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Author's profile photo Stephan Koenen

Future of Work and the evolving role of HR to lead the change (Part 2)

In part 1 I analyzed what the key shifts at work, within the workforce and at the workplace actually incorporate. In part 2 I analyze how this affects the organization as a whole and HR in particular, and I explain how HR will succeed in leading the cultural change and the digital transformation.

What does this mean for the future organization?

“The power of employee experience”. Without happy and engaged employees, the future of work won’t become a reality. Thus, it is important for organizations to listen to the demands of the future employee, which include purpose in their work, good communication with those in leadership positions and within the team. They also want transparency about the happenings within the company and about their career opportunities within the organization to grow their careers.

The change towards an internal gig economy – where temporary, flexible jobs are commonplace inside the company and where people wish to grow their career – requires that organizations  become more agile, as they must be able to react to a quickly changing market environment. To do so, talent mobility needs to become a priority for each organization, fostering movement of employees from one role to another or to the same role in another department or group.

What is hereby crucial, is for an organization to create an organizational culture in which “trust” plays a significant role. It is important for the organization, including those in leadership positions, to create an environment where employees are comfortable admitting their mistakes and receiving honest feedback. Feeling safe and appreciated in an environment where employees are encouraged to work independently and take on responsibility without having to consult people in leadership position from many levels above, makes them comfortable taking risks. This in turn leads to more open, creative actions which foster overall innovation.

As organizations will have to deal with the fast-changing market environment just as much as the employee will, organizations must create great learning experiences to continuously up-/reskill the workforce providing easy access to learning anytime and anywhere.

Beyond the learning experience, organizations need to a put a strong emphasis on setting conditions where employees can thrive in a flexible and healthy work environment. Considering the wish of employees that their work be focused more on outcomes rather than set working hours, organizations are required to set up frameworks for this to work. Hereby, the experiences gained during Covid-19 should encourage companies to consistently embrace flex work and the digital workplace centered around performance, engagement and happiness. That also applies to the humanization of employees and whole teams, where mistakes are not punished, but rather used to learn and improve. To implement such a culture, continuous feedback loops with open communication between employees and leadership is required.


What does this mean for the future of HR?

The role of human resources in the future is shifting dramatically—and the challenge for HR is clear: How to create an agile, next-generation HR function fit for the digital era? Undoubtedly, this will include identifying the right HR strategy and HR operating model to stay ahead of constant change in work, the workplace, and the workforce as described above.

Through the Covid-19 pandemic, HR has shown strong leadership by building a safe work environment and shaping a culture of trust and belonging. HR has shifted to being a people’s ambassador, which transforms the organization into a people power business where employee experience and thus human experience management is seen as one of the key factors to a company’s success. To keep and further develop this leadership, HR needs to continue its digital transformation as a fundamental re-thinking of Employee Experience as well as HR business models and HR operations in terms of digital frameworks that drive transformation, performance, and experience within the organization.

HR needs to act on the following value drivers:

Employee Experience

As described before, Employee Experience continues to be the key success factor for organizations to succeed in the future of work, and HR executes the employee experience strategy. Through listening, understanding and acting on employee feedback, HR can create work environments where people strive.

Digital HR

Technology is the most important lever to drive Employee Experiences and will continue to gain value, as the future employee is a digital native and thus also already expects fully digitalized HR processes from the organization. Hence, it is crucial to digitalize with the demands of the end-user, i.e. the employee, in mind. The organization needs to continuously leverage the technology along the employee lifecycle to transform its business. HR actively need to explore emerging technologies such as Machine Learning, conversational AI and Robotic Process Automation to make HR interactions easier and more integrated with the work. In addition, advanced people analytics generate continuous insights and make recommendations to management and employees based on preferences and behaviors.


Every transformation is a people transformation. When employees are in the center of a transformation effort, there is a 70% higher success rate than when they are not, according to Boston Consulting Group. People do not just need to buy into the vision, they need to understand how they will get there. Connecting the people to the transformation is crucial for it to become a movement.

To enable these changes, HR needs to play an active role in shaping an organizational culture of trust, productivity, inclusion and accountability, as described in the previous sub-section, to ensure that the workforce is willing to join this journey. Additionally, HR has the role of implementing learning, frequent and transparent communication and data-driven decision-making, as these are critical aspects of transformation success. This culture combined with future technology helps to align, engage, and properly skill the workforce.


HR Operating Model powered by Cloud HR platform solution

HR needs to become more efficient, agile and strategically aligned with the business. HR leaders need to respond to these pressing challenges with the following key building blocks of the operating model of the future:

An HR back-office leveraging the power of a connected Cloud HR platform that can be easily extended by intelligent technologies like robotic process automation, machine learning and cognitive agents is crucial to achieve operational efficiency. The connected Cloud HR platform and intelligent technologies help to drive down cost of operations and to comply with all quality and compliance standards while delivering consumer-grade HR services at scale with human touch.

At the same time, HR is given the chance to shift resources towards an organization that is set up to support business growth and is centered around its internal customers – employees and managers. HR Business Partners provide strategic consulting for senior- level leaders and executives via a precisely defined set of strategic HR services, offering agile and high-quality support to address new business needs. For first- and mid-level leaders, a new role ‘HR advisor’ might complement the model that is part of the service delivery organization. The role is having focus on the coordination and handling of cases that involve several HR service areas or that need intensive consultative support due to complex requirements. The advisors are working ticketing-based and location-agnostic.

Finally, HR Centers of Excellence cultivate thought leadership design and roll-out new HR services complemented by end-to-end factories for Recruiting and Learning.

To end with a quote from Meg Bear in her recent article “5 Trends for the Future of Work”: “HR has the charter, vision and expertise to bring them (the future of work trends) to life. As we’re navigating this new world of work, HR departments are even more indispensable to an organization’s success. At the end of the day, people power business – if your people win, your business wins.”

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