What's in store for 2024

Five La Trobe experts share key trends across their industries, examine the best- and worst-case scenarios, and offer a snapshot of the dynamic forces which are set to impact businesses in 2024.

We spoke to five experts from La Trobe to unveil key trends across various industries set to shape the coming year.

Join us in examining the best- and worst-case scenarios, and gain an understanding of the dynamic forces which are poised to impact businesses throughout 2024.

1. The Workplace

Predicted trend: Increased pressure to return to the office

As we move further away from the period of mandated work from home, organisations are increasing the pressure for staff to return to the office.

Professor Jodi Oakman from La Trobe’s Centre for Ergonomics and Human Factors explains that a key challenge for this year will be navigating the tension between employers’ desire to have team members in the office and employees’ preference to retain flexible working arrangements.

Given that many executives are concerned about how working from home will impact office culture, it seems likely that companies may enforce attendance by linking it to performance reviews.

Without a suitable resolution, there could be tension between employers and employees. Employers and employees will need to agree on transparent and flexible working arrangements to avoid this tension in the workplace. Otherwise, this could lead to costly legal actions and wasted time while employees defend their requests to work from home.

Jodi says that the best-case scenario will be businesses who find a way to work through this tumultuous period.

‘Organisations who can navigate this tension successfully are likely to benefit by retaining higher numbers of staff. Employees may choose to leave an organisation or change jobs if they're unable to negotiate their preferred working arrangements.’

2. Engineering

Predicted trend: Uplift in solving the engineering shortage

In 2024, we will see further government spending on big infrastructure projects like rail level crossing removal and affordable housing. However, there are too few professional engineers to meet this demand.

Professor of Practice in Engineering, Chris Stoltz, explains that Australia does not have enough professional engineers, and that this year the focus must be on innovation to meet this shortage.

In the long term, Australia must increase university enrolments in engineering from Australian school leavers. The profession itself needs to invest in promoting engineering as an attractive career and universities need to introduce more flexible and innovative programs for delivering engineering qualifications.

If Australia doesn’t work to resolve these shortages, Chris says the results could be devastating on our infrastructure and economy.

‘The worst-case scenario is that we fall further behind in living standards. Our manufacturing will falter, and we will become more reliant on imports at a time when we should be seeking to be more self-sufficient. More people will be without homes and home ownership will become impossible for a whole generation or two.’

3. Tourism and Events

Predicted trend: Home-swapping

Senior Lecturer Tourism, Hospitality and Event Management, Paul Strickland walked us through what he believes will be the most relevant trend in the tourism space this year – home-swapping.

Although this is not a new concept, it is predicted to grow in popularity globally and has certainly increased in Australia. Home-swapping involves swapping not only houses, but everything in them including linen, furniture, etc. The practice started with family and friends and has been quite popular in countries like Cuba, where many are unable to sell their houses, so instead choose to swap for a few years.

Home-swappers can live in a new location for a few months or even years in a manner that is cost effective, allows them to experience a different lifestyle or a new location, and make use of free facilities and internet in the home.

‘The worst-case scenario for home-swapping is that the industry becomes regulated, like home-renting companies, which places high costs on what is supposed to be an affordable tourism option. Or that insurance companies won’t cover damages sustained through home-swapping,’ says Paul.

On the flip side, Paul explains that home-swapping could be hugely beneficial for people who want a cost-effective solution to travel or experiencing life differently - and one that's much easier to achieve with pets or children in tow.

3. Pets and animals

Predicted trend: Pet outreach programs

La Trobe Senior Research Fellow, Tiffani Howell, says that one of the biggest trends she’s expecting in the rescue space is a move towards outreach programs which work to keep pets at home with their owners, so they don’t need to be relinquished to a shelter.

Sometimes, animals end up in shelters for reasons that could be resolved quickly, such as a hole in a fence which has led to a pet escaping the backyard. Many owners can’t afford to fix this issue, and are forced to relinquish their pet. Through an outreach program, the council, a shelter, or rescue organisation would come out and repair the hole for them so the animal could remain at home.

Tiffani explains that though it’s only a burgeoning area, it seems to have some momentum. Her PhD student, Sonya McDowall, is studying these programs to better understand the effects on pet owners.

‘It’s been clear in the industry for years that people and their pets are best off when they can stay together. Now, that recognition is starting to translate to changes on the ground to enable that to happen.’

Interestingly, these programs can support more challenging obstacles that confront pet-owners, too.

‘People may not feel they can leave a domestic violence situation because they can’t take their animal, so there are now programs that will find temporary accommodation for their pet while they get to safety.’

The best-case scenario for this trend is that pet rescues will put themselves out of business. Or, more realistically, shelters themselves will be less full, but outreach programs will expand to help everyone who needs assistance in keeping their pet safe, healthy and happy.

But if there isn’t buy-in for these programs, and we revert to the status quo, people may feel they have no choice but to relinquish a pet that they love, or remain in an unsafe home because they fear for their pet.

4. Mental health

Predicted trend: Cheer scrolling

Ros Ben-Moshe is a La Trobe alumna, and the leading positivity and laughter for wellbeing therapy academic at the University. She’s also a Global Laughter Ambassador, and author of The Laughter Effect - How to Build Joy, Resilience and Positivity in Your Life.

One of the most important trends in the wellbeing space for 2024, according to Ros, is taking good care of our mental health.

Mental health is a precious resource which can become whittled down by the daily barrage of doom and gloom – violence, climate disasters and divisive politics to name a few. When people add their own personal challenges to this, the mental load can get heavy.

Ros hopes that this year, a trend that will take off in this space is cheer scrolling. The term itself has already been added to Urban Dictionary, thanks to the Inclusion Editor at IdeaSpies, a positive news sharing platform.

‘This year, try out cheer scrolling, a remedy for doom scrolling. Be more proactive about taking ownership of your time – what you consume and who you share it with. If you’re feeling the weight of the world on your shoulders, steer clear of news or social media that induces anger or fear, and stimulates stress hormones. Instead, choose content that leaves you feeling cheerful.’

Ros recommends that people be on the lookout for positive new stories, or those with a silver lining, which highlight a positive outcome of a negative event. Positive news not only gratifies our enjoyment, but also stimulates hormones linked to wellbeing. Alternatively, people can tune into their favourite sitcoms or share a meme with friends to inspire a smile and break the cycle of darkness. This is vital not only for our mental health but also to inspire a more optimistic, trusting world.

5. Social media

Predicted trend: Short-form and AI content grows

Natalie Mckenna is an expert on social media, as well as an Adjunct Lecturer in Politics, Media, and Philosophy at La Trobe’s Bundoora campus. In 2024, she sees key trends in the social media space being more short form content, like Instagram Threads and TikTok, but also an increase in AI generated content.

‘TikTok will continue to grow in 2024. Gen Z’s will keep leading the way in developing and following content in fitness, food, fashion, travel, and music,’ says Natalie.

‘But we will also see a large amount of content created by Gen AI in 2024.  We are already seeing more content created with Gen AI and brands are experimenting with it. According to Hootsuite, different generations have different levels of trust towards AI-generated content, with Gen Z respondents of their survey claiming they know what is created by Gen AI and that they are likely to trust and engage with that content.’

Natalie suggests that the best-case scenario for this trend is that AI may help content creators get the job done faster by acting like an assistant. Simple posts with text and image may be easier to create.

‘There are many small business owners who find it challenging to find the time to post and can’t afford to do this in house or hire an agency. It may help them build their online presence as it will be quicker and easier to create.’

On the other hand, content developed by AI can appear generic and not authentic. This could lead to brands losing trust from their audience, says Natalie.

‘For example, if there is a generated image of a celebrity selling your product which is not real it could cause reputational damage to the brand.’