3 important ways work is changing (and what HR can do about them)

3 important ways work is changing (and what HR can do about them)

In the future of work, the most successful companies will be those that manage intergenerational needs and factor in changing technologies in a way that makes sense for people of all ages, writes Benjamin Pring

While the future of work will remain in the future, the future of work has never been closer. With the rise of robots, distributed ledgers, machine intelligence, and a world eaten alive by software, the world is shaping up to be something quite different from anything we’ve ever seen – or worked in – before.

The way we work is being redefined by new technologies as well as the next generations of workers – millennials and Generation Z, who currently make up some 40 per cent of Australia’s working population, prioritising coaching, flexibility, and values. Here are three key things businesses need to consider and address as we transition from where we are as a workforce to where we’re going.

From hierarchy to “wirearchy”
Although hierarchies have worked for hundreds of years, they’re not working anymore. Millennials prefer to work in “wirearchies”: dynamic networks of connected nodes, free of predefined priorities or ranks.

In a wirearchy world, making partner or becoming vice president no longer has the same value, and it is no longer sufficient to be superficial cheerleaders or promoters for each other. Instead, the new key to success lies in building nurturing, deep, trust-based connections each time virtual connections are combined with real, physical interactions.

However, this doesn’t mean hierarchies will become obsolete in the future of work. The best model businesses should adopt is a hybrid of the two, balancing a formal organisational map with more informal and fluid authority structures. Models such as this will empower business managers with networks and platforms to connect, create, accomplish, work, understand, stand out, fit in, and get smarter to help improve their companies’ performance.

“The new key to success lies in building nurturing, deep, trust-based connections each time virtual connections are combined with real, physical interactions”

From jobs to tasks
While fear-mongering headlines suggest that AI is replacing jobs, the reality is that only certain aspects of jobs will be automated. Instead, our work will be augmented by our machine co-workers and counterparts, allowing us to focus on more meaningful tasks.

Breaking down work into tasks is the most sustainable way to transition into a fully-fledged human-machine workforce. This division of work between humans and machines will happen at the task level, with machines taking on the “science of the job” and humans mastering the “art of the job.”

Businesses should expect the majority of work to be augmented, not obliterated, by intelligent machines with the future of work, and plan their employee strategies around that outcome.

From 8×5 to 10×4
The 40-hour, five-day workweek is an outdated product of the First Industrial Revolution. But now in our hyper-connected world, work is everywhere and anywhere, all the time, regardless of whether or not we’re at our desks. Thanks to mobile technology, work is quite literally in the palm of our hands. We no longer go to work – work comes to us at all hours of the day.

This dispersion of work – away from the office – breaks the very idea of a standard unit of human labour. This is especially true when you consider the fact that many of us now work “five to nine” (am to pm), checking emails first thing in the morning and last thing at night. With burnout being a prominent factor affecting the wellbeing of the millennial workforce, businesses will need to think of new ways to keep their younger employees engaged.

One alternative that is emerging is the four-day workweek. In fact, some Australian and New Zealand companies have already implemented it and are seeing a rise in productivity and employee happiness as a result.

“It won’t be a matter of saying goodbye to the old ways overnight, as the way we work remains a deeply entrenched societal function”

This is particularly pertinent since three out of 10 Australian employees will be members of Generation Z by 2025. Studies show this generation will demand a variety of jobs and roles in their careers, including ‘side hustles,’ valuing flexibility over the linear career progression favoured by their parents. They bring with them a slew of changes to the workforce, including expectations of faster promotions, and face-to-face coaching and feedback, which may be surprising given their digitally-native ways.

What this means for HR leaders
Workplace dynamics are changing and HR leaders will need to become accustomed to this change in order to prepare for the future of work. Although these trends represent new ways of work, it won’t be a matter of saying goodbye to the old ways overnight, as the way we work remains a deeply entrenched societal function. The most successful companies will be those that manage intergenerational needs and factor in changing technologies in a way that makes sense for people of all ages.

Looking forward, these are the key considerations for the future of work:

  1. The future of organisational structure lies in the balance between hierarchy and wirearchy and it will be the responsibility of HR leaders to manage this balance.
  2. Intelligent machines are becoming our co-workers; it is all about embracing a fluidity of tasks. HR leaders need to manage this change, ensuring a smooth transition for all employees.
  3. Expectations of flexible work arrangements are becoming the norm, and HR leaders need to seriously start considering different options. Initiatives like a shift toward a four-day workweek offer opportunities for HR leaders to bolster employee retention and engagement whilst simultaneously enhancing productivity.

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