The term future of work suggests that the way we understand employment will change sometime in the undetermined future. In this respect, the future of work (FoW) is a bit misleading. Why? Because after a variety of changes no one could have foreseen as recently as 5 years ago — the FoW is already here.
Spurred by widespread change in labor demographics and the irreversible momentum of advances in technology, work as we once understood it is changing so rapidly that business leaders and HR administrators have to rethink the entire concept, from beginning to end.
Start with the notion that what you do in an office, warehouse or other workplace setting ‘defines’ who you are. Then, as employees and others in the emerging gig economy are doing, turn this concept on its head. Now it’s holistic, enduring individuals who define what work should look like and how it will be integrated into their professional and personal lives.
This is by no means to say that employers don’t benefit; in fact, enterprises are able to gain unprecedented access to top talent on an as-needed basis, promoting efficiency and precision of expertise at a team and even organizational level. The emergence of the FoW simply means that workforce leaders need to reimagine how they interact with the individuals that are now driving their own professions.
It’s clear that we’re entering a business landscape of unprecedented agility and specialty—and it’s important for all beneficiaries to understand how to best embrace this shift, transitioning corporate culture and ideals to the new world of work.
A Rocky Transition
Many corporate cultures remain resistant to the seismic changes taking place now and in the fast-approaching future. The following roadblocks exemplify the challenge that lies ahead:
- Existing channels for filling gaps in talent aren’t delivering sufficient value to the organization.
- Constant ‘noise’ makes it difficult to identify and engage the right technological tools to enable talent access and management.
- Cultural and structural impediments make adoption of FoW hard to achieve.
On top of this, many U.S. businesses grapple with a growing sense of disengagement among their workforce. Many employees feel detached from the mission and purpose underlying their work. This lack of engagement — or, in some cases, growing hostility towards their employers — may result in a widespread drop in both morale and productivity on the part of more traditional, full-time employees. If left unchecked, such disturbing trends can seriously damage a corporation’s ability to compete in future markets, including in the market for on-demand talent.
The challenge for HR professionals is particularly acute. Their key responsibilities (attracting and recruiting quality talent, as well as maintaining a reliable pipeline for future employment needs) must shift to accommodate the new and emerging world of work, requiring systemic evolution on top of an already full workload. If they fail to keep up with the changes discussed here, they face alarming prospects:
- Unmet needs in the hunt for talent, both permanent and contingent.
- Limited opportunities for learning and development and associated technology access.
- Inability to find the right partners (internally and externally) to help their companies adapt to the FoW.
Training, planning and technology are key components of a programmatic approach to redefining jobs as they apply to each company’s unique core activities and projects. Yet, no attempt at transitioning employment culture will flourish without a comprehensive and holistic shift in mindset, permeating all aspects of how HR and other senior leaders envision how to get work done.
Shifting to a Talent-Access Mindset
As noted, certain aspects of FoW are already in place, particularly in the realm of the gig economy. Forward-thinking leaders and HR administrators understand that “talent” now consists of a blended group of employees, consultants, freelancers and industry thought leaders. The “rise of the independent worker,” notes Salesforce, “will change the makeup of the workforce considerably in coming years.” And yet, while many leaders understand that changes in workforce structure are imminent, they do not understand the principles and processes required to fully achieve this future.
An organization’s ability to realize the benefits of this blended workforce will prove essential to how well it competes, innovates and manages for upcoming economic cycles. Making the shift from a talent-acquisition mindset to a talent-access mindset is a key first step in adapting to the future of work. Other characteristics of an FoW mindset include:
- Adopting programs that nurture employee and team agility, including cross-functional and external collaboration.
- Encouraging the blended workforce to flatten hierarchies in order to generate and run with innovative ideas.
- Promoting a focus on work output and value, not input and time.
- Giving employees and gig workers more autonomy over how they work and opportunity for lifelong learning.
- Catering to a diverse set of employee needs and promoting the integration of work into employee’s broader lives.
- Using advanced technologies (such as data and analytics) to inform strategic workforce decisions.
Legacy talent solutions (i.e., the old way of doing things) simply can’t deliver the speed and value that FoW demands. Nor can an indiscriminate adoption of new HR technology tools, without the corresponding training and deep understanding of what tools address, bridge the gaps in today’s workforce.
Charting the Course to an Agile Workforce
Catalant’s research Reimagining Work 20/20 shares a wide range of eye-opening survey results on how businesses are grappling with the FoW. The report offers a 5-step plan for enterprises are preparing for a more agile workforce based on best practices from top surveyed companies and existing clients:
- Form a FoW team to assess the flexibility of specific jobs and projects.
- Identify strategic talent gaps and the key capabilities, skills, tools and technology needed to bridge those gaps.
- Customize a pilot program and technology for a specific team or business unit.
- Introduce FoW initiatives to additional teams and/or business units.
- Critically analyze the resulting changes, refining the process as needed.
Transitioning corporate culture will require adopting a new mindset around employment and jobs, creating a greater role for HR administrators in guiding strategy, and embracing of the agile workforce in its multitude of facets. By preparing now for these paradigm-shifting changes, your business will be better positioned to succeed in the future.
The future of work is already shaping how employment and productivity will look in 2018 and beyond. Download Catalant’s Reimagining Work 20/20 report to learn more.