Predictions of the future rarely turn out to be accurate. Many of the predictions about the future of work will be no different. It seems clear, however, that we are at the beginning of a substantial change in the way we work. For many people, the most visible change is the growing pace of technological change, but there are many factors driving us towards different types of work, and equally, different ways of working.
Many people may feel threatened by reports of technological change, particularly in the area of automation. We believe that it is very important to be extremely careful of simplistic predictions. In fact, the World Economic Forum anticipates that artificial intelligence may actually deliver up to 58 million new jobs globally, which is perhaps contrary to the popular view that automation is going to take people’s jobs away.
In any event, technology is only one of the catalysts for workplace change. There are a number of other drivers, including:
- The generational change taking place in many workplaces as the baby boomer generation edge deeper into retirement, and the increasing diversity of generations that are now of working age;
- The changing skills required to do different types of work, especially in many of the traditional white-collar industries;
- The fear of disruption in many economic sectors as a result of changing customer expectations;
- The greater use of outsourcing and offshoring arrangements; and
- The changing expectations of the employment relationship.
It is the combination of these that is leading to changes in the needs of employers, and at the same time changing the desires and expectations of employees.
Nobody can ignore the impact of technological development on the future of work. The impacts fall into 3 critical areas:
- The number of tasks that are now being automated, especially through the use of artificial intelligence. Many businesses are seeing the productivity gains from automation and the potential for cost savings that are essential to keep them competitive.
- The amount of new technology that now enables different business opportunities. Drones are one such technology through which businesses can now offer services that would have been cost-prohibitive in the past, and provide the job opportunities that go with them.
- The ability to access vast amounts of data through which business can perform reliable predictive analysis. The access and use of big data is having a big impact on the way businesses go about their activities. For those businesses that can access the analytical skills to make use of it, big data is presenting opportunities that may have otherwise remained unexplored.
Technology is no doubt changing the types of work that we do. For businesses to fully access the opportunities that arise from technological change, they must have access to people with the appropriate skills to develop, deploy, use, and maintain it.
Many of the new jobs being created by technological change require different skills. Creative thinking, technological competency, and learning agility are all skills that are now valued more highly by employers.
As businesses themselves strive for greater agility and adaptability, they look for those same skills in their workforce. Perhaps a myth to be busted is that these attributes are about attitude; to a very large extent, they are learned skills.
The future workplace will almost certainly require greater collaboration. A job in the future will more likely require you to use your head more than your hands. The jobs that require creativity, interpersonal skills, organisation, and decision making will be the hardest to automate. This means that what has previously been called soft skills will become more important. These include the skills of communication, empathy and relating to others, collaboration, conflict resolution, and planning. Effective leadership will therefore be especially important.
When we created The H Factor system, our entire approach is based on nurturing these skills. In particular, having outcomes-based position descriptions and instilling an effective conversation about achieving the outcomes is especially important in the transition from measuring performance based on pre-conceived assessment criteria, to inspiring and monitoring performance through a natural conversation based on a shared understanding of the desired result.
THE FEAR OF DISRUPTION
As technology has become more accessible, the expectations of customers have changed. For example, in the past many of us caught a taxi without the need for a mobile phone app, but now Uber has shown a different and better customer experience by ordering on demand to where we are, rather than us having to hail a passing taxi by chance, or go to a defined taxi rank. Similarly, we rarely need to go into a bank for day-to-day transactions, and many of us may not even know what a cheque is.
For businesses, this has created the need to have greater flexibility in how they can manage their workforce and in their working arrangements for their teams. It impacts not just the types of work that people do, but it also impacts how they go about that work.
The bigger changes in customer expectations are based on technologies that have improved the human experience. This is why we believe that the biggest risk for employers is not that their industry will be superseded, it is that their competitors will find a better human experience for their customers. This is not merely a technical risk, although it is likely that some form of technology will be the enabler.
Therefore to minimise the risk of disruption, employers again need to tap into skills that may not have applied in their industry in the past. These will include technical skills such as coding, user experience design, and data analytics.
Those business leaders who have clarity about the problem their business exists to solve, and who can communicate why that matters, will reduce their risk of disruption by building organisations that are focused on the human experience. They are more likely to be the disruptors than the disrupted.
This is why The H Factor system home page is your business story – why your business exists at all. It enables your team to engage with the problem, and contribute their ideas and effort to your business being at the forefront of the solution for your customers.
OUTSOURCING AND OFFSHORING
For some tasks that can’t be automated, employers have found outsourcing or offshoring those tasks to be an effective method for reducing costs. In some cases, this approach also provides those organisations with access to specialist skillsets.
The use of subcontractors – whether they be in Australia or overseas – has been a growing trend for some time. One of the challenges in transitioning to these arrangements is effectively engaging the external team to work effectively with the workplace culture, deliver the appropriate quality of work, and managing the procedures for transferring work between internal and external parties.
An increasing number of people are employed on a contractual basis. They may even be full-time employees for the period of the contract. This is especially impacting traditional white collar workers, with particular technical skills, where employers see a need for those skills for specific projects. Again, the challenge is how to engage those contractors effectively with the workplace culture and ensuring that their work is consistent with the desired result.
In The H Factor system, the type of work is separate from the type of employment contract. Every position exists to achieve an outcome. How a person is employed in that position is then a separate matter, and the outcomes conversation process for managing their performance still applies whether the person is employed permanently, or on a contract, or is located internally, locally, or offshore. Equally, the system enables access to policies, procedures, and training wherever or whenever they’re needed – that have been created for the business by the people who actually do it.
CHANGING EXPECTATIONS OF EMPLOYMENT
Workplaces are more diverse than they have ever been. There are a number of factors driving this:
- Greater levels of immigration over the last 20 years has seen a greater diversity in the cultural backgrounds of people now engaged the workforce;
- There are now multi-generations in the workforce at the same time, with Baby Boomers at one end of the spectrum and Gen Z at the other, and the Gen X-ers and Millennials in the middle; and
- The (possibly false!) perception that full-time permanent employment will be a thing of the past.
Immigration has had a dominant impact on social change in Australia over the last 20 years. For employers, this has enabled access to a larger talent pool for many skills.
Once in the workplace, people from different backgrounds bring with them their different cultural values around work ethic, the need for perceived status from their employment, and different expectations of the work environment itself.
At the same time, the participation of women in the workforce has also substantially increased. Employers therefore have developed more flexible approaches to work, including actions such as specific policies around acceptance and inclusion, and organisational structures and working arrangements that accommodate such a diversity of needs and expectations.
Every generation brings with it different expectations about the role work will play in their lives. Some people started their working life in an era when their parents had one employer, or even one job, over their whole career, while others are starting their career with a desire to avoid investing in skills that may ultimately be automated.
There is a common perception that full-time permanent employment opportunities will become fewer as technological change becomes more rapid. So far, the statistics don’t support that perception, but that possibly won’t matter. If people don’t believe that they will have a secure full-time job in the future then they will naturally seek greater fulfilment from the job they have right now – or they will seek to find a job that does provide such fulfilment. We hear this in many conversations we have with business leaders around the challenges of managing employees who are Millennials and Gen-Xers for example.
The H Factor system was designed to help leaders manage diverse workplaces by building the positions in their business around the “stuff that needs doing”. This enables people to engage with the needs of the business, and self identify their own approach to fulfilling those needs. This enables a greater potential of fulfilment for people as it enables them to ‘grow into’ their position, and take genuine ownership of it. For managers, it provides confidence that the people in their team see the business priorities the same way that they do.
Research has shown that the desire to be engaged in their work is a common aspiration for people across all generations. It enables people to achieve a sense of fulfilment and satisfaction from what they do. In an era where we have the greatest diversity of generations working together at the same time, it has never been more important.
We are optimistic about the future of work. It is our belief that, ultimately, all of these changes are leading to more interesting jobs, an increased capacity for businesses to make a positive difference to their customers and in the societies in which they operate, and an increased appreciation for and value of humanity itself.
Mercer Global Talent Trends 2019 Report; #7 Building The Lucky County, Deloitte Insights 2019; and OECD Library – Editorial: A transition agenda for a Future that Works for all.