briefings tailored to your needs
Our last Future of Work report was written during a period of upheaval, with the Covid-19 pandemic necessitating new ways of working and social movements – including Black Lives Matter, #MeToo, #StopAsianHate and growing climate activism – changing expectations of internal and external stakeholders.
Now the pandemic has abated but new challenges have emerged, as stressed supply chains and soaring energy costs have contributed to rising inflation and tough trading conditions in many markets. Economic anxiety is changing workers’ priorities and, as a result, employers’ agendas too: 80% of companies in our latest survey say that economic trends, including the cost-of-living crisis and the threat of recession, are driving changes to workforce policies.
Economic fears have sapped momentum from the Great Resignation and quiet quitting trends, giving employers leverage to reconsider flexible ways of working that, in the eyes of many firms, had become a little too flexible. This is most visible in the increasing drive to recall employees to the office.
Meanwhile, the ongoing digital revolution, and especially the emergence of generative AI, is changing work in other ways. New technologies have raised hopes of productivity gains but also revitalised fears of job displacement. This includes white-collar and creative professionals, many of whom never before considered technology a threat to their livelihood. Digital tools are also giving employers powerful new ways to manage – and even micromanage – their workers.
None of this is to say the changes the pandemic brought to our working lives are gone and forgotten. Even as more work happens in the office, the possibilities for how we labour are forever changed. Norms regarding how employees are managed continue to evolve. With the global health crisis still fresh in our collective memory, workers and employers alike also have a new appreciation of the importance of wellbeing at work.
The post-pandemic era has so far been defined by economic disruption. Our 2023 Future of Work survey indicates that worries about rising inflation and the cost of living appear to have dampened employees' appetite for challenging issues in the workplace, but this may be only a temporary reprieve.
As employers shape and navigate the new norms of working life, they face many potential pitfalls: how to encourage staff to return to the office without deterring talent, and how to capture the productivity benefits of technology without provoking employee concerns, are chief among them.
Senior Associate, New York
Managing Partner, Singapore, Singapore
Senior Associate (Employed Barrister), London
Regional Head of Practice (EMEA) - Employment Pensions and Incentives, Paris
Partner, New York
The contents of this publication are for reference purposes only and may not be current as at the date of accessing this publication. They do not constitute legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. Specific legal advice about your specific circumstances should always be sought separately before taking any action based on this publication.
© Herbert Smith Freehills 2023