What does the future of work look like?

For many, the past three years have felt like 30.

The world of business shifted rapidly. Organizations went remote, some stayed there. We went through the Great Resignation, the Great Reshuffle, unexpected layoffs, niche industry booms and everything in between.

I’m not one for New Year’s resolutions, but I think the start of a new calendar year is an interesting time to reflect on what’s changed and think about the future we want to create.

As we (hopefully) catch our breath and prepare for the ever-evolving world of work, I wanted to share three (optimistic) predictions I have for 2023:

Soft skills will become more important and easier to measure

Last year, LinkedIn released some fascinating data on how to future-proof your career. They reported: Hard skills can help you get a recruiter’s attention, but soft skills can help you land the job. More than three in five (61% of professionals say soft skills in the workplace are just as important as hard skills.

The top soft skills in demand? Leadership, communication and problem-solving. Inherently, we know these things matter. But when the future becomes more difficult to predict, their importance rises. I predict that with the rise of importance, how we assess these soft skills will improve. Anecdotally, I’ve seen a major increase in senior leaders undergoing 360-degree reviews and organizations teaching these foundational skills through onboarding and ongoing training.

The four-year degree will matter less

We’re already seeing early indicators of this. Recent research analyzed more than 51 million job listings, looking for four-year college degree requirements. In 2017, 51% required the degree. By 2021, that share had declined to 44%. At Accenture, for example, the researchers found the share of postings specifying a bachelor of arts degree or higher fell to 43% in 2021 from 54% in 2017.

Don’t get me wrong, four-year degrees can provide a foundational level of knowledge that’s difficult (but not impossible) to replicate, especially in more technical fields. And believe me, as much as I love LinkedIn Learning, I’d really prefer a doctor who went to an accredited medical school.

Yet, some of the most motivated, intelligent, and strategic people I know are not highly educated. Employers are recognizing that in a lot of cases, four-year degree requirements are nothing more than a privilege-rooted barrier to entry for otherwise exceptionally qualified applicants.

Employers won’t just compete with each other for talent; they’ll compete with side hustles, too

This is the direct result of the proverbial “steady paycheck” once promised by a full-time corporate job all but evaporating. If you weren’t laid off in the past three years, you know someone who was. If your salary didn’t freeze, you know someone who did. Clocking in at your 9-5 once felt like the safe bet. Now, controlling your destiny might feel (and be) more reliable.

From services like Legal Zoom to programs like Canva, to networking opportunities on LinkedIn, the barriers to starting a business will continue to fade. I had a client tell me last year that he feels like everyone who works for him has some sort of side hustle. My prediction is that many of those side hustles will make the leap to full-time hustles this year.

If the past few years have taught us anything, it’s that no one knows what’s ahead. What we do know, and what history tells us, is that the people (and organizations) who are willing to grow, change, and learn something new always will own the future.