Unfortunately, the news of late has been consumed with inflammatory political rhetoric that sharply divided the nation. As a public service, this article will provide a respite from such debate and focus on less controversial social trends that will impact business in 2017 and beyond.

Technology and marketing will become much more experiential- In a North Face signature store in New York City, you can feel the thrill of hanging over a cliff or scaling Yosemite (proving that you can do almost anything in New York City).

According to technologist Kevin Kelly, the confluence of virtual reality, augmented reality and machine learning marks a fundamental shift. We will evolve from an era when information is the basic unit of currency, to the Virtual Experience Economy where digital experiences will be nearly as meaningful (and plentiful) as physical experiences.

Furthermore, schools are shifting to virtual reality as a tool for connecting to students. Google Expeditions is a new service that allows for virtual field trips. Microsoft and Apple are also offering new programs to bring the latest technologies to the classroom at discounted prices.

Influencers will have more impact on buying decisions. NikkieTutorials has 5.6 million subscribers on YouTube. Influencers are all the rage on Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat, where personal pages are the center of the universe for those shopping in their spare bedrooms.

The Freelance Revolution– Let’s face it, 9-to-5 is dead. An astonishing 53 million Americans freelance today. In the next five years, that number is expected to swell and represent more than 50% of the U.S. workforce. Over the last decade, employers have moved to more flexible work arrangements including flextime and 9/80 schedules. Meanwhile, new collaboration tools (like Slack) enable Millennials to offer up their vast skills on a contract basis, and protect the freedom and mobility they value. You can fill almost any vacancy today with freelancers whose skills range from legal advice and social media to language translation.  

Freelancing can actually provide a win-win. Average earnings of freelancers have spiked 50% in the last five years, and it presents an opportunity for employers to pay based on actual usage (providing better asset utilization).

Baffled employers figure out Millennials– I know; you are in pain. I believe that Millennials are misunderstood, underappreciated and underutilized. As Vistage speaker Ben Casnocha points out, Millennials are looking for a “tour of duty” and not an implied lifetime contract. Millennials are going to turn over- get over it. Employers who embrace this premise and provide them with skills acquisition opportunities have a far better chance of attracting and retaining younger talent.

According to compensation expert Larry Comp, employees stay because of culture, learning, compensation and benefits. We as a business culture do a poor job on career pathing, skills acquisition and positioning our employees for advancement.

Restaurants’ radical shift- If you’re paying attention, you may have noticed that independent restaurants are having a hard time surviving. The economics of restaurants will dictate menu, pricing, location, service, etc. In cities with escalating minimum wages, more stringent labor regulations and low unemployment, employment costs are skyrocketing. Real estate prices are through the roof. According to Steven Starr, restaurateur at several iconic New York venues, “You are going to see very small restaurants that don’t employ many people- a husband and a wife, a sister and a brother. Minimal staff, a limited menu. Who knows if they will be able to survive.”

Meanwhile, the experiment to ban tipping (in order to counteract health care and minimum wage requirements and pass wages to employees) is failing. 14 Joe’s Crab Shacks are among a group of restaurants reversing course.

New hospitality choices– Among the proliferation of me-too hotels, there are new formats in hospitality. They include large-party hotel rooms for family vacations, bachelorette parties and dorm/hostile formats that promote efficiency and common areas.

Acceptance of paid family and medical leave is on the rise– California, Rhode Island, New Jersey and New York already have laws on the books, and others are expected to follow suit.

As employers are taking a more active role in their employees’ health, many are offering new benefits such as flu shots (employees can miss a week or more with the flu).

Buying a house on your phone– Consumers’ preferences are shifting from traditional amenities to urban, mixed-use properties that have proximity to retail, restaurants, and open space. Builders are moving to smaller footprints, energy efficient buildings, high efficiency windows, and drought resistant landscape. You can literally buy a house on a mobile device. Drone photography and 3D imaging are providing 360 views of every property, and sites such as virtuallystagingproperties.com will even superimpose furniture to enhance the experience.

Party on, Garth– The federal government still categorizes marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug (alongside heroin, LSD and others). With the recent legalization of marijuana for recreational use in California, Massachusetts and Nevada, the employment implications are blurred (no pun intended, dude). Employers will have to clarify “under the influence” policies and train supervisors on managing abuse in the workplace. I am afraid it’s time to reevaluate which munchies you stock in the vending machines.

Fast fashion is on the skids– Human rights and environmental groups are pushing back on the trend for cheap garments, which promotes disposable clothing and poor working conditions. While the obsession with thrift will continue, look for low-end retailers such as H&M to be under attack in the media and online. They will have to adjust their procurement practices to remedy such abuses.

Spying on kids- Of adult users of Instagram, 25% are moms using the mobile app principally to monitor their children.

Less incarceration– While the presidential election will fuel the fire on prison reform, the last six years have actually seen a 3% drop in prison population. This comes as a result of new minimum sentencing guidelines, and a shift in thinking about how to reform repeat drug offenders.

Gender equality in management- Bloomberg recently released a study of gender equality in the workplace. While heavily skewed toward public companies and the financial services industry, the study does provide insight on the movement toward income equality. Within the study’s participants, 26% of board members were women, and 92% had strategies in place to increase the number of women they hire. There is even a new investment fund that directs financing to companies whose management teams include a high percentage of women. We are far from gender equality, but greater visibility on the issue is certainly creating cracks in the glass ceiling.

Social media as a revolutionary tool- 2017 will mark the year of several important elections in Africa. For the first time, about a third of the African continent has smartphones. This will spark faster protests and unrest in regions inhabited by dictators, corrupt regimes and unstable governments. Twitter in particular is becoming a tool that people can use to organize resistance movements. 

Implosion from within- Like the Occupy Wall Street and the Arab Spring movements in our recent past, beware of uprisings in unexpected places. China is a powder keg whose economy is starting to slump. Its communist government and autocratic ideology suppresses free speech, dissent and access to the internet.

With the death of Fidel Castro and economic turmoil in Venezuela, increased political unrest in Central and South America is likely.

The governance of sports– Perhaps for the first time in the course of history, the governance of sports may be more newsworthy than the play on the field. Controversies in cycling, soccer and the Olympics have blurred the lines between sports and the agencies that oversee them. In September the host of the 2024 Summer Games will be announced, and Los Angeles has a strong chance. Look for even greater emphasis on social issues within the Olympic movement, and in the NBA and NFL, who have also taken a stance on many social issues.

My hopes for 2017 include less Kardashian coverage, and more substantive conversation about the social impacts facing our world.



[i] The Great Indoors, Bloomberg Businessweek

[ii] Virtual Experience Economy, Trend Watching

[iii] The Kiplinger Letter

[iv] Influencer Marketing, Salesforce Blog

[v] The Future of Freelancing, Social Media Week

[vi] The New Neighborhood Restaurant, Wall Street Journal

[vii] The Hindsight Report, Wall Street Journal

[viii] Fresh Ideas in Hospitality, Wall Street Journal

[ix] The Kiplinger Letter

[x] The Kiplinger Letter

[xi] The Kiplinger Letter

[xii] The Kiplinger Letter

[xiii] Bloomberg’s New Gender Equality Index, Fortune Magazine