The future of work (and how to prepare workforces for it)

There’s been a lot of talk about the macro trends and predictions for the future of work. We can all see that there is a fast pace of change happening in the workplace. We’re focused on the big challenges faced by HR, internal comms and employee engagement professionals and how they can help employees to respond to this emerging disruption.

After checking out some of the upcoming future of work trends, we’ve put together some practical steps to help you navigate your workforces through these changes.

Technology advancement will keep coming

One of the clear-cut macro trends predicted is a complete re-invention of the way we work. We’ve seen this through the pandemic, where many businesses were forced to upgrade their technical capabilities to keep their teams safe. In the main, businesses and employees have coped well with the increasing need for technical literacy. In the future we are likely to see significantly more technical advancement, this may involve a lot more ‘self-serve’ technology as well as more advanced changes like the introduction of AI.

The World Economic Forum predicts that AI will lead to the creation of 97 million new jobs by 2025. Primarily AI will be used to automate repetitive elements of day to day jobs and allow workers to add the human touch, creativity, imagination, and emotional intelligence. Of course, what this means for our workforce today is they need to embrace and be positive and welcoming of technology advancement.

What can you do right now?

Help your workforce get excited and comfortable with technology rather than frustrated or scared. There’s never been a better time to support employees with technology, including understanding where/how things are filed electronically, how to change settings on online call platforms, and how technology can help them save time. Have you ever been shown a quick hack that’s transformed the way you do something? It’s a great feeling to learn something that you wished you’d known sooner. Imagine staging a hackathon for your workforce that helps to increase the confidence and use of technology, or you could try holding drop in IT clinics to enable employees to upskill.

Talent wars will keep raging

The scarcity of talent will continue to cause issues with recruitment across many sectors. To take the UK as an example, following Brexit, 1.3 million non-UK workers are estimated to have left and 1.3 million people say they plan to retire early following the pandemic. There are now more job vacancies than unemployed people in the UK for the first time since records began.

Of course, every country has unique factors to consider; China’s enforced lower birth rate has caused a huge deficit in available workforce, while India’s fast growing tech-fuelled-boom has created a huge gap between talent demand and supply. Long-term this worldwide shortage may be overcome with the advancement of automation and AI, however in the more immediate this will simply add to the talent shortage.

What can you do right now?

While every organisation will have its own approach to talent attraction, recruitment, and retention strategies it may be a great time to consider other options that will help you to win the war for talent. You could consider activities such as looking to accelerate internal mobility (enabling employees to switch department, role, career paths), improving flexibility for parents returning to work (reboarding employees after maternity / paternity quicker or easier), reviewing accessibility and special arrangements to enable the recruitment of more disabled colleagues, fast track programmes to increase the speed of progression, and arrangements for older colleagues enabling them to stay in the workforce for longer.

Concerns over health and wellbeing will keep growing  

The vitality of the worlds workforce is at risk: from mental wellbeing challenges (like the rising levels of anxiety and depression) to physical health concerns due to sedentary lifestyles and poor diets (including increasing rates of heart disease, obesity, diabetes and more).  This bleak picture has been worsened by the recent pandemic. Progress in improving health has stalled, or even been reversed, because of disruptions to essential health services, for example delays in cancer diagnosis and treatment.

To maintain or drive workforce productivity an organisation needs healthy employees. Literally the health and wellbeing of a workforce dictates the health (and wealth) of an organisation. Tracking things like sickness and absenteeism rates will only show the tip of the iceberg, with low productivity due to poor health hidden beneath the surface.

What can you do right now?

There’s a huge amount that Internal comms teams can do to open the health and wellbeing dialogue within their workforce, from reducing the mental health stigma to encouraging employees to check for potential signs of cancer. HR teams can also work closely with employees to encourage use of health services like employee assistance programmes and routine medicals, as well as offer adaptations to working environments like standing desks. For more permanent prevention of issues it’s important for organisations to consider the impact of the culture and expectations on stress levels and lifestyles. Whilst it may feel scary, embracing things like the four day week or even Friday afternoons off like PwC’s recent example. Seemingly radical changes may protect businesses longer term from burnout and various stress related conditions.

Employees will demand increased fairness, equity and inclusion

And rightly so. The shift to a kinder world has and will continue to gather momentum. This will ultimately see employees demanding greater transparency, reduced hierarchy, equity (the end of fat cat bonuses), and a desire to feel that they can belong (which will require reducing discrimination, exclusion and increasing meaning). We can and should all rejoice this shift towards a much better world, but it of course will come with some hefty work for organisations to deliver on.

What can you do right now?

The simple answer is a lot. HR and Internal Comms teams need to be working hard at their DEIB (diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging) strategies, taking steps such as reducing unconscious bias and micro aggressions, improving employee voice, and encouraging allyship and connection. There also needs to be additional effort (and investment) in internal communications to provide increased transparency throughout the organisation. Whether it’s CEO blogs or Leadership podcasts it’s time to replace the ivory towers of hierarchy with glass walls of transparency.

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