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Sunday, December 31, 2017

All you need to know about agitated depression 01-2018

Depression is a persistent state of feeling hopeless, sad, or helpless. While there are some common symptoms associated with depression, people can experience depression differently.

One such example is agitated depression. Medical experts may also describe agitated depression as anxious depression or distraught depression.

Though agitated depression is not a distinct type of depression, psychiatric professionals recognize that some people have symptoms of depression as well as agitation.

Fast facts on agitated depression:

Psychiatrists do not define agitated depression as a distinct type of depression.

Agitation can be a common symptom of mood disorders.

Doctors call depression with agitation a "mixed episode" of depression.


Depression with agitation, is known as a "mixed episode" of depression.

Mental health professionals use a manual called the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) to diagnose mental health disorders, including depression.

By using the same criteria, doctors across America can diagnose depressive symptoms in the same way.

For a doctor to diagnose someone with depression, the person must have experienced depressed mood or a loss of interest or pleasure in life (anhedonia) for at least 2 weeks.

Also, a person will also have experienced at least five of the following symptoms:

Feelings of sadness, hopelessness, or irritability on a nearly daily basis.

Lack of interest or pleasure in activities almost every day.

Experiencing significant weight loss or appetite loss that results in weight loss.
Difficulty sleeping or sleeping excessively.

Experiencing psychomotor agitation, restlessness, or feelings of being "slowed down."

Feeling fatigued or having a lack of energy nearly every day.

Feeling worthless or having excessive and unexplained guilt almost every day.

Difficulty thinking clearly, concentrating, or making decisions on a daily basis.

Experiencing thoughts of death, thinking of harming one's self, or creating a specific plan for committing suicide.

Agitation is a symptom that can cause a person to experience feelings of uneasiness and anxiety.

Some of the symptoms associated with agitation include:

angry outbursts

clenching fists

disruptive behavior

excessive talking

feeling as if a person cannot sit still or focus
pacing or shuffling feet


wringing of the hands

violent outbursts

A person who has agitated depression experiences feelings of helplessness that can make them feel out of control.

As a result, they can then feel hopeless, which may lead to depressive thoughts. Agitation can cause a person with depression to act impulsively. This could cause a person to hurt themselves or others and engage in harmful behavior.

Depression has many different methods of treatment including self-help. Learn more about the best depression blogs to manage low mood here.

A person with bipolar disorder may experience fluctuating symptoms of depression and mania (an elevated state of being).

Mania is different from agitation because mania causes a person to feel hyper, "high," or overly energetic. A person may only sleep a couple of hours each night and stay awake for extended periods.
Mania does not feel good or euphoric to every person, but it can to some people.


Depression may be caused by a significant life event, such as the loss of a family member.
Agitation is often a symptom of an underlying mood disorder and is not a condition of its own. The causes of depression itself can be varied and can occur if:

the brain does not regulate mood appropriately

a person has a family history of depression and is more vulnerable to the condition

a person has experienced significant life events that are especially stressful or sad, such as the loss of a family member or divorce

a person has several chronic medical problems

Several of these factors can contribute to depression. However, doctors do not know why a person may experience agitated depression.

A person's temperament that affects their behavior may increase the likelihood that they will experience agitation related to depression.

How is it diagnosed?

Doctors diagnose agitated depression by asking a person to describe the symptoms they are experiencing.

They may ask questions, such as when the symptoms first began, what makes the symptoms better, or what makes the symptoms worse. Sometimes a person's loved ones may also describe the changes they have observed in a person's personality.

A doctor will use the criteria from the DSM-5 to diagnose a person with major depressive disorder, but agitated depression is not diagnosed using DSM-5 criteria. A doctor will also try to rule out other similar conditions, including bipolar disorder.

How is agitated depression treated?

A psychiatrist or other mental health professional may help to treat agitated depression.

Doctors treat agitated depression with a variety of approaches.

In the first instance, a doctor may prescribe medications called sedatives or benzodiazepines.

Examples may include diazepam (Xanax) or lorazepam (Ativan). These medications work quickly to help a person feel calmer and can temporarily relieve agitation.

Additional steps include:

Medications to relieve depression: Doctors may prescribe a variety of drugs to relieve depression, including anti-depressants. If a person does not respond to these medicines, a doctor may add another drug or prescribe a different medication type entirely. Examples can include anti-anxiety medications or mood stabilizers.

Counseling: Seeing a psychiatrist or other mental health professional can help a person identify thoughts and feelings that can signal the start of agitation or depressive symptoms. Therapy can help a person focus on thoughts and behaviors that can help them feel better when they struggle with agitated depression.

Stress-relieving techniques: Relieving stress and depression through physical activity, meditation, deep breathing, and journaling can all help a person cope with feelings agitated depression.
There is no one single solution to treating agitated depression. A doctor must consider a person's unique symptoms.

They will likely take a variety of approaches, including prescribing medications and recommending therapy.

Sometimes it can take several months or even years for a person to find the right combination of medications, therapy, and stress-relieving techniques that help them live better with their agitated depression.


While there is no cure for agitated depression, there are many treatments that can help a person live a healthier, happier life. Although finding the right combination of treatments can take time, help is available.

If a person experiences suicidal thoughts or thoughts of self-harm, they should seek emergency medical attention. Medical professionals can help identify ways to stabilize the person medically, and reduce the risks of them injuring themselves. 

Why a Grateful Brain Is a Giving One 12-31

The neural connection between gratitude and altruism is very deep, suggests new research.

When you think about gratitude and its place in our culture, you might not immediately think about morality—that is, matters of right and wrong.

Often, we make gratitude sound like it’s all about you. In the domain of self-help, we hear that gratitude is the single most important ingredient to living a successful and fulfilled life—or that when we are grateful, fear disappears and abundance appears.

In fact, research does support the idea that gratitude helps people who practice it. They report fewer physical symptoms of illness, more optimism, greater goal attainment, and decreased anxiety and depression, among other health benefits.

If you stop with feeling good, gratitude certainly seems more like a platitude than a moral emotion that motivates reciprocity and altruism. But here is where I think many of us get gratitude wrong.
There is a much older, pre-self-help conception of gratitude as an emotion with moral motivations.

To first-century philosopher Cicero, gratitude was a matter of religious obligation “to the immortal gods.” Modern psychologists such as Michael McCullough and colleagues have systemized it this way: Gratitude is a “moral barometer”—an acknowledgement “that one has been the beneficiary of another person’s moral actions.” They go on to argue that gratitude is also a moral reinforcer, meaning that you’ll see a “thanks” from others as a reward that will lead you to give more in the future.

My own work has tried to map the relationship between gratitude and altruism in the brain. I am discovering that the neural connection between the two is very deep, and that cultivating gratitude may encourage us to feel more generous. We don’t say “thanks” for selfish reasons. Far from it: Gratitude, like giving, might be its own reward.

Neural rewards for giving

When we think about research on the relationship between gratitude and altruism, there are generally two main approaches.

First, we can ask whether people who seem to be more grateful are also more altruistic. Researchers use questionnaires to determine the degree to which someone is characteristically grateful. They ask other questions to determine the degree to which someone is generally giving. Finally, they use statistics to determine the extent to which someone’s altruism could be predicted from their gratitude.

Such studies are helpful for understanding the way gratitude could relate to altruism—in fact, the two do appear to go hand in hand—but of course, they depend on a person’s ability to judge their own gratitude and altruism. We can imagine someone touting himself as tremendously grateful, or the most generous person since Mother Theresa, but this could certainly be untrue. That’s why studies using these methods cannot explain why grateful people might behave prosocially. Perhaps they just feel guilty. Or perhaps altruistic people feel good when other people do well. How can we know?

At this point, we need to take an experimental approach. In one recent study, some colleagues of mine tried to understand the relationship between general prosocial tendencies and the way the brain responds to charitable donations. To start, the researchers assessed the prosocial tendencies of the participants using questionnaires. Then, they supplied participants with real money and put them in an MRI scanner that measures blood-oxygen levels in the brain.

In the scanner, the money could go to either the participants themselves or to a charity, such as a local food bank. Sometimes, these gifts were voluntary; sometimes not, so that it was more like a tax than a donation. This distinction was important, because in the tax-like condition, the participant doesn’t get to feel good about a charitable choice—only about the charity getting money. As the money transferred, my colleagues focused on reward centers of the brain—the regions that give us a dose of feel-good neurotransmitters—in order to compare the brain’s response to these various conditions.

The result? My colleagues found that the more prosocial participants felt far more inner reward when the money went to charity than to themselves. They found something else interesting: The older the participant, the larger this benevolent disposition—suggesting that, with age, your brain may reward you more when you see good in the world, rather than when you yourself get some benefit.
Stepping back from results like these, we are left to wonder about what makes someone grateful or altruistic in the first place. Is it a matter of the right dose of prosocial genes? Or is it a lifetime of experiences or family socialization that encourage both gratitude and giving?

My colleagues’ study answered some big questions, but also left some unanswered. One of these big questions involved the link between gratitude and altruism. Do they go hand in hand? Does gratitude actually encourage altruism?

Coworking Is Not About Workspace — It’s About Feeling Less Lonely 12-31

Working remotely has many benefits: flexible hours, no commute, and autonomy and control over how you work, to name just a few.But as any remote worker will tell you, there are also considerable challenges. According to a variety of studies, isolation and loneliness are among the biggest complaints.

Working remotely means missing out on the human interaction and social aspects that being in an office provides.According to Vivek Murthy, the former Surgeon General of the United States, increasing numbers of remote and independent “gig economy” workers is one of the key reasons for the growing “loneliness epidemic”. Murthy also points out that loneliness is much more than just a social problem. It’s also a health problem, “associated with a reduction in lifespan similar to that caused by smoking 15 cigarettes a day and even greater than that associated with obesity.”

Our research on coworking spaces show that these shared, member-based workspaces where remote corporate workers, startup employees, freelancers, and others “work alone together” can substantially reduce the isolation and loneliness associated with remote work. Some of the key findings from our surveys of coworking space members show that:

87% of respondents report that they meet other members for social reasons, with 54% saying they socialize with other members after work and/or on weekends

79% said coworking has expanded their social networks

83% report that they are less lonely since joining a coworking space

89% report that they are happier since joining a coworking space

Our initial research objectives for these studies were not focused on the social side of coworking. In fact, the studies were developed to explore the role that work-related networking plays in coworking communities. The study results show that professional ties are strongly enhanced by membership in a coworking space:

82% of respondents reported that coworking has expanded their professional networks

80% reported that they turn to other coworking members for help or guidance

64% said their coworking networking was an important source of work and business referrals

The research also showed a variety of other work-related benefits associated with coworking membership. Most members (84%) reported that working in a coworking space improved their work engagement and motivation. Most also reported being able to concentrate better due to fewer distractions compared to working from home or in coffee shops.

But despite focusing on the work aspects of coworking, our research found that it was the social ties of coworking that proved most valuable to members. When asked to list three words that best describe coworking, three of the top five words mentioned by coworking members — community, fun, and social — relate to social aspects.

Other studies confirm these findings.

For example, researchers at the University of Michigan found that coworking members report much higher levels of “thriving” than traditional employees. Their work shows this is in part due to the community aspects of coworking spaces, which allow members to socialize and interact with other members. Another study, Coworking Spaces: A Source of Social Support for Independent Professionals, reports that the main reason most members work in coworking spaces is for the social interactions.

As a society, a growing number of people are facing the isolation and loneliness associated with remote work — and they’re working alone longer. Gallup reports that, despite a few high profile examples of firms moving away from telecommuting, the number of corporate employees working remotely continues to grow. Gallup’s data shows that 43% of American employees report that they work remotely at least some of the time, up from 39% in 2012. Gallup also reports that the people who work remotely “at least some of the time” are spending even more time working remotely. The number of independent workers (freelancers, independent consultants, etc.) is also increasing, with most of these people working remotely.

For companies, allowing and paying for employees to work out of coworking spaces offers many benefits. In addition to reducing remote work loneliness, coworking spaces provide excellent business and technology infrastructure, strong networking opportunities, and exposure to innovative companies, products, and services. Companies will also benefit from having happier, more engaged, and more productive workers.

Independent workers should also consider coworking. They often benefit even more than company employees from the social aspects of coworking and find that the professional networking opportunities help to generate new business. While independents have to pay for memberships themselves, most consider the cost well worth it. (Coworking spaces range in cost from $45 per month to over $1,000 per month, depending on the space and location.

A good estimate of the average cost for the U.S. is around $350 per month.) Our research found very high satisfaction rates: 90% of respondents reported being either highly satisfied (79%) or satisfied (11%) with their coworking space; only 5% reported being dissatisfied. More to the value point, 94% reported the price they paid was fair (77%) or a bargain (17%). Also, most coworking members plan to continue to be members in two years, with only 4% reporting they likely won’t be members over that time frame.

The coworking industry has been growing at a rapid pace for the past five years. Our current forecast is for this growth to continue, with the global number of coworking space members increasing from roughly 1.6 million today to about 3.8 million in 2020.

It’s clear from the research that a major driver of this growth is the social aspects of coworking. Humans are social creatures who like being around other humans, and regardless of advances in remote work technology, this won’t change. The early coworking pioneers recognized this and focused on building supportive communities that included social activities. One of these early pioneers, Alex Hillman of the coworking space Indy Hall, went so far as to say “coworking is not a workspace industry; it’s a happiness industry”.

Simply put, by creating community and reducing isolation and loneliness, coworking benefits both organizations and workers due to greater levels of work engagement, productivity, and worker happiness.

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Saturday, December 16, 2017

Introducing the Genosenium 12-17

Researchers uncover evidence that neuronal mutations accumulate with age

Scientists have wondered whether somatic, or non-inherited, mutations play a role in aging and brain degeneration, but until recently there was no good technology to test this idea.

A study published online Dec. 7 in Science, led by researchers from Boston Children’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School, used whole-genome sequencing of individual neurons to find strong evidence that brain mutations accumulate as we age.

They also found that mutations accumulate at a higher rate in people with genetic premature aging disorders that cause early brain degeneration.

“It’s been an age-old question as to whether DNA mutations can accumulate in neurons—which usually don’t divide—and whether they are responsible for the loss of function that the brain undergoes as we get older,” said Christopher A. Walsh, the Bullard Professor of Pediatrics at HMS, chief of the Division of Genetics and Genomics at Boston Children’s and co-senior author of the paper.

“It hasn’t been possible to answer this question before, because we couldn’t sequence the genome of a single cell, and each mutation accumulated is unique to each cell,” he said.

Testing neurons one by one

The research team tested DNA from 161 single neurons, taken from postmortem samples from the NeuroBioBank at the National Institutes of Health. The samples came from 15 neurologically normal people aged 4 months to 82 years and from nine people with one of two accelerated aging and early-onset neurodegenerative disorders, Cockayne syndrome and xeroderma pigmentosum.

Using the latest experimental and data analysis techniques, the team was able to detect mutations as small as single-letter changes in each neuron’s genetic code. Each cell had to have its genome amplified by generating a multitude of copies before its DNA sequence could be determined, and a large amount of data had to be analyzed.

“Because many experimental artifacts arise during the single-cell experiments, a new computational method that can distinguish true mutations from the experimental noise was critical to the success of the project,” said Peter Park, professor of biomedical informatics at HMS and the paper’s other co-senior author.
The neurons tested came from two areas of the brain implicated in age-related cognitive decline: the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain most highly developed in humans, and the dentate gyrus of the hippocampus, a focal point in age-related degenerative conditions like Alzheimer’s.

In neurons from the neurologically normal people, the number of genetic mutations increased with age in both brain areas. However, mutations accumulated at a higher rate in the dentate gyrus. The researchers think this may be because the neurons have the ability to divide, unlike their counterparts in the prefrontal cortex.

In neurons from the people with Cockayne syndrome or xeroderma pigmentosum, there was an increase in mutations in the prefrontal cortex over time—more than twice the normal rate. Additionally, the researchers found that the portions of the genome that neurons used the most accumulated mutations at the highest rate, with help from collaborators at WuXi NextCODE.

The aging genome

The researchers coined the term “genosenium”—combining the concepts of the genome and senescence or senility—to capture the idea of gradual and inevitable accumulation of mutations contributing to brain aging.

The mutations themselves fell into three categories.

“We were able to take all the mutations we found and use mathematical techniques to deconstruct them into different types of DNA changes,” said Michael Lodato, one of six co-first authors on the paper. “It’s like hearing an orchestra and teasing out the different instruments.”

One category of clock-like mutations was strictly aging-related, accumulating like clockwork in both brain areas independent of disease status. Another type did not correlate with age except in the dentate gyrus, where mutation numbers in dividing neurons did increase over time.

The third type was associated with oxidative damage to DNA and faulty DNA repair; it increased with age and was seen in high numbers in Cockayne syndrome and xeroderma pigmentosum neurons, and to a lesser extent in normal neurons.

“This last finding convinced me I need more antioxidants,” quipped Walsh, who is also a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator. “Overall, it raises a question as to whether neurodegenerative diseases are like cancer, relating ultimately to DNA mutation.”

The researchers are now turning their sights on other neurodegenerative disorders.

“The technology we used can be applied to any degenerative disease of the brain,” Walsh said.

Michael Lodato, Rachel Rodin and Michael Coulter of Boston Children’s and Craig Bohrson, Alison Barton and Minseok Kwon of HMS were all co-first authors on the study. Other coauthors were: Maxwell Sherman, Carl Vitzthum and Lovelace Luquette of HMS; Chandri Yandava, Pengwei Yang and Thomas Chittenden of the WuXi NextCODE Advanced Artificial Intelligence Research Laboratory; and Nicole Hatem, Steven Ryu and Mollie Woodworth of Boston Children’s.

The study was supported by the National Institutes of Health (K99 AG054749 01, F30 MH102909, 1S10RR028832-01, T32HG002295, U01MH106883, P50MH106933, R01 NS032457, U01 MH106883), the Harvard/MIT MD-PHD program, the Stuart H.Q. and Victoria Quan Fellowship in Neurobiology, the Allen Discovery Center program through The Paul G. Allen Frontiers Group and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

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That Feeling in Your Bones 12-17

Search for link between achy joints and rainy weather in a flood of data comes up dry 

Rainy weather has long been blamed for achy joints. Unjustly so, according to new research from Harvard Medical School. The analysis, published Dec. 13 in BMJ, found no relationship between rainfall and joint or back pain.

The notion that certain symptoms and weather go hand in hand has persisted since antiquity. Hippocrates, writing in On Airs, Waters, and Places, exhorted those who wish to understand medicine to look at the changing seasons of the year and study the prevailing winds to see how the weather they bring affects health. The belief has endured over the centuries and well into the present, likely fueled by a combination of folklore and small studies that have repeatedly yielded mixed results.

By contrast, the newly published analysis led by Anupam Jena of Harvard Medical School’s Department of Health Care Policy, used a “big data” approach, linking insurance claims from millions of doctor’s visits with daily rainfall totals from thousands of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration weather stations.

“No matter how we looked at the data, we didn’t see any correlation between rainfall and physician visits for joint pain or back pain,” said Jena, who is the Ruth L. Newhouse Associate Professor of Health Care Policy at Harvard Medical School and an internist at Massachusetts General Hospital. “The bottom line is: Painful joints and sore backs may very well be unreliable forecasters.”
The study examined Medicare records of more than 11 million primary care office visits by older Americans between 2008 and 2012.

The research team asked a variety of questions: Did more patients seek care for back pain or joint pain when it rained or following periods of rainy weather? Were patients who went to the doctor for other reasons more likely to also report aching knees or backs around rainy days? What if there were several rainy days in a row? Even in the absence of a “rain effect” in the overall group, did patients with a prior diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis report more pain? The answers to all of these questions showed no meaningful link between joint pain and rainy weather. Overall, 6.35 percent of the office visits included reports of pain on rainy days, compared with 6.39 percent on dry days.

So, are patients who believe there’s a connection all wet?

“It’s hard to prove a negative,” Jena said, “but in this flood of data, if there was a clinically significant increase in pain, we would have expected to find at least some small, but significant, sign of the effect. We didn’t.”

The human brain is good at finding patterns, Jena noted, and these beliefs are often self-fulfilling.
If you expect your knee to hurt when it rains and it doesn’t, you forget about it, he said, but if it hurts and you blame it on the rain, it tends to stick in your mind.

“As physicians, we should be sensitive to the things our patients are telling us. Pain is pain, with or without rain,” Jena said. “But it’s important to know that, at the clinical level, joint pain does not appear to ebb and flow with the weather.”

Andrew Olenski, graduate student in the Department of Economics at Columbia University, David Molitor, assistant professor of finance at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Nolan Miller, professor of finance and Julian Simon Faculty Fellow at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, were co-authors of the study.

This study was supported by grants from the Office of the Director, National Institutes of Health (Jena, NIH Early Independence Award, Grant 1DP5OD017897) and the National Institute on Aging (Miller and Molitor, Grant R01AG053350).   

Study identifies hundreds of genetic ‘switches’ that affect height 12-17

Researchers whittled their way to answers 

The network of factors behind height is becoming clearer, thanks to the work of Harvard scientists.Led by Associate Professor of Human Evolutionary Biology Terence D. Capellini, a team of researchers discovered hundreds of genetic “switches” that influence height, and then performed functional tests that demonstrated precisely how one switch altered the function of a key gene involved in height differences. The study is described in a Dec. 5 paper in eLife.

“Large genome-wide association studies on upwards of 250,000 people found about 700 genetic regions associated with height,” Capellini said. “But within each region there could be many single DNA variants linked together, so there are potentially tens of thousands of variants spanning those regions. The question is: How do you whittle that number down to those specific variants that influence height?”

The first step, Capellini said, was to narrow the list of more than 60,000 genetic variants to those involved in the cartilage growth plates of bones. To do this, the researchers identified in the femurs of developing mice regions of DNA that acted as regulatory “switches” — that is, sequences that caused nearby genes to turn on or off.

Capellini and colleagues focused on areas in which the genome was “open,” or available for transcription, using a technique called ATAC-seq. However, that process identified every switch in the growth plate cartilage cell, many of which were not involved in bone growth but rather basic cellular processes. To separate the “general” switches from those related to bone growth — and thus likely height — the team performed the same test again on a different cell type, and identified sequences that were open in both.

“If we find a common sequence that’s open in a brain cell and in a cartilage cell, we can say it likely turns on some gene that may be important for cells to live,” Capellini said. “So we filtered those out, but we didn’t ignore them completely, because they may actually be important.

“While we first concentrated on the bone-specific switches, we know there are a lot of inputs to height — it’s about the length of our bones, but we also know hormones trigger height, malnutrition can impact height, among other inputs, so there may be general genetic factors that influence height.”
Capellini said researchers also performed a number of quality control tests to ensure that the switches they identified were actually involved in bone and cartilage development as well as height. Then, co-author Michael Guo was able to determine that only 900 of the 60,000 variants associated with height actually reside in on/off switches for bone.

To make sure that this process identified unique height signals, Capellini and colleagues performed additional analyses.

“We took genome-wide analyses from other studies that had nothing to do with height and looked to see if we saw the same signal, and we didn’t, which makes sense,” he said. “We also looked at switches from other cell types to see if these genetic variants appeared, and they didn’t. That really suggests to us that the signals we’re seeing are very strong. It’s not just a property of the genome or a property of identifying these switches.”

The team chose one on/off switch, associated with a gene known as chondroitin sulfate synthase 1, which plays a key role in how cartilage cells create the extracellular matrix that hardens into bone. In turn, the gene influences femur length in mice and humans.

“We did some tests to find out how this switch effects CHSY1 activity, and found that both versions — for taller height and shorter height — act as repressors on the gene,” Capellini said. “But surprisingly, the height-increasing variant isn’t as strong.”

To verify that the switch indeed acts in a repressive manner, researchers used CRISPR tools to entirely remove the switch or the variant from human cartilage cells, and saw a very strong increase in the expression of the gene.

Going forward, Capellini and colleagues hope to use high-throughput functional methods to understand the role each variant plays in human height, and to develop other methods to test all 60,000-plus variants in order to study height in a more unbiased manner.

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Predictions and Pitfalls In the Workplace: 6 Things to Watch For in 2018.. 12-16

As the year winds down, it’s a good time to reflect on the year that was and the trends reshaping the nature of our work and workplaces heading into 2018.

The main driver of this change? It continues to be the increasing scale and use of technological solutions to traditional and modern workplace challenges. As we progress beyond the advent of connected work apps and online platforms of the past five years, we’re preparing to move past other impactful organizational shifts — like the rise of remote workers.

All this is to say that 2018 is going to be another significant and very interesting year for both workers and their relationship with the workplace, and there are some key things those in the HR space should be aware of.

Here are my predictions on what will be making an impact in the year to come.

1 – The app and information overload will continue

Apps and SaaS online platforms have become as standard in our jobs as Microsoft Office, and while they have added some great new tools and abilities to our work day, they  are also increasingly making work more challenging. How? By giving us more programs to juggle and making information more scattered and difficult to retrieve.

Though this overload is hard to stop. We’re seeing the rise of a new solution that will greatly expand in 2018: the use of AI-powered assistants that can plug into the various apps and platforms we already use and retrieve the information we seek on our request.

With developments in natural language processing, we can now have a text chat with a helper bot and ask questions about diffuse information sources that it answers in plain English.

2 – Employee engagement efforts will get smarter  

Making employees feel more connected, engaged and happy at work has become a major priority for workplaces and their HR teams. We’ve seen a lot of enterprise firms getting flexible with their approach to employee work-life balance and adopting some of the more casual approaches to work and workplace rules seen in trendy tech startups.

This will continue in 2018, but at a higher level: efforts to engage employees will be given a major boost by smart new digital tools that let HR better monitor and react to engagement and office culture.

Underlying AI technology — like machine learning — is now parsing the language used on workplace chat platforms, and even in employee emails, to analyze employee sentiment for potential negativity, a sign of disengagement, and doing so on an office-wide level.

Expect this to become more widespread as new tools read more telltale signals. Researching whether such engagement tech is right for your HR challenges will be key in 2018.

3 – Diversity and inclusion will be an even bigger priority

This past year saw some major corporate scandals around diversity and inclusion, leading to more awareness and calls for change. There have been some major shots across the bow, and we’re seeing executive teams start to make some major reforms to modernize their workplace makeup and culture.

This will be a significant priority in 2018, not only in response to very public scandals but also because of the fact that more inclusive, diverse workplaces have been linked to higher productivity and are now recognized as better for innovation and new ideas (and more attractive to Millennial hires).

At the ground level, HR should be aware of the new set of equity tools designed to eliminate unconscious bias in recruiting practices. You can now have your job-posting text read by an AI bot who will suggest more inclusive language, and another will help screen resumes in a fairer way.
This is a fast-growing area, and one every HR department should be evaluating for fit.

4 – More human workplaces, more collaboration

Can smart tools using AI and machine learning make work better?

We don’t have a complete answer to that yet, but we are seeing the needle start to move with the application of AI software to areas with a direct impact on our workplace mood and empathy levels. This includes the physical design of our offices to be more human-centric, and assistants that can read our emails as we write them and let us know if we’re coming off as unprofessional.

At the same time, the importance of collaboration is rising as the micro-jobs that eat up our work day are automated by virtual assistants — tasks like booking meetings and drafting routine documents. With more time for creative, deep-thinking work, more value is being placed on employee collaboration, which is becoming a key factor in firm performance.

Both these trends are going to get bigger in 2018, and successful workplaces will want to stay on top of them.

5 – Remote workers are the norm, and can do more

Having an employee work from home once elicited some quiet skepticism around the water cooler, but those days are now long gone. Indeed, leading workplaces now treat remote work as a standard feature, one that can not only let employees be more productive, but opens the door to a truly global workforce that provides a deep bench of talent.

Working remotely was once a bit awkward in terms of work routines and processes being locked to a physical space, but the digital workplace has gone a long way to throwing off those restrictions. Come 2018, and beyond, this will become the standard, and expect a majority of high-performing firms to have a constant chunk of their staff permanently off-site.

Our workplace tech stack has adapted to this new reality, and as more software migrates to the cloud with files accessible 24/7, we’ll see remote working grow tremendously.

This will be further accelerated by the rise of smart tools giving remote workers new abilities that would previously have required a visit to the office, such as creating and exchanging routine documents and meeting with HR for basic work-policy questions and assistance. The range of remote applications will continue its exponential growth, and is something the modern enterprise must be aware of and willing to adapt to.

6 – AI will go mainstream and get REALLY smart at understanding data

In what will be a seismic shift in 2018, enterprises will no longer require a computer or data science degree to understand and use the baseline and deeper functionality that workplace AI brings. Non-specialized knowledge workers will see the immediate benefits of these AI-powered tools, from frictionless collaboration and information sharing to quick and accessible new insights.

Yes, 2016 and 2017 both paved the way for the arrival of mainstream AI, and now we’ve reached a turning point, thanks to the standardization of third-party apps and integrations that can be understood and augmented by AI. This will allow employees to do more at work using previously inaccessible data, yielding new discoveries. To pick one example, 2018 will usher in the era of business intelligence beyond the usual, allowing employees to derive success metrics at the click of a button and gain new perspectives.

It’s clear that 2018 is going to be another exciting year for employers, workers, and their relationship with the workplace. HR teams should be aware of the upcoming shifts and opportunities to unlock new value, and, understand how to properly use data, insights and emerging tech to supercharge everything from employee engagement and productivity to organizational structure and IT.

Happy New Year!

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