Talking up 2020: learning the lexicon for a new decade

What are the new buzzwords likely to be on everyone’s lips as we head into a new decade? WORKTECH Academy gets the word on the block from its global network


This is where neuroscience meets architecture, with the study of the brain and nervous system serving as a guide to designing physical environments for work. As architects and designers focus ever harder on ways to improve spatial orientation and facilitate desired behaviours in the workplace, expect this term will creep into the lexicon in 2020 as employee motivation and talent attraction become the main games in town.

Digital Twin

Just as augmented reality took centre stage in FM circles in 2019, watch out for the digital twin to feature heavily on the workplace technology map in 2020. Digital twin is a dynamic virtual representative or replica of a physical asset. Created using machine learning and AI, it uses real-time data to virtually depict how a building is operating and where it may require maintenance or redesign. Expect big decisions on office buildings to go through a digital twin process first to model the implications.

Silicon Valley Pixie Dust

A term coined by The Wall Street Journal to describe how WeWork persuaded investors that they were buying into a business more akin to software than office space subleasing; this promise of a ‘physical social network’ led to an over-hyped US$47 billion valuation, and to WeWork’s spectacular fall from grace in the latter part of 2019. Now that the ‘pixie dust’ has worn off, WeWork will be under the spotlight in 2020 as it regroups under the ownership of its main investor Softbank. Other key players in the flex-space market will hope the fallout doesn’t tarnish their own rosy prospects for growth this year.


Soundscaping came of age in 2019 as more organisations tuned into the benefits of acoustic design. In 2020, aroma is set to be the new sensory kid on the block. Smellscaping refers to the strategies of olfactory design and the impact of aroma in the workplace environment to influence employee behaviour. Different scents can prompt different behavioural responses. Can you smell change is in the air?

Activity-Based Wardrobe

Mirroring the idea of activity-based working, the activity-based wardrobe refers to a new, all-encompassing ABW system whereby employees dress more casually according to tasks they are carrying out that day. This approach aligns and embeds ABW into company culture so employees can feel more empowered in the workplace. Expect lots of activity and innovation on dress codes in 2020 – although some cultures still struggle with when and when not to wear ties.

Napping Economy

Until now we have been told sleeping on the job is counterproductive, especially in the Anglo-American workplace. But in 2020 the conversation will turn to the ‘napping economy’. This is a swelling market based on growing demand from corporate clients. Nap pods and quiet rooms are filling workplaces, claiming to improve sleep quality and improve worker productivity. Advice to employees on how to sleep better at home is on the rise. If you’re not a believer in the napping economy, sleep on it – you could be in for a rude awakening.

Servant Leadership

Compassionate leadership was the buzzword of 2019, coined by Stanford academic Leah Weiss. Apparently, that didn’t go far enough. 2020 will see the entire leadership model turned on its head. Servant leadership puts leaders on the bottom and followers on top. This approach aims to position leadership as a product of a system and not the product of one charismatic individual. Hierarchies will be inverted pyramids in the 2020s.


This term relates to the instant gratification a person gets when their social media post receives positive attention. This term will enter the workplace in 2020 as organisations aim to improve their workplace experience and make their offices more ‘instagrammable’ in pursuit of attracting new millennial and Gen Z talent. Expect more flourishes and metaphors in workplace design with the simplicity and impact to show up well on social media.

Good Work

The name given to a report by RSA chief executive Matthew Taylor on modern work practices for the UK Government, this term is set to be a general byword in 2020 for fairness and lack of exploitation in the workplace as the worst effects of the gig economy on people become better understood. Expect the debate about inequality and rights to become even more intense this year as fears about workplace anxiety, burnout and depression trigger a debate about quality of work, rather than quantifiable output.


Remote working has been a popular talking point over the past decade, but in 2020 the conversation will switch to the workation (also known in the UK as a workoliday or a woliday). This trend involves giving employees complete autonomy to select their own work-life boundaries away from the office by choosing a dream holiday destination – and working when they get there. The idea apparently is that by unwinding in a great place, people become more productive and creative. Shame about the constant phone calls and video conferences with the folks back at HQ.

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