The future of work: have you heard enough yet?

The future of work is here right now, writes Josh Bersin

The future of work is here right now, and Josh Bersin explains that HR’s role is to take the lead and help business leaders adapt faster than ever before

Two years ago I first wrote an article about the Future of Work, and it discussed the emerging discussion about robotics, AI, and rapidly changing skills. Since then a series of books, hundreds of articles, and entire issue of Deloitte University Press has been published, so a lot has become clearer.

In the interest of clearing through some of the clutter, let me try to simplify this over-discussed topic, and explain a few things that are now apparent:

1. The Future of Work means agile teams, networked-organisations, always-on roles, and the need to work in a fluid, adaptable way.
Some 88 per cent of the companies surveyed in our 2017 Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends research cited “organisational design” as their number one topic, and I think this may be the biggest issue we face. You as an HR team have an opportunity to lead this change: so get familiar with agile, team management, and the role of followership to be able to take the lead.

2. Skills and careers are now on everyone’s mind when it comes to the future of work.
One of the fastest growing areas of HR technology today is tools to help employees learn, share information, and better improve their careers. These tools need open and transparent information about what jobs are being created in your company, and you as an HR organisation should do more research on what jobs are “ascending” and which are “descending.”

The research I published recently (Catch the wave: The 21st Century Career) points out that the high-value jobs of the future are hybrid roles, multi-disciplinary, and social and technical in nature. Yes we need web designers and data scientists, but as you’ll see in this research that these roles in the future of work lean toward more creative, more team-oriented, and more industry savvy ones. So it’s important that the career and skills you focus on today are balanced, (STEAM vs. STEM), and soft-skills centric.

3. Robotics and AI are creating jobs as fast as they are changing them.
Companies that implement automation at a breakneck speed are increasing job roles at a fevered pitch. Why? For every new “robot” or AI-based software solution we need someone to “train the robot” and wrap it in human services. This new job, the role of “redesigning work,” falls on HR, and our research shows that 75 per cent of automation projects take place without HR’s help. You have to jump in.

4. Leadership and management are changing before our eyes.
As work becomes more dynamic and we operate in teams, the nature of leadership is changing faster than I’ve ever seen. The leadership marketplace is old and filled with books and pundits teaching what they’ve learned. Today you should look at the leaders of small, fast-moving, aggressive companies to see that modern leaders are collaborative, inclusive, experimental, risk-taking, customer-focused, and able to quickly adapt to change. If you haven’t revisited your leadership model, you should.

5. HR’s new job is “productivity” in the future of work, not “engagement”.
Yes we want highly engaged employees, but this only happens effectively when people are skilled, well organised, and taken care of at work. And the ultimate measure of this work is not “the employee experience” but rather how productive they are and how meaningful they find their jobs. Think about how you measure productivity, and you’ll suddenly be able to find the secrets to employee engagement.

The subject of the future of work is fascinating, and there’s a lot to learn. But let me reassure you that this future is here right now, and our role in HR is to take the lead and help our business leaders adapt faster than ever before to the future of work.

4 future of work action items for HR to consider

  1. Examine and experiment with agile teams to help identify opportunities to improve operations in every business function.
  2. Don’t over-focus on technical skills. Yes they’re important but understand that a hybrid of social, soft, and hard skills make up the jobs of the future.
  3. Get involved in automation projects. Whenever a manager brings in a new tool or software system, you should be there to help rethink the jobs, work, and team.
  4. Revisit your leadership model, and perhaps bring younger people into leadership faster. The old leadership models (up or out) are no longer effective, so you should enable young people to lead now – they can lead the way, and often mentor others to adapt more quickly.

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