Future of Work and the evolving role of HR to lead the change (Part 1)
The fact that the way we work was bound to change eventually has been a broadly accepted notion for some years now. Key disruptors like the globalization, the connectivity, new generations entering the labor market as well as New Work are forcing organization to shape the Future of Work. However, the Covid-19 pandemic, which has influenced virtually every part of our lives for around a year and a half now, has sped up this process immensely. The drive towards extensive digitalization, the transformation of the physical workspace as well as the composition of the workforce have undergone even faster shifts during the Covid-19 time. The evolution/development of these aspects in turn have resulted in a major repositioning of the Human Resources function (HR) towards a trusted partner of business.
Part 1 of the blog post will analyze what the key shifts at work, within the workforce and at the workplace actually incorporate. Part 2 will analyze how this affects the organization as a whole and HR in particular, and explains how HR will succeed in leading the cultural change and the digital transformation.
The market environment keeps shifting at an ever-increasing pace. This means that there are also rapidly changing demands towards future jobs, which in turn require a constant change of skills and competencies for employees to perform the jobs. This fast-changing demand for future skills and competencies also highlights the importance of the concept of life-long learning. Learning that is integrated in the flow of work thus becomes especially crucial, as it enables employees to further grow their know-how powered by a strong learning culture.
It isn’t only the way we work that is undergoing significant changes. The workforce itself is subject to key-shifts. As more and more members of the baby-boomer generation are starting to retire, the floor is open to a new generation of digital natives (Generation Z). This “future employee” differs significantly from past generations of employees, especially in the demands they pose towards the job market/organization. They are looking for purpose in their work. They want to work for an organization that represents their values and to conduct work that they feel passionate about and committed to. Through this, the future employee is able to connect their private purpose to the one at work.
To follow their purpose and foster innovation, the future employee is also looking to work independently and to take on additional responsibilities. Through this, those in leadership roles will not continue to be the sole decision makers, but rather have employees take on responsibility themselves. This flattening of hierarchies is one of the key changes that the future employee wants to see at work.
In 2020, 67% of us reported higher stress levels and 53% are more emotionally exhausted (according to Harward Business Review). Therefore, not just sustainability and physical health plays an important role for the future employer but also mental health. Especially since the line between work and private life has blurred. The future employee is looking for a sustainable blending of work and private life (“Work-life-Blending”). However, that blending might constantly change during the phases of life, let’s call this trend “work-life dynamics”, where employees decide on the right blend considering their current living conditions.
It is not only the individual employee that will characteristically change, but also the total composition of the workforce. There is a key-shift towards a hybrid composition of the workforce, which incorporates gig workers and internal employees. The gig economy has been on a rise in recent years. One reason for this may be that people from younger generations are not prepared to commit to one organization for an extended period. Thus, total workforce management is going to have to incorporate looking for talent also outside the organization.
Moreover, as the current Covid-19 crisis has sped up digitalization at work in every aspect, it is important not to forget those who do not utilize a computer for their work. The so called deskless workforce, which world-wide makes up 80% of employees, includes those who complete their work tasks away from a desk and company headquarters and lack consistent access to information communication technology and/or internal systems. However, as everything moves online, these employees too need to be connected to their organization just as much as those working in the office.
Furthermore, not only is diversity within the type of work important, but also diversity in terms of gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and age. Working in a team that consists of people with different backgrounds fosters inclusion and drives innovation as well as creativity.
With a shifting workforce also comes a shifting workplace. The term “flex work” is one that has recently been much discussed. This term incorporates three subcategories: flex time, flex location and flex workplace. The first refers to the question of when work is done. Times of strict nine to five working days are long gone and current as well as future generations of employees are calling for more flexible and customizable working hours. Implementation of this enables employees to design their work-life balance the way they see fit to achieve the most productive and efficient results. Flex time however does not only refer to when work is done but also how much. Part-time working models are becoming more popular, even reaching up into leadership positions. This is of high importance, as it especially enables more female workers to be able to take on leadership positions. Models such as tandem leadership positions are proving to be efficient ways of designing leadership positions in a part-time framework.
Flex location refers to a concept that we have gotten to know all too well in the past year and a half. Working from home and only sporadically coming to the office is an aspect of the Covid-19 crisis that is here to stay. According to Gartner: By the end of 2021, 3 in 10 people will be working remotely, while 51% of all employees will be working in a hybrid environment, working from home at least 1 day a week. The difference is, however, that in the future, employees will hopefully be able to choose where they want to work, whether this may be on-site, in the home-office, or in a hybrid of the two. Additionally, the concept of remote work – or in other words, “work wherever you want” – is gaining popularity throughout the workforce. This model does not restrict the employee to working at home when they are not at the office. Rather, it allows them to work from any location they like, may this be at the pool, the mountains, the gym, or the beach.
However, the office space should not completely be forgotten in light of these location possibilities, but should rather be reimagined. New booking systems for places at the office should be implemented, for everyone who wants to come to the office to be able to have an adequate spot to work at, whether it is an individual workstation, a collaboration space or relaxing zone. What has become apparent is that a non-digitalized workplace will be unthinkable in the future. Thus, it is important that easy access to all kinds of applications must be ensured for everyone, including deskless workers.
To sum up, the Future of Work is arriving fast, changing all aspects of our work. This is a call to action for organizations to shape the future of work now, but in particular for the HR function to lead the cultural change and the digital transformation. How organizations and HR will succeed in the Future of Work, I will explain in part 2 of my blog post.
However, I am interested to hear your predictions for the future work, the future workforce and the future workplace.