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Five workplace themes to watch for in 2014

The year is ending on a couple of high notes for women in the workplace, including the recent appointment of Mary Barra as chief executive officer of General Motors Co., and the Ontario Securities Commission declaration that it would take action to get more women onto corporate boards. What might the new year hold?

In this space over the past 12 months, I have explored how women navigate in a man's world, how men manage in a women's world and how older and younger workers are coping with a changing business climate.

So what can we expect in 2014? Here are five themes I touched on this year, which I expect will continue to receive lots of attention in the new year.

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1. Leaning in

This was the year of Lean In, where Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg launched a movement to encourage women to be assertive in taking their rightful spot at the table. As the term Lean In becomes last year's motto, the discussion will need to focus on concrete objectives such as reducing the dearth of women in top executive positions and enhancing the role men play at home. Lean In didn't really get at the fact that the traditional family structure is a relic. It's time companies – and individuals – start recognizing this and stop slotting people into traditional gender roles.

2. Farewell, 9 to 5

As unemployment and freelance work becomes more prevalent, it's time to acknowledge that the concept of working for one employer from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday to Friday, is now a rarity.

A large number of functions in knowledge-based organizations will continue to be farmed out, according to Bill Waters, a futurist and business strategist based in Waterloo, Ont. He sees many companies encouraging employees to work from home to reduce corporate overhead and believes this trend will evolve into contract roles so companies can avoid the costs that come with full-time employment relationships.

This is not all bad news. Marie Bountrogianni, interim dean of the G. Raymond Chang School of Continuing Education at Toronto's Ryerson University, said the idea of 9-to-5 no longer appeals to many younger workers, who want flexible work schedules. "It doesn't necessarily mean working more, or less – just differently," she said.

3. I tweet therefore I am

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Advances in technology keep changing how we work, live and communicate with one another and that will only accelerate. I alienated many when I confessed to being addicted to my phone but I see my device as a social outlet and productivity tool. As mobile devices overtake computers, that trend will become more widespread.

Employers will continue to try to use advances in technology to boost collaboration and productivity. Last year, Deloitte predicted that more than 90 per cent of Fortune 500 companies would have a business social network. Duncan Stewart, director of technology, media and telecommunications at Deloitte Canada and the co-author of TMT Predictions, said he has not come across one major company that doesn't use some sort of enterprise social network.

Eventually, every worker will need to get on the social networking bandwagon, as it evolves from specialized role to core skill for every employee, according to Ms. Bountrogianni.

4. Millennial adjustment

Generation Y, or millennials, continued to baffle other generations in the workplace, who often dubbed them lazy and disloyal. Maybe an attitude adjustment is in order since, by 2014, millennials are set to comprise 36 per cent of the U.S. work force. While much more ink (and angst) will be spilled about how to engage, retain and motivate this group, it is time to acknowledge that maybe older employers should conform and learn to embrace their inner millennials.

5. The happiness factor

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My final theme for the coming year is happiness. As the term "success" is continually redefined, organizations and employees will keep looking for ways to inject happiness into the workplace.

In 2013, only 13 per cent of workers globally said they felt engaged at work, with the rest sleepwalking through their days or, worse, poisoning their workplace environment for their few happy colleagues. Emphasizing the value of happiness in the workplace will become an important point of discussion in the coming year, because it makes for healthier and saner employees. That boosts productivity and, ultimately, the bottom line. Who couldn't use just a little bit more happiness in their day-to-day lives?

Leah Eichler is founder of r/ally, a mobile collaboration platform for enterprises. E-mail: leah@rallyyourgoals.com

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About the Author
Future of Work

Leah Eichler (@LeahEichler) is founder and CEO of r/ally, a mobile collaboration platform for enterprises. More

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