Wed May 10 2023 Michael McQueen

Across the board, organisations are changing. Post-pandemic workplace practices, changing tech trends and generational shifts are impacting the way organisations must run and respond to the world. Local governments are not exempt from the trends dominating the workplace and the world at large, which represent a whole new set of opportunities, or threats, for those paying attention.

Here are 5 trends local governments need to watch.

1. The Acceleration of AI

It’s not hard to understand why AI has become so popular so rapidly in recent years when we consider how significant the productivity gains are when it is used. Particularly with generative AI tools like ChatGPT, the increase of output combined with the decrease in time spent on tasks by workers is dramatic. One study examined the effectiveness of ChatGPT on the quality of work, the job satisfaction and the productivity of university-educated professionals. It found that the written work of ChatGPT users increased in quality across several measures while the time spent on activities was cut by 37%.[1]

It’s easy to dismiss artificial intelligence as a tech trend that applies to other industries. However, the reality of AI is that it is steadily working its way into all industries, replacing huans in what seem like the most human of our activities – giving advice, engaging community members, and chatting with customers. Technology research leader Gartner estimates that AI-powered chatbots will be responsible for a full 85% of customer service interactions within a decade.[2]

Within our local communities, the impact of AI within our transport and infrastructure will be more significant than we might be expecting. With driverless cars, passenger drone services and autonomous drone delivery all rapidly becoming an everyday reality, the state of our suburbs is set to change – fast. Figures like Elon Musk and Quartz magazine’s Zack Kanter predict that autonomous cars will dominate the market by 2030.[3] The response that will be needed from road safety regulators, urban planners and local governments will be enormous.

2. The Age of Empowerment

Throughout history, power has belonged to organisations – from religious institutions to government bureaucracies and corporate behemoths. Recent years, however, have seen the balance of power shift rapidly away from organizations and to the individual. With abundant access to information, a wide array of options and a louder voice than ever before, today’s individuals and consumers are empowered in a way that institutions simply can’t afford to ignore.

Particularly in the era of social media and meme culture, the voice of the individual is amplified to the extreme. All it takes is a single negative tweet or mocking meme to go viral and an organisation’s reputation can be ruined in seconds.

The experience of a customer or stakeholder matters more than ever in this context. This is particularly true as our current era can just as easily be characterised by distrust and scepticism and distrust as by empowerment. In the past, the dynamic between organisations and the public was that trust was assumed and distrust was earned. Now, it is the complete opposite – we default to distrust and expect organisations to earn our trust and approval. For many individuals, it comes as a surprise when a business acts efficiently, compassionately or responsively.

For local governments, the age of empowerment can represent an opportunity as much as it can represent a threat. For those willing to respond, it means a new ease of engagement with local rate payers, as well as opportunities for collaboration with community members. Either way, the expectations for service and communication are high.

3. The Reworking of Work

While COVID-19 affected almost every facet of our lives, one of the most significant impacts has been on the way we work. Before the pandemic, just 5% of workdays were spent working from home. While our WFH pandemic practice will not remain the same, they have left an undeniable mark on the way we approach our work, and our thinking around the need for offices.

According to modelling by Forrester’s Research in 2022, 30% of businesses likely to have their employees return to the office full-time. At the other end of the spectrum, roughly 10% of companies will retain a fully remote workforce model and the remaining 60% of firms will embrace to a hybrid model.[4] It is important to note that many different studies have differed on their forecasting. The fact remains, however, that people are spending more time than ever in their homes and local areas.

The implications for local governments are significant. Now more than ever, community members are in need of services and facilities in their local area which they previously would not have needed given that a third of their time was spent in a city or office.

Beyond this, local governments need to consider the changing needs of their own workers. In early 2021, one Sydney council attracted some bad press with a policy that required employees to sign a declaration that they would not be supervising their children while working from home. An email sent to employees informed them that ‘working from home and supervising home learning is not permitted’ and that they should make other arrangements for child supervision. This came in the midst of an extended lockdown.[5]

While the expectation of maintained productivity and standards is understandable, for employees and commentators this policy revealed an unwillingness to be flexible in the face of change and crisis, as well as a disregard for the family and living situations of their workers.

While we are no longer in lockdown, the fact remains that organisations need to account for a fundamentally different approach to work in today’s employees. Stubborn adherence to arbitrary rules and systems simply no longer works, but rather the expectation among workers is that organisations will be flexible and responsive to individual needs and changing work trends.

4. The Dominance of Data

From the metaverse and synthetic reality to automation an AI, developments in technology across the board are important to watch. However, one tech trend that has immediate implications and opportunities for local governments is the Internet of Things (IoT). The IoT refers to the network of physical objects that are embedded with sensors and software, enabling the efficient collection of data and the connection of devices.

One practical way this is being applied is in predictive maintenance. Capitalising on the capacities offered by the IoT, organisations and councils are broadly moving towards predictive maintenance as a more efficient approach to servicing facilities. Machine learning models use the real-world information, coupled with historical data, to alert organisations of a need for repair.

The result is a much more efficient system of maintenance, cut costs and saved time, as minor repairs and updates can be made before a facility is in total disrepair.[6]

5. The Rise of Gen Z

Finally, the changing trends leading us into the future cannot be explored without reference to the generational shifts taking place across markets and organisations. Defined loosely as those born between the mid 1990s and the early 2010s, Gen Z is three billion strong – thus making up almost 40% of the world’s population.[7]

More importantly for organisations, Gen Z will be 31% of the working population by 2031.[8] Their growing influence on workplaces is already being felt. For instance, the way Gen Z are communicating and collaborating in a professional context also differs significantly from their older-generation peers. Research conducted by consulting firm Creative Strategies revealed that for those over 30, email was the primary collaborative workplace tool. For Gen Z, it wasn’t even in the top five with younger people instead preferring Google Docs, Zoom and iMessage.[9]

Then there is Gen Zs famed aversion to making phone calls. Research indicates that 81% of this young group report that having to pick up the phone is a source of anxiety and often results in nausea, muscular tension or increased heart rate. Instead, Gen Zs gravitate toward using messenger apps. When asked why this is the case, members of this young cohort say they prefer having the freedom and time to compose messages and respond when it suits them.[10]

And when it comes to the archaic practice of voicemail, it’s best for employers of Gen Z to consider it as good as dead.

With these trends in full swing, organisations and governments would to well to consider how they are responding to and adopting these new practices. For those willing to act, there are significant opportunities to be seized.


Michael McQueen is a trends forecaster, business strategist and award-winning conference speaker.

He features regularly as a commentator on TV and radio and is a bestselling author of 9 books. His most recent book The New Now examines the 10 trends that will dominate a post-COVID world and how to prepare for them now. 

To see Michael speaking live, click here.

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[1] Noy, S & Zhang, W 2023, ‘Experimental Evidence on the Productivity Effects of Generative Artificial Intelligence’, Innovation Growth Lab, 2 March.

[2]  2017, ‘Break Through the Hype — Uncover the Reality Of A.I.’, Oracle + Bronto, July.

[3] Kanter, Z. 2015, ‘Autonomous Cars Will Destroy Millions of Jobs and Reshape the US Economy by 2025’, Quartz, 13 May.

[4]  Leaver, S. 2021, ‘Predictions 2022: This Is A Year To Be Bold,’ Forrester, 26 October.

[5] Thompson, A 2021, ‘‘A workspace is a workspace’: Council banned staff supervising kids while working from home’, The Sydney Morning Herald, 8 July.

[6] 2018, ‘How AI is Making Predictive Maintenance a Reality for the Industrial IoT’, Uptake, 11 June.

[7]  2020, ‘State of Gen Z Report’, Zebra IQ, September.

[8]  McCrindle, M. 2021, ‘Australia Towards 2031,’ McCrindle research

[9]  June, S. 2021, ‘Could Gen Z free the world from email?’ The New York Times, 10 July.

[10]  2021, ‘Why Gen Zs Don't Want Your Phone Call,’ Year 13, 14 November.