The future of work is not a destination we’re heading towards. It’s somewhere we’ve already arrived at.
Everything we’ve taken for granted about work is changing; the ways in which we forge a career, commute and learn, who we work with and how long we work for are all being transformed.
What we want from our work and what we expect from those who manage has changed, and HR teams have a critical role to play in making their organisations relevant and meaningful in this new world.
Quality work does not mean the same to everyone
The Taylor review of modern working practices has provided some useful insights into the challenges ahead and how we can provide responsible corporate governance, good management and effective employee relations to support good and plentiful work for all.
One of the most important elements in the report is the recognition that quality work does not mean the same to everyone and that ‘different people will have different motivations’.
One proposition certainly does not fit all and our own research on what talent wants shows that the best results come from a personalised approach.
Tailored employee value propositions (EVP) for those individuals who are the organisation’s main or future source of competitive advantage can achieve this. Indeed, we’ve found that organisations who tailor their EVP to different talent groups have a significantly higher total share return (37% higher) than those who don’t.
Giving talented individuals what they really want is going to become even more important in a competitive world where more people embrace the attractions of the gig economy.
Companies that fail to help their existing workforce to remain employable will end up with a significantly higher turnover and lose out on the skills they need to compete.
Another driver of change in the world of work is automation.
It is too simplistic to view this as being solely about robots replacing people. Rather, what we will see are different forms of AI and technology entering the workplace alongside the existing workforce.
It is the combination of the capabilities of both that will deliver maximum competitive advantage.
Look ahead to future capabilities
Organisations need to examine the future capabilities and skills that they will need. This involves looking beyond succession and workforce planning based on current organisational requirements and thinking carefully about what may be a radically different organisation in the not-too-distant future.
This should include the development of an AI-human talent strategy that explores current strengths and what the company will need to enhance future competitiveness. In the US there are already examples of mechanical engineers working directly alongside robots. Scenarios like this, where AI and humans work to deliver the greatest value, need to be looked into further.
With the increasing disruptions in technology and ways of working, we require leaders who are willing to think differently.
Alongside all this, we need to take on board the Taylor Review’s recognition that portfolio working across multiple employers during a career, sometimes simultaneously, is making traditional career maps and career paths redundant.
Employers should be seizing the opportunities this presents – including using the transparency of social media and applications such as LinkedIn – to highlight alternative career paths.
Organisations should also focus on supporting career resilience and employability within an industry, rather than within a single organisation.
We should embrace employee turnover, strengthen alumni networks and establish external partnerships with like-minded organisations. This will then enable the active management of individual careers across organisational boundaries.
A different approach to learning and development is also critical. Companies that fail to help their existing workforce to remain employable will end up with a significantly higher turnover and lose out on the skills they need to compete.
And if the gig economy does become the dominant way of working, current approaches will require a radical overhaul and need to reflect a faster turnover of employees. This means using digital channels, portals and apps to retain and share the institutional knowledge of past experiences, failures and mistakes that are integral to an organisation’s survival.
Innovation will be more important
In this faster moving world, innovation will be more crucial than ever.
Our recent Innovation Matters survey found that many organisations are missing out on the potential of innovation to drive progress. 66% of respondents said they were convinced that innovation is crucial to their company’s survival, but only 28% said they were innovating successfully to drive growth.
The above research also showed that 78% of successful innovation leaders have leadership teams with diverse skills compared with 66% of their less successful peers.
To address this, organisations will need to refocus their systems on attraction, hiring, development and recognition away from a single model of leadership and towards an approach that values different strengths and styles.
This is a time of great change for the world of work, but that doesn’t mean we cannot shape the future.
The digital age is already upon us and with the increasing disruptions in technology and ways of working, we require leaders who are willing to think differently.
A visionary digital leader, for example, will bring value through looking at how digital technologies, opportunities and threats are transforming and disrupting society; whereas a data-led digital leader will focus on the use of digital data to inform and automate decisions, enabling the business to take better managed risks.
This is a time of great change for the world of work, but that doesn’t mean we cannot shape the future. As new possibilities arise, the best way to work out how they fit your organisation’s goals, culture and strategy is to start experimenting with different options and tools.
In that way you will be able to build an organisation that can handle the trends that are shaping the UK and global worlds of work, and succeed in providing an attractive and successful workplace both now and in the future.