4 Digital Trends Affecting the Future of Work

How social media, branding, and gaming influence interactions

by Haworth, Inc.

Digital trends affect everything from the way we buy groceries and socialize to the way we consume news and work. Here’s a look at four trends and how they could impact the workplace and customer relationships in 2020 and beyond. 

1. Transition to the Hero Era

On social media, consumers are savvy to the fact that just because an influencer posts about a product it doesn’t mean they actually like it. While the amount paid by companies to influencers has grown by 50% since 2017, engagement rates for influencers’ paid content have dipped since 2018.

Brands must reckon with the fact of declining engagement rates with influencer-posted content in the Hero Era. In response, they are tapping customers and employees to serve as brand heroes. The voices of these heroes, not influencers, are what people are most interested in hearing.

The new influencers are those who truly live and breathe a brand’s message. Their experience in the physical world is helping shape brands’ digital experience.

Banana Republic, which has used high-profile influencers, is navigating this change by shifting toward customer-generated content. In exchange for posting photos of themselves posing in Banana Republic apparel, shoppers get $150 gift cards.

GE has tapped its employees to provide insights on its power-producing GE-HA gas turbine, the largest and most efficient of its kind. By turning their social media accounts over to four GE Power employees, they provided the public with a look that could only come from the inside. The move was well-received; 80% of the comments were positive.

The Hero Era is defined by more than customers or employees posing with product. Consumers expect brands to demonstrate what they stand for and what’s important to them. They think brands should be involved in social issues and movements. And it’s not just lip service they’re looking for. Inc. magazine reports that 47% of Millennials think CEOs should take an active stance on social issues, and 51% are more likely to buy products from companies that have activist CEOs.

When Patagonia takes a stance on environmental issues or Microsoft goes to Capitol Hill to oppose the potential repeal of DACA, these brands become heroes in the eyes of many consumers.

As the reach of influencers diminishes and heroes step into the spotlight, companies must ask:

  • Who are the heroes who truly live our brand message and how can we include them in our messaging?
  • What causes do we stand for? Who decides?
  • When, where, and how do we take a stance?
  • How will our products of the future prepare for both a digital and analog experience?

2. A Culture of Instilling Confidence

As the power of influencers diminishes, people are looking to experts for guidance. Specifically, they’re looking for encouragement and teaching that help them do things better—and branded content is a welcome teacher.

Think with Google reports that 70% of YouTube users are receptive to learning more about new products from brands on YouTube. In fact, videos are one of the most important tools for creating confidence. Four out of five surveyed Gen Z-ers said putting on a mobile video while doing other things keeps them entertained.

YouTube videos where the viewer follows along with an on-screen activity are very popular, like cook with me, study with me, and clean with me. Here’s how a few brands are jumping in on this trend:

  • Proctor & Gamble has brought back the infomercial to teach people how to use their products to clean, do laundry, and shave. While the use of these products may seem obvious, many Millennials and Gen Z-ers are using them for the first time.
  • Glossier jumped on the “with me” trend by featuring a “Get Ready with Me” playlist on Spotify.
  • Equal Parts, a direct-to-consumer cookware company, pairs its product with on-demand cooking coaches to help build consumer confidence in the kitchen. Eight weeks of Text a Chef coaching comes with each cookware set.

Ally Financial takes digital even further by merging their educational experience with the physical world. Using augmented reality (AR), they’ve turned US cities into a virtual Monopoly board game in order to promote financial literacy.

The trend to instill confidence means companies must be educators as well as product promoters and they need to consider:

  • How might we leverage technology and social media to encourage and educate customers and employees?
  • What digital platforms will best convey what we have to teach?
  • What kind of teaching—and teacher—will instill confidence in our audience?
  • What do our employees and customers need to know that might seem obvious?

3. The Games Are On!

The rise of esports is changing how brands connect with many consumers. Gamers often forgo Facebook and Instagram to devote their digital time to games.

If your idea of a video gamer is a solitary player in the basement, think again. Esports have gone mainstream. NBC is developing a new television show, The Squad, based on esports. The Washington Post recently introduced a new section called Launcher that’s dedicated to gaming and esports. By the end of 2019, global consumer spending on gaming was expected to reach $152 billion.

Esports teams are forming in a growing number of high schools amid increased interest in video gaming as a sport. About 200 colleges offered students $16 million in scholarships for esports in the 2018-19 school year, according to the National Association of Esports. And professional gaming brings in big-name sponsors like Mountain Dew, Red Bull, T-Mobile, Audi, and more.

Gaming is now mainstream and employers must explore:

  • What role might gaming have in the workplace in team building and combating stress?
  • How might video games be used in training and skill building?
  • Does a gaming space belong in the workplace?
  • How can gaming be used at tradeshows and in retail space? 

4. The Audio Experience

What we listen to greatly impacts our entertainment, knowledge, mood, and even our perceptions. Brands are tapping into the power of the auditory in several new ways—from podcasts to autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR).

ASMR is the experience of sensation from sound. For some people, it’s accompanied by a tingling sensation that begins at the scalp and moves down the body. It’s sometimes called a brain massage and often produces a relaxing, sedative effect.

There are millions of videos that create the ASMR effect on YouTube and the number climbs each day, many created by individual YouTubers. However, global brands are giving new attention to the audio experience with moves like these:

It’s only natural that the audio experience will become part of the workplace too. ROOM, the creator of the soundproof phone booth that gives office workers privacy, has teamed up with Calm, an app for sleep, meditation, and relaxation. The Calm Booth by ROOM provides a space and sounds that helps employees find relaxation and peace in the workplace.

The digital use of sound opens new opportunities for creating an intentional experience for employees and customers. Questions to discover how to leverage this trend include:

  • What about your product’s or service’s sound could create feelings like calm or exhilaration?
  • How will sound be used to convey mood in offices, retail spaces, and in hospitality?
  • What’s our goal in using sound? To promote wellness? Inspire confidence?
  • Will you need more dedicated space for the audio experience? Perhaps dedicated spaces for podcasts or relaxation?

To learn more about evolving workplace design for the future, read 7 Spaces for the New Ways We Work.  


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