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Global VP of sales and country manager, LinkedIn Canada.

From global political uncertainty to the continued acceleration of technological innovation, 2017 was a year of dramatic change for the world of work. The way we work is transforming and the only thing that's certain is that the way we work tomorrow won't be the same as it was yesterday.

While we can't predict with certainty what events will have the greatest impact on the year to come, we can look to the major trends that transformed Canada's work force in 2017 to guide how we approach our business strategy in 2018.

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Automation technologies come to work

2017 saw the rise of powerful new tools and technologies like AI and automation integrated into real-world applications. From chatbots to AI-based messaging applications to diagnostic tools to assist doctors, we're seeing AI woven into our professional lives in ways that only a few years ago seemed unimaginable.

While there's understandable concern about whether automation will lead to significant work-force displacement within the next few years, these technological changes also present a huge opportunity for professionals to automate repetitive tasks and spend their time focusing on value-add activities, regardless of their industry.

To prepare your business for what lies ahead in the coming year, ensure you're arming employees with the skills they need to be successful. Not everyone has to be a machine-learning engineer or a data scientist, but workers must keep their digital skills up to date and have the confidence to use and interact with new technology. This means keeping a close pulse on technological innovations, so they can harness these new tools to work smarter and more effectively and be more strategic in their daily roles.

The rise of blended work forces

The past year saw the opening of a number of new co-working spaces across Canada, including new WeWork locations in Toronto and Vancouver. The increasing popularity of these spaces showcases a new world of work for both the employer and employee – one which is filled with a mix of freelancers, full-time, part-time and remote employees.

A study by Intuit Canada projects that full– and part-time freelancers, independent contractors and on-demand workers are expected to make up 45 per cent of the work force by 2020. As more offices move towards a blended work force, company leaders will be responsible for shaping office culture to benefit from the growing freelance economy, take advantage of shared workspace environments and better accommodate remote workers so that all employees can contribute positively to the culture.

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If you'll be leading a blended work force, be sure to understand what motivates freelancers, and be sure freelancers understand what makes your organization successful. Viewing freelancers not as "separate from" but rather as "a part of" will strengthen office culture, create new connections and bring new energy into projects.

Mapping skills and talent to location

When Amazon announced it would be opening a second headquarters and called for proposals from cities across North America, Canadians were filled with speculation on the impact such a move would have on local talent, the tech ecosystem and – of course – the economy. The discussion that emerged from Amazon's HQ2 announcement emphasized the growing importance of where businesses put their people.

From large-scale initiatives like the federal government's call for the creation of "superclusters" of technological innovation, to strategic decisions by smaller firms, there's a desire across the board to align talent to opportunity. However, the rise of this tech economy in Canada also means that there's a growing demand for skilled developers, programmers and system administrators, among other roles. In a report by the Information and Communications Technology Council (ICTC), Canada's economy will create at least 218,000 tech jobs between now and 2020, but we currently lack the skilled people to fill them.

As you map your strategic plan for growth over the next year, take time to assess where your talent is located, where workers with the skills you need are and how that breakout aligns to market opportunity. New virtual collaboration tools, like Slack, project-management application Basecamp or Microsoft Teams, make this easier to do than ever before.

In partnership with LinkedIn, EY recently released a report, Right people, wrong place?, showing how organizations can make major performance and productivity improvements by taking a more strategic approach to where they place their people, and that businesses who ensure their talent mix lines up with market opportunities will better capture share in those markets.

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I'm sure 2018 will bring forth many unexpected trends and changes but, in the meantime, preparing your business for the rise of automation, understanding how to manage blended work forces and aligning talent to market opportunity will ensure that you're starting this year off right.

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