How To Prepare For The Future of Work: Is Your Business Ready?

In this Instagram age of texts and tweets, it should come as no surprise that one of the most important and complex ‘workplace’ challenges causing CEOs and CHROs consternation is summarized by the acronym FoW (Future of Work). Forget YOLO, FOMO or even VUCA, FoW should be top of mind for leaders and HR professionals as they wrestle with exactly what it means and how to best prepare their organizations for a future that is becoming increasingly difficult to predict.

While some companies have attempted to get ahead of the curve and plan for and incorporate FoW concepts, approaches, and tools, the last two years have demonstrated the imperfect nature of prognostication. No one could have predicted the magnitude and speed of change that has irrevocably transformed societies, individuals, and organizations. A combination of events and shifts in thinking- the COVID-19 pandemic; social justice and climate movements; unprecedented inflation; war and terrorism; crime; cancel culture; and super polarized politics- has catalyzed the ubiquitous unprecedented change we have witnessed in such a concentrated period.

Amid this change, many companies find themselves presented with several very real challenges impacting their ability to attract, engage, and retain the talent needed to run and grow a successful business. There seems to be something to what many have dubbed The Great Resignation. Some sectors and businesses are encountering difficulty hiring needed employees, as evidenced by the current availability of over 10 million jobs. Among those who are active in the labor pool, many are looking for a different type of work (read employee) experience.

Working full- or part-time remotely, working as a freelancer, looking for extremely customized benefits and accelerated advancement, and insisting employers actively support causes they believe in, are all now part of the worker calculus. It remains, for the moment, an employees’ market, and many companies have attempted to pivot, accordingly.

Interestingly, there have recently been public pronouncements from some very influential business leaders representing companies like Tesla, Apple and JPMorgan Chase who have made strong calls for, and, in some cases, presented ultimatums to employees to physically return to the office or be terminated.  It will be interesting to see how this stance plays out over the next 6-12 months. Whether or not the pendulum swings back fully to an employers’ market is immaterial. What is material for organizations is that some of the changes ushered in during the past few years are impacting the future of work – which is here, now.

So, what, exactly, is FoW? It is the realization that dizzying advances in technology (e.g., AI, automation, machine learning, big data), coupled with significant changes in workforce demographics (e.g., worker values, preferences, needs) and required skill sets (e.g., digital fluency, remote management), has necessitated a widespread overhaul not only of our organizations, but of the very definition of work itself.

Right Now, is Our Tomorrow

As mentioned above, much of today’s talent isn’t enamored by or envisioning the prospect of full-time employment and climbing the traditional corporate ladder within a single organization. Work is something you do, not somewhere you go. And being able to determine how, when, where and with whom you work with has become paramount.

Once a luxury for the few, it is now something many aspire to and, indeed, are coming to insist on. Conventional wisdom suggests that over the next 10 years, the number of gig-workers will surpass the number of full-time employees in the workforce. Workers, especially many millennials, seem to be more interested in shorter ‘tours of duty’, collecting career experiences along the way to burnish their personal skills portfolio and marketability. Once called job-hopping and somewhat universally frowned upon, it no longer is something that one needs to explain during the recruitment process.

This change in thinking has been accompanied by a similar seismic and accelerated shift in technology. From robotics and chatbots to AI and predictive analytics, this digital focus has transformed jobs from the C-suite to the shop floor. The way we engage with our own company (self-service platforms), colleagues (digital collaboration tools), meet customer needs, or develop and sell products and services (platform business models allowing services to be co-produced and delivered with customers) has changed forever.

Single departments are dispersed across continents, managers provide feedback via mobile apps, global meetings are simulcast from home offices and robots serve our coffee. Today’s workers not only need to be experts in their respective fields, but also in the technology platforms and applications required to serve themselves and support their colleagues and customers.

So, what does this all mean? How is it playing out? What should you be thinking about and preparing for?  A brief discussion of some best practices from organizations which have embraced FoW realities and incorporated FoW concepts and tools should provide some useful insight.

A Compelling Brand

FoW realities require organizations to truly differentiate themselves in the marketplace. With talented workers choosing where to bring their skills and efforts (full-time or gigging), a compelling company brand is a must. Savvy companies have established and continue to refine a brand and a reputation consistent with the organization’s culture and espoused employee experience (EX). Leveraging insights from multiple functions (including marketing, HR/talent management, sales, IT, metrics/analytics) is recognized as the best way to develop, maintain, and market an authentic brand and employee value proposition (EVP).

Smart people want to work with other smart people. Most now want to devote their efforts in the service of purpose-driven companies. Investors want to connect with organizations that are solidly managed. Consumers want to support socially responsible businesses. As an example, the focus on environmental, social and governance (ESG) will continue to intensify as governing bodies and companies refine their approaches and standards regarding data collection, analytics, and reporting in this area. By aligning and actively managing their brand internally and externally to showcase their culture and EVP, these companies are significantly enhancing their ability to attract, engage, and retain the necessary talent.

Agile Pools of Talent

Successful organizations are turning their approach to talent on its head. The lines between contractors and employees continues to blur, as the focus is shifting to leveraging agile, blended teams to get work done. Company culture, mind-set, and commitment embraces talent, regardless of where it is found and how long it will stick around. Alignment between a company’s business strategy and human capital strategy serves as the primary driver behind how, where, and when talent is needed, acquired, and engaged.

An increasing number of a company’s workforce is on-demand, consisting of freelancers or contractors and employment is, more often, being reconstituted into projects or gigs. Various labor sharing platforms offer assignments and opportunities, open to bid by a global network of talent. One does not need to look too far ahead to see On-Demand Talent COEs (or Gig Management Offices) working hand-in-glove with workforce planning, HR, and senior leaders to create integrated, robust, fluid talent management strategies.

New and Different Skills

Much has been written over the past few years about competency models or success profiles transforming to reflect the strategic capabilities required to thrive in this new world of work. Successful companies have been quick to pick up on this. Rather than a laundry list of traits or functional skills, these companies have shifted their focus to behaviors that apply regardless of function, role, or geography and support the maintenance of the organization’s culture.

Critical constructs such as abstract thinking, networked collaboration, data literacy, iterative experimentation, business analytics, communicating insights from data, and collective decision making are paramount- for employees and contingent workers, alike. Whether the decision is to develop, purchase, or rent talent, a careful mix of skills and expertise aligned to each project is now expected and required.

Redefined Concept of Leadership

Thriving companies have transitioned to different organizational structures. Organizational charts are becoming flatter and leaner. With more matrixed and networked teams, managers are increasingly becoming more coach and catalyst than ever before. Leadership credibility is now derived not from one’s title but from the ability to create a vision, articulate clear standards, and create an environment of collaboration, diversity, and inclusion. The best leaders are role modeling the behaviors they expect, building trust and alignment among an ever-increasing number of virtual/hybrid, boundaryless teams comprised of multiple constituencies (employees, non-employees, customers, investors, vendors, strategic partners, communities).

It is refreshing to see leaders, in greater numbers, being promoted for a quality that has largely been ignored in the workplace over the last twenty years: the ability to manage–in the best sense of the word.  Ironically, the future of work has, in some ways, allowed organizations to get back-to-basics by recognizing and rewarding leaders that can effectively turn a diverse (and often geographically dispersed) group of ‘project members’ into a team of largely self-managing, passionate, dedicated, high-performing collaborators.

Powerful Technology and Tools

Successful companies, large and small, have been integrating and embedding FoW technology throughout their businesses. Internal IT organizations are recognized as strategic business drivers, rather than enabling functions. Considering it a critical priority early on, these companies harnessed and integrated the transformative power of work technology. With a visit to the manufacturing floor, one could certainly witness a robotics-driven production line, overseen by a manager and her AI ‘assistant’.

It certainly is no stretch now to see an HR team in a conference room, using touch-screen technology to model various human capital ‘what-if’ scenarios with real-time data. Machine learning is being used to fine-tune and improve talent acquisition activities and hiring decisions.

Big data, including unstructured inputs (e.g., texts, videos, images, sensor data), are analyzed by product development to design data-based products and services.  Annual industry expos have customers experiencing virtual reality simulations of soon-to-be-released products and providing real-time feedback. These companies are leveraging ever-more-powerful smart devices and (work) technologies that provide continuous data to foster innovation, inclusiveness, real-time decision making, and an overall seamless and engaging employee experience.

So, Now What?

As organizations consider readying themselves for FoW, the key will be to remain open, flexible, and agile. HR leaders must abandon old models and ways of thinking and implore senior leadership to quickly follow suit. Searching out and staying abreast of FoW best practices and remaining curious will facilitate the path forward. Securing on-demand talent, effectively managing blended teams, introducing FoW technology, and leveraging all variety of data to innovate faster, adapt more quickly, and compete better is the winning formula.  These elements should all be working in concert.

No longer can companies decouple their business, HR, and talent strategies. FoW dictates that these are one in the same. Given the fleeting nature of markets and business models, company strategy needs to be flexible and able to pivot quickly. This can be accommodated, in large measure, through the agility found in the talent market and the rapidity with which ‘work’ technology is being introduced.

In this new world of work, the Human Resources Organization (HRO) plays a critical role in navigating the road ahead. To fully understand whether your HRO is well-positioned to support the company’s business strategy and goals, FoW concepts must be considered.

Information gathered through Centri’s Future of Work Audit (FoWA) provides the critical data needed to develop a strategic roadmap to move forward and outpace the competition. Our proprietary, cutting-edge tool provides a springboard into this new world of work. For more information on the FoWA and how it can help your organization, contact our experts.

About Centri Business Consulting, LLC

Centri Business Consulting provides the highest quality advisory consulting services to its clients by being reliable and responsive to their needs. Centri provides companies with the expertise they need to meet their reporting demands. Centri specializes in financial reportinginternal controlstechnical accounting researchvaluationmergers & acquisitions, and tax, CFO and HR advisory services for companies of various sizes and industries. From complex technical accounting transactions to monthly financial reporting, our professionals can offer any organization the specialized expertise and multilayered skillsets to ensure the project is completed timely and accurately.

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