The culture of the workplace is continually evolving. While larger, more established organizations may be slower to make changes, they are increasingly responding to changing employee needs in an effort to promote better engagement and retention. As 2019 winds to a close, it’s worth taking a look back at some of the biggest trends that have impacted the workplace over the last year.

Increased Diversity

Today’s successful organizations understand that diversity in the workplace isn’t about hitting arbitrary quotas, but rather the key to unlocking innovation and new ways of thinking. The fact is that diverse teams perform better. Bringing in the same kind of people into an organization will generally serve to reinforce the status quo. When everyone thinks the same and shares a similar background or education, they’re typically going to offer the same solutions and agree with one another rather than challenging assumptions and bringing new perspectives. Fortunately, most companies are beginning to focus on diversity in its workforce. While organizations still have a long way to go in terms of workplace diversity (consider the 2015 New York Times report that found there were more men named “John” leading S&P 1500 firms than all women combined), progress is being made and employees are being made more aware of unconscious bias.

Employee Wellbeing

Health and wellness is a bigger point of emphasis than ever before. Organizations are realizing that taking proactive measures to improve the physical and mental health of their employees can help them to be more productive and effective over a period of time. Whether through improved healthcare benefits, better-designed working spaces, or a greater emphasis on work/life balance, companies are experimenting with a variety of ways to help people avoid burnout, which impacts as many as two-thirds of employees.

The Virtual Office

According to IDC research, three-quarters of the US workforce will be working remotely by 2020. The shift to virtual teams, remote freelancers, and work-from-home arrangements are dramatically changing the way organizations think about the office. With coworking spaces becoming more common, several companies are opting to downsize and save on the expense of maintaining a physical office space. While the virtual office offers several benefits, it also forces organizations to work even harder to cultivate a sense of culture and identity that allows employees to feel connected to their work and their teams. Employee development programs and team building activities are important for companies that want to retain a distinct cultural identity that sets them apart.

Emphasis on Values

While organizations have long placed a premium on public perception, they’re increasingly finding that their employees want to work for companies that provide them with a greater sense of purpose. This is especially true of younger people entering the workforce. Not only do they want the organizations they work for to show more social responsibility, but they also want to see how the work they do is making a genuinely positive impact on people’s lives. In a labor market with low unemployment, people no longer feel like they have to work for a company that doesn’t align with their principles. This attitude is matched by the desire of consumers to support organizations they believe are socially and environmentally responsible.

Less Hierarchy

The rigid, hierarchical structures that were once a staple of the business world are rapidly giving away to more horizontal, distributed forms of organization. Rather than working strictly under the authority of a single manager or department, many employees find themselves reporting to multiple leaders or collaborating with people from vastly different functions. This lack of hierarchy helps organizations to be more agile, allowing them to allocate resources more effectively and respond to shifting circumstances. Since lines of authority are often blurred in these situations, it’s important for companies to provide cross-functional team training that promotes the types of communication and influencing skills needed to thrive in a less hierarchical environment.

More Technology

Technology has always played a key role in shaping organizational culture over time. Personal computers and cell phones, for instance, have completely transformed what it means to work in an office over the last few decades. As more organizations shift to agile workflow methodologies and turn increasingly to virtual teams, employees must become proficient in the tools that allow them to facilitate that work. Successful companies must be aware of how those technologies impact employees and affect different types of workplace culture to ensure that people remain engaged and effective. No technology platform should be taken for granted or implemented without taking the potential consequences into account. New technology also provides new opportunities for building trust and cultivating a healthy, successful culture that employees find appealing.

As 2020 approaches, organizations need to take a close look at their workplace culture to make sure they’re keeping pace with the latest trends. Clinging to outdated cultural values will make it difficult to attract and retain the best talent, which will eventually undermine business performance. In an era of increased employee movement and tight labor markets, building a strong and positive workplace culture is more important than ever.