By Brian O’Connell

Now seems like a good time to canvass company managers and executives about their best predictions for the business world in the new year? A fresh outlook is especially relevant with coronavirus variants, remote work, supply chain and logistics issues, the metaverse, and global business trends all on the management table.

Front-line managers are well-positioned to assess different workplace scenarios and measure their potential and effectiveness.

So what can we expect to see in the business and workplace landscape in 2022, and what trends will top that list?

Here’s how business managers and workplace academics answered that query:

Work/life flexibility and employer branding on the rise in 2022

Kara Fasone, adjunct professor at The Chicago School of Professional Psychology, has spent the past nine years focusing on human resources and organizational development. This year, she said, disruption stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic will continue to impact the way people work—and lead companies in new directions.

“The persistent belief that work has to be done in an office has been busted,” Fasone said. “Many organizations are recognizing the benefits of remote work, ranging from decreasing overhead by eliminating the need to invest in physical workspaces to widening their talent pool by recruiting prospective candidates from all corners of the U.S. and … the world.”

Now, remote work options and schedule flexibility are quickly becoming a standard expectation among job seekers, and that can be a big challenge for firms in the new year.

“Because location has become a non-issue, job seekers have more organizations to explore, interview with and consider,” Fasone noted. “Organizations will have to work harder to stand out, intentionally crafting an inclusive and appealing employer brand to attract and retain talent.”

Fasone also believes that pandemic-fueled uncertainty around new variants, changing public and private regulations, and new company policies and procedures will create major change management issues for team leaders.

“In 2022, organizations of all sizes should develop standards around change management,” she said. “If you’re an executive or [manager], ask yourself, ‘How will I keep my team informed? When will I share information? How will I anticipate and address concerns? What training or other support will I offer to make seemingly constant transition easier for my team members?’ ”

“Significant change is difficult for companies,” Fasone added. “It can lead to burnout if not managed with care and consideration.”

Big changes in supply chain management

With global supply chains in disruption, companies will have to find new ways to move inventory around and get the tools they need to keep up with customer demand.

Managers, it seems, will find themselves immersed in supply chain issues as the year rolls on.

“We’ve learned a lot in the last two years, and firms are responding with investments in supply chain capacity, resiliency and agility worldwide,” said Dr. Linda Khoshaba, chief executive officer at Natural Endocrinology Specialists, a health care company in Scottsdale, Ariz. “Specifically, we keep coming up with ways to expand our manufacturing and delivery capabilities.”

Companies—especially manufacturers that are highly reliant on seamless supply chains—will need to reduce dependency on single sourcing and diversify their supplier base.

“Companies will focus on expanding delivery planning horizons and lead times, increase production, and improve agile supply chains so they’re more responsive, flexible, efficient and quick to meet consumer demands,” Khoshaba said. “As the marketplace evolves, we must be flexible and quick to adjust to changes in consumer behavior.”

“Companies will be able to achieve the speed and precision that today’s consumers expect by investing in real-time supply chain visibility and predictive/prescriptive analytics,” she added.

Freelancers hit the mainstream

With a changing workplace and the shadow of the Great Resignation looming over the business landscape, look for companies to bring an army of independent contractors into the mainstream—with the expectation that company leaders will know how to manage freelancers effectively.

“Most professionals will make flexibility in work schedules an important factor in applying for or accepting a job offer,” said Ezra Cabrera at SMB Compass, an alternative financing solutions company in New York City. “People are curbing work burnout by working at their own pace and by working at a time they are most productive.”

Gone are the days when doing one full-time job is enough, Cabrera said. “These days, with more flexible schedules, people are going to get at least two full-time jobs or start a side hustle,” she said. “People would want to use their time to generate more income even [if] this side hustle isn’t really something they would do long-term.”

That leads to challenges for managers, especially those focused on cybersecurity issues.

“Cybersecurity leaders will have to double their efforts to protect the organization, given that more remote, temporary employees will have access to files,” Cabrera said. “With more offsite workers accessing files stored on the cloud, security leaders need to rethink their processes and increase their cybersecurity tools to ensure all devices and apps are covered.”

Workplaces morph into “collaboration stations”

In 2022, the physical workplace will be increasingly used as a collaboration area rather than a workspace, and that could be complicated, said Justin Nabity, the financial manager at Physicians Thrive, a physicians’ professional services firm in Omaha, Neb. Collaboration areas are offices where staffers from different companies can work under one roof.

“When it comes to solo and creative work like coding or copywriting, we’ve seen an increase in productivity when working from home. … However, collaboration and group consensus all deteriorated, lowering overall energy and productivity,” Nabity said. He said workers will want locations where they can interact. “In order to ignite cooperation and inspire enthusiasm, organizations will need to use physical workspaces more strategically in the next year.”

Brian O’Connell is a freelance writer based in Bucks County, Pa. A former Wall Street trader, he is the author of the books CNBC Creating Wealth (John Wiley & Sons, 2001) and The Career Survival Guide (McGraw-Hill, 2004).