The world of work is changing, and organisations, large and small, are facing disruption. It’s clear that ways of working that have enabled success in the past will not necessarily deliver the same results in the future. As we start the new year, people management software company BrightHR has worked with Lynda Gratton, professor of Management Practice at London Business School; The Hotspots Movement, a specialist research and consulting team and David Smith, a futurologist, to gaze into 2016 and beyond to look at what the future of work will look like, and what trends are emerging so we can future-proof businesses.
Perhaps the most profound disrupter of current work practices is technology. While the tech-enabled workplace has had some exceptionally positive impacts, such as freeing us to work from anywhere and access the latest information in real-time, it has also resulted in an environment full of distraction. Employees overwhelmed with instant messages, alerts and overloaded email inboxes are now facing a productivity crisis. The average employee’s work is interrupted – by emails, instant messages or social media alerts – once every 10.5 minutes, and it can take up to 23 minutes to refocus on the task at hand.
An automation revolution is also underway, with one third of UK jobs over the next 20 years under threat from this technology, including those in exclusive professional services. However, there is a chance these technologies will enhance rather than replace increasing amounts of non-routine work.
Automation will improve business efficiencies while reducing head count and time spent dealing with routine issues, but it will require a radical shift in business models, digital literacy and the introduction of new processes.
Complexity in the workplace
Many of today’s businesses – both large and small – are global and diverse, working across different time zones and with stakeholders from multiple backgrounds. While this is a mainly positive development, the negative side is that expansion has left lots of organisations burdened by a complex web of processes.
One of the problems arising from organisational complexity is the amount of time and energy employees, particularly managers, spend navigating these processes rather than concentrating on their core work. Research from Birkinshaw and Cohen reveals that many managers only spend 12 per cent of their working day on external or client work and a further 12 per cent on team management, while 76 per cent is swallowed up by desk-based work. The cost to businesses can be significant: for example, Deloitte lost 20 million hours per year on performance management processes that weren’t even working effectively.
As technology continues to develop and organisations become even more global, complexity will only increase, and support functions must ensure processes are as simple as possible. Currently, only 10 per cent of firms have major simplification programmes in place, but it is encouraging to note that 44 per cent have some activities in place and a further 22 per cent have simplification plans underway.
Dimensions of diversity
In today’s workplace, diversity operates along two dimensions, the first being demography and the second being diversity in job design and working arrangements with the rise of freelancers and portfolio workers. The types of people at work have never been so diverse, with individuals from different generations, gender groups and cultures working side-by-side in the same organisation.
More recently, diversity in job design and working arrangements has begun to emerge. From working couples who take it in turn to prioritise work and family responsibilities, to the 16 per cent of workers globally who choose to freelance, we are seeing huge shifts in how people engage with both work and the organisations they work for. Employers must adapt to an environment in which the skills, motivations and contractual preferences of workers are less homogenous than ever; coordinating with this web of stakeholders will be a huge challenge in the coming years.
Disappearing middle-skill roles
As technology shapes the way we work, it also shapes the type of work available. While the most obvious effect has been the taking over of repetitive tasks by machines, one of the more surprising consequences has been the disappearance of middle-skilled roles. From 1980 to 2005, some types of middle-skilled jobs saw a decline of up to 54 per cent, and over the same period, low-skilled service jobs and high-skilled managerial and professional work increased by 30 per cent.
This trend is likely to become even more pronounced over time, with Oxford University predicting that 47 per cent of jobs in the US and a third of those in Europe will be replaced by technology within the next two decades. According to Boston Consulting Group, investment in robotics sees a sharp increase when a machine or platform becomes 15 per cent cheaper than a worker. In the US, this point has already arrived: the cost of operating a welding machine for an hour is now $8 while the cost of employing a worker for the same period is $25.
With middle-skilled roles being replaced by technology or off-shored, the neat pattern of linear career progression is becoming a thing of the past. Individuals now need to think more creatively about how to achieve career progression, and organisations must reassess how they find talent.
Once a word associated primarily with financial services, compliance has become an everyday concern for many organisations. In Australia alone, Deloitte found one in every 11 people works in a compliance role, demonstrating the growing need for expertise in this area.
Many organisations now operate globally and deal with regulation in multiple jurisdictions – for example, organisations operating in the EU must comply with regulation around the use of website cookies while the US has stringent compliance rules around financial products – so keeping up-to-date with compliance issues is essential.
Companies must deal with evolving regulation around social media use, the living wage and on-line privacy. Governments have shied away from regulating social media since this would have huge implications with regard to issues that many hold dear, such as freedom of speech and expression. In the absence of sufficient legislation, many companies have opted for a blanket approach. A 2015 survey conducted by the US Investment Adviser Association, ACA Compliance Group and OMAM revealed that 89 per cent of firms have formal written policies to govern employee social media use and 47 per cent prohibit the use of social media for business purposes. In a world where social media is becoming an increasingly dominant part of sales, marketing and customer service, increased regulation may be the only way to strike the right balance between competitive advantage and vulnerability.
By Paul Harris, CMO of BrightHR