Emerging work trends around the world: What expats should expect

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Published on 2024-05-28 at 10:00 by Asaël Häzaq
A new trend among dynamic employees is working while walking, which not only boosts office performance but also enhances overall life productivity. As awareness of the dangers of a sedentary lifestyle grows, new work methods are emerging. It's also a matter of well-being, essential for better work performance. Here's everything you need to know if you're planning a professional adventure abroad.

Walking desk boom

At first glance, it appears to be a simple treadmill. However, a closer look reveals a desk above it. The walking desk, or treadmill desk, is designed for working while walking. It is gaining popularity in the United States, the UK, Canada, Australia, Japan, South Africa, and the EU. However, don't expect to see walking desks everywhere yet. This equipment is mainly popular among companies that can afford it, such as large corporations, tech giants, and innovative firms with a startup ambiance. These companies have already experimented with gym balls, desk bikes, and standing desks—all aimed at employee well-being.

However, the walking desk is expensive. To attract new markets, manufacturers offer packages tailored to very small enterprises (VSEs) and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). Telecommuters are also considered as more affordable solutions that fit small workspaces are developed.

Office gym: Japanese and Nordic models

Are you planning to move to Japan or a Nordic country? Workplace sports in these regions might surprise those unaccustomed to exercise. In these countries, sports at work are not optional. They didn't wait for gym balls and walking desks to change office life, standing out as proponents of "dynamic work."

Radio Taiso: Japan's fitness program

Japan has a long history of workplace exercise. For over 50 years, NHK, the public broadcaster, has aired Radio Taiso, a fitness program featuring simple exercises suitable for everyone. This workplace fitness routine has existed since the 1920s and was reintroduced by the government after World War II. It now includes various programs targeting all age groups.

Worried about its aging population, the Japanese government promotes physical activity in all aspects of life, including work. Companies offer group classes such as morning exercise, afternoon fitness breaks, and stretching sessions. While often optional, these classes are popular. Foreign employees at companies like Toyota and Sony have likely adapted to this fitness-focused work culture. It's a way for companies to keep employees healthier and longer in their roles, reducing workplace accidents and injuries. Workplace sports also foster team spirit, with everyone participating regardless of their hierarchical position. The Japanese fitness routine is even spreading internationally. In fact, Toyota has introduced its sports culture in France.

Nordic countries have an embedded sports culture

In Nordic countries, dynamic work is embedded in the culture. Danish companies, for instance, are required by law to provide adjustable desks to employees upon request. In Finland, most companies encourage physical activity at work, spending hundreds of euros per employee annually on fitness initiatives, both in-office (equipment, hiring sports coaches) and outside (vouchers for sports clubs).

Swedish companies also support employees who engage in sports, creating a win-win situation where employees receive subsidies, and companies can deduct these costs from taxes. Like in Japan, Nordic countries see the benefits of workplace sports, leading some Swedish companies to make it mandatory.

Other emerging work trends around the world

Other countries facing aging populations and sedentary lifestyles are also promoting workplace sports. Germany, the UK, and Austria have launched programs to encourage physical activity at work. Germany's Health and Work Act offers tax benefits to companies that promote sports, while Austria has integrated workplace sports into daily office life. The UK's Cycle to Work program encourages employees to switch from cars to bicycles, which could interest sporty expatriates and motivate the more reluctant. As the UK government points out, sports are economical, a message that resonates in times of purchasing power crises.

The growing role of AI

Another revolution in the workplace is the increasing presence of AI. According to Forbes, over 80% of business managers believe in AI's positive role at work. AI can relieve workers of routine tasks, and it is already integrated into many corporate software tools: AI-generated reports on Zoom, AI-generated titles and metadata on WordPress, AI assistants on Canva, Microsoft Copilot, and marketing AI from OpenAI. However, some companies advocate not fully relying on machines, tasking employees with verifying AI-generated reports and correcting errors. For them, AI should remain a tool, not a replacement for workers.

The emergence of slow management

Contrary to the "all technology" trend, some companies are betting on "slow management," which focuses on placing humans at the center of work organization. The company's ecosystem should be sustainable and responsible. Slow management doesn't reject technology but uses it wisely. For example, while virtual meetings were essential during COVID-19 and remain widely used, their overuse can add to the stress of email overload. Slow management aims to streamline work organization and clarify tasks, reducing the need for constant email updates and allowing employees to submit their work only when complete.

This method emphasizes open communication and employee well-being. Slow management supports the integration of technology in the workplace but aims to better assist employees in adapting to these changes. This approach may gain popularity in the global job market as well-being and mental health preservation become public health priorities.

The future work environment for expats

The future of international mobility will be increasingly influenced by changes in work organization, offering more flexibility and autonomy. Remote work has become the norm in many companies, leading to the reinvention of physical office spaces. Traditional open spaces are out of fashion, replaced by dynamic, modular spaces with small, colorful offices, quiet areas, standing desks, walking desks, desk bikes, nap spaces, and even group fitness classes.

Office sports will remain a strong trend. As the global population and the workforce age, countries recognize the urgent need to combat sedentary lifestyles, making workplace fitness a public health issue. Many companies are integrating gyms into their offices, startups are organizing group fitness sessions, and smaller businesses are encouraging employees to exercise by offering workshops on diet and fitness. This health-focused approach contributes to overall well-being. Eco-friendly companies aim to influence the construction of future work environments, advocating for new technologies while also addressing the risks of digital overconsumption. They seek to leverage AI's rise to highlight the dangers of excessive digital tool usage.