In a year where productivity levels continued to plummet, wages stagnated, AI was reported to take over all of our jobs, Brexit uncertainty was rife, and Uber were caught up in a string of scandals, the number of small businesses in the UK still managed to reach a record high according to the Federation of Small Businesses.

Survival in a turbulent 2017 has required many small businesses to utilise their agility and tenacity and the coming year isn't going to be much easier. Below are some workplace predictions for 2018 to keep small business owners ahead of the curve.

A surge in upskilling and retraining

As mentioned above, 2017 has been no easy ride, and the road is not looking to get any smoother in 2018. This is why companies will focus on upskilling and retraining their employees more. When speaking to clients or business owners, one of the main concerns they have is the skills gap. And rightly so. The National Federation of Independent Business reports that 45% of small businesses, were unable to find qualified candidates to fill job openings. This, coupled with Phillip Hammonds pledge to invest £30 million in the development of digital skills, is a strong indication that employers will be investing more resources into their training and development programs in 2018 in order to fill their skills gaps and reach their full capacity.

Emphasis on employee-centric flexibility

There are now over five million people in the UK working on a short-term contract or as a freelancer meaning the gig economy is in full swing. And it’s only going to grow. However, it’s a rather one-sided initiative that has been implemented by companies to benefit companies. There is a growing number of individuals who want to work flexibly and an increasing demand from businesses wanting to keep costs down and just hire skills as they need them. Whilst employees get some degree of flexibility it is typically down to the employer when and where their employees should work.

2018, therefore, will see a more employee-centric version of the gig economy, and the workplace will see an increased number of freelancers. The change will come not only from a growing driving force of freelancers, but long-term, full-time employees being given the opportunity to work more flexibly. This comes back to companies needing to retain their talent and, therefore, tailoring perks to the needs of individuals.

Rise of AI and further implementation

Having been in the works for a while now, the rise of AI came as no surprise. And although 2018 will see an increase of it in the workplace, robots won’t be coming for our jobs just yet. What we will see in the next year or so is a focus on data. GDPR has already highlighted the importance of data security and will begin to make companies more aware of how they will handle and store it.  

Within the next year the rise of AI will also highlight data quality. Machine learning and predictive technologies will start to take commonplace in the world of work. However, no matter how clever the technologies, if they are fed rubbish – the output will be rubbish too. This is why in order to get the best outcome, it will need to be fuelled with high quality data.

Company culture gets taken more seriously

Various news stories this year such as the Google memo, Uber, through to Harvey Weinstein has raised more awareness of the importance of company culture. Often seen as a fluffy subject or lower priority, this year has shown if it’s not right from the get go, it could detrimentally effect your business. Both now and in the long run. Your company culture is the heart of the business, therefore it should be nurtured.

One study revealed that a strong company culture actually attracts better talent, and more importantly, retains that talent. When people enjoy their working environment they are more likely to stick around for the long-term and be more engaged, meaning lower turnover and fewer costs on hiring.

The increase of chatbots

Initially implemented to help out with the odd customer care conversation, chatbots have completely changed the way companies operate both internally and externally. Rather than being used as a simple tool, they're currently part of a much bigger strategy which allows organisations to automate business processes, providing on-demand customer support and in turn, reduce costs.

Over the next year, chatbots will become the public face of AI by taking control of customer service. As 2018 progresses, chatbots will move from a clunky and frustrating experience, which they tend to be today, to a more natural and streamlined one, integrated into the majority of businesses. Allowing people to be freed up and focus on more complex requests.

Flatter hierarchies

Something else to be aware of that will be in the works for 2018 is delayering. Many companies are beginning to shed a manufacturing past for a digital future, as middle management is beginning to dissolve. Since the 1980s, studies have shown that the number of levels between CEOs and their lowest-level managers has dropped. This is due to a number of reasons. It can help cut costs and overheads – something which is particularly important for small businesses watching their bottom line. It can also improve internal communications as there are less layers of hierarchy to go through.

It's the tenacity and nimble-nature of businesses, SMEs in particular, that are a real beacon of hope in these confusing times. We've seen businesses tackle the skills shortage themselves and the investment in new technologies to ease the burden on their staff. These are both exciting developments I think will continue into 2018. After all, don't all business owners love a challenge?

breatheHR free trial