2024 workplace trends: flexi offices, hybrid headwinds and AI assistants

We’ll see more changes to when, where and how we work in the year ahead as businesses and their employees continue to adapt to the new world of work

2024 Trends Work

The average British person will spend a total of 3,507 days working over their lifetime. With so much of our time dedicated to the world of work, it’s important to understand the trends that are shaping it.

Will the hybrid work debate finally end?

One of the biggest ongoing debates is over where people should be doing their work. Throughout 2023, employees and employers have struggled to agree on the right amount of time to spend at home or in the office.

“Many places still haven’t found the right balance between home working and the office,” says Doug Rode, the UK and Ireland managing director at recruiters PageGroup. “So it will remain a dynamic conversation throughout next year.”

We’re going to stop worrying about hybrid work and go back to just calling it work

While we won’t see many businesses return to the five-days-a-week-in-the-office model, employers may hold greater sway in this debate in 2024. “People are realising that it’s quite hard to maintain or build a culture when you don’t have an in-person presence,” claims Kelly Tucker, founder of HR consultancy HR Star. “There will be a shift towards employers making the call on how the future balance of hybrid working will look.”

James Reed, CEO of jobs site Reed.com, is seeing a similar trend. He maintains that we won’t see the end of remote working completely. “Some of the more enlightened employers realise that a bit of flexibility is a good thing because it makes people more productive,” he adds. 

Josh Bersin, HR analyst, author and founder of advisory The Josh Bersin Company, agrees. “We’re going to stop worrying about hybrid work so much, and it’s going to go back to just being called work,” he says. Instead of the artificially constructed rules companies are placing on in-person work, such as requesting that everyone comes in on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, managers will get more sophisticated in working out when it is best for their teams to work together in the office, he claims. 

What impact will this have on the office?

The past year has seen companies including HSBC and Meta downsize their offices as staff spend more time working from home. EY is among the latest companies to consider relocating.

We may see more companies recalibrate their office requirements in 2024 as more expensive leases come up for renewal. 

The huge costs associated with renting office space and businesses’ changing requirements are leading to other interesting workplace developments. The popularity of flex space is seeing a resurgence as companies shirk long leases in favour of more flexible arrangements. Meanwhile, some businesses are exploring the idea of sharing office space with other organisations in order to split the overheads. 

With office vacancies nearing post-financial crisis levels in the UK, finding more cost-effective ways to maximise the use of this space will become the norm. Workspace management technology, which allows employees to book office space more easily and for companies to monitor use, is aiding this transition.

“I’m constantly hearing companies complain that they have all this office space but nobody’s showing up,” says Bersin. “I think a combination of normalising the process of deciding when to come in and this workspace management technology will help organisations with that real estate vacancy issue.”

AI becomes a daily habit

AI will also continue to disrupt the workspace in 2024. While many people became aware of the power of generative AI models, such as ChatGPT, in 2023, next year will see more businesses and employees integrate it into their daily workplace routines.

Aiding this will be the release of new AI-enabled tools. Google released its AI assistant for its suite of workspace apps in August, meanwhile Microsoft has promised to keep improving its Copilot tool. 

In a year’s time, AI will be another order of magnitude better

Early adopters of Microsoft’s AI tool have stated that it makes them more productive and improves the quality of their work. Interestingly, 77% of users said that once they started using Copilot in the workplace, they didn’t want to give it up. It seems a surefire sign that more people will be using AI assistants at work in the year ahead.

“AI is going to be everywhere,” Bersin adds. “All of these workplace tools are going to be smarter and provide more information and advice… we’re just getting started with this. In a year’s time, it will be another order of magnitude better.”

This will contribute to growing fears of AI making certain roles redundant. However, Reed notes that he has not seen a large rise in the number of specific AI jobs being advertised on its site. Instead companies are increasingly asking for AI skills within the job description. “I would expect that phenomenon to continue next year,” he adds. Those who are able to upskill and utilise this new technology will be in demand in 2024.

Could 2024 be the year the four-day week finally takes off?

Finally, 2023 saw the UK’s largest four-day-week trial come to a conclusion. The results were hailed as a “breakthrough moment” by its organisers as they showed the shorter work week brought improvements to retention, recruitment, productivity and turnover.

More businesses are warming to the idea of a four-day week, with nearly two-thirds (64%) of corporate decision-makers in the UK considering its introduction. While a major increase in adoption has not followed, Bersin believes we may pass a tipping point in 2024. “Many of the CHROs we speak to want to conduct their own experiments and pilots… it’s really hit the mainstream,” he says.

This is partly being driven by the demand from employees, in particular the younger generations, for more flexible working arrangements, according to Julia Bersin, senior research analyst at The Josh Bersin Company. With employers pushing back on remote working, she predicts that we may see some businesses offer other forms of flexibility, such as the four-day week, as a compromise.

“Companies that want people back in the office are exploring the possibility of offering staff a four-day work week in return,” she adds. “This way they are still getting some rigidity from employees but through a different offering.”

AI could also have a role to play in the development of a shorter working week. Bill Gates and JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon are on the record stating that a 3.5 or even three-day-work week could be possible, as the technology alleviates us from certain tasks. That is unless it replaces us completely.

In summary, many of the trends that shaped the world of work in 2023 will continue to impact our working lives in 2024. The year ahead may finally see a conclusion to the remote working debate, as companies settle into new hybrid working patterns, and AI’s true impact on the workforce will begin to take effect. Whether they fall in favour of employees or employers remains to be seen.