It’s difficult to discuss what ‘the future of work’ means and not immediately think of technology. The workplace is changing rapidly along with much of the received wisdom of the past. In fact, the pace of change is so incessant that organisations are having to change many of their traditional processes to keep pace in a highly competitive and connected world. Organisations, as both employers and businesses, now have more transformative power at their fingertips than ever before. But with power comes the pressure to continually innovate, not only to generate new revenue streams but also to attract and retain talent. For many it’s a double edged sword: technology is responsible for staggering improvements to many aspects of working life, but it also creates the challenge of having to restructure businesses around these disruptive changes. It’s this issue that brings hundreds of industry experts together from across the globe for ‘Work 2.0’ – an industry conference designed to explore what the future of work and workplace will look like as we head further into the ‘smart’ century.
With the advent of ever more powerful processors, automation, limitless storage, blockchain databases and intelligent software systems, some figures have signalled the beginning of the end for certain industries – with HR no exception to this. It’s also long been suggested that technology will eventually replace large portions of the workforce (and workplace) as it becomes more intuitive, triggering mass unemployment as organisations pursue more efficient and cost effective ways to operate. But this seems short-sighted, while it’s likely that these developments will dramatically change the ways in which work is done in the near future, most seem to agree that human labour will still play a critical role by complementing the work carried out by machines. Indeed, far from the worries of jobs disappearing, the majority of attendees at Work 2.0 seemed more concerned with how best to reconcile human capabilities with the meticulous array of data now at our disposal. New technology often necessitates new skills, specialisms and opportunities, but the real challenge is adapting existing roles to these changes. Like any industry, it’s clear that HR has to continually assess and redefine its role in order to remain vital to future business function. With this idea in mind, here are some considerations for HRs looking to futureproof their profession – ‘HR 2.0’ you might say.
Assume the strategic reins
‘Any time, any place, anywhere’ – this is the hallmark of the ‘agile’ world we now live and work in, bringing with it no set working hours or regular place of work for many colleagues.
Notwithstanding its issues, agile working is here to stay, with many companies downsizing their real estate portfolios as a result of this. But while an international workforce presents unique administrative and logistical challenges for many organisations, automation can now handle many of these tasks with ease. So where does this leave HR? The future appears to point towards a more strategic role that oversees issues that automation cannot fully answer for. For all its benefits, agile working risks eroding company culture and employee engagement, so it’s likely that future HRs will have to negotiate between staff and real estate professionals in order to source spaces that promote both company culture and flexibility. Andrew Mawson, Director of AWA, agrees with this forecast, pointing out that it’s now the responsibility of HRs to preside over the changing nature of work and workplace. “Organisations need to adapt to this shifting landscape or risk falling into the emergent cracks and disappearing into the abyss. As the move from static to mobile working practices continues to be embraced by the knowledge industries, HR professionals need to change gear and unleash their inner workplace management gurus. The management of change and development within a business requires confidence. And the process of leading behavioural transformation and ensuring that staff remain engaged, beyond the physical walls of a workplace, is no easy feat.”
Businesses now have an astonishing assortment of data available to them, but these insights are useless without the right orchestration. Leveraging findings to formulate evidence-based business strategy is easier said than done, primarily because data analysts are not project managers – the talent problem persists. Future HR leaders now face a choice. The first is to develop channels between data analysts and senior management in order to source colleagues that can make effective use of the extensive data on offer. The second is to employ the latest developments in telemetrics that reduce the need for analyst teams.
The latter now offers interfaces with more illustrative sets of data for HRs to make direct and immediate changes to their organisation. Workplace Fabric, a global workplace technology specialist, is one of the latest proponents of this capability. Raj Krishnamurthy, CEO, argues that the increasingly intuitive nature of data presentation now allows colleagues to make quick informed decisions in-line with wider workplace strategy and wellbeing programmes. He comments: “Resulting analytics present a treasure trove of information that the HR can now directly use as part of a workplace strategy programme. Workplace Fabric’s system is easy to deploy and completely anonymous, meaning barriers to adoption or personally identifiable data are immediately addressed”.
The impact of technology has and will continue to shift the remit of HR. Irrespective of how technologically advanced the workplace becomes, human recruitment will remain the perennial challenge for organisations of the future. It’s now up to HR leaders to devise new methods for uncovering and retaining talent. As C-J Green, Chief People Officer for Servest, points out: “Organisations have slowly reached the conclusion that adhering to the same, archaic process isn’t always the best way to find out how effective someone’s going to be in a given role. Thankfully, companies seem to be waking up to the idea that this traditional method of recruitment doesn’t necessarily unveil the true persona or aptitude of the individual in question.” HR’s greatest strength is its human touch, so long as this is maintained alongside innovations in tech, we should see a profession that prospers in the future world of work – no matter how different it turns out to be.
Rebecca joined the HRreview editorial team in January 2016. After graduating from the University of Sheffield Hallam in 2013 with a BA in English Literature, Rebecca has spent five years working in print and online journalism in Manchester and London. In the past she has been part of the editorial teams at Sleeper and Dezeen and has founded her own arts collective.