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Home » Future of Work » The future of work and talent: new strategies for a changed world

Barry Winkless

CSO and Head of Future of Work Institute, Cpl Group

The future of work for organisations is a story not yet fully written but there are enough plot-lines to point towards a broadly defined first draft.

Things look vastly different in the world of work. At a global level, businesses and governments alike are dealing with the great crises of our time – COVID-19 and the environmental catastrophe. At a business level, the very essence of what ‘work’ is, is evolving at a rapid rate.

Digital technologies are rewriting the rules of engagement and there are exponential challenges for organisations trying to attract and retain the best talent globally (being popularised as the Great Resignation or Great Evaluation). Whatever lens we look at the future of work through, it suffices to say that it means one thing for organisations: seismic change. As with all change, there is an opportunity for organisations to embrace it and to design for it.

A human and societal model

At Cpl’s Future of Work Institute, we are seeing a fundamental evolution in the value system of businesses towards a more human and societal centred model. More than 57% of business are aiming to be more human centric and 80% more society centric in the next five years.

From a practical, actionable perspective more human means: demystifying technology and applying it in an ethical manner, pursuing flatter structures, a deeper understanding of the human experience, evolved leadership and a focus on balance, inclusiveness and authenticity.

Society centric means embracing circular practices, seeing caring as a key business asset, a focus on total stakeholder engagement and being a responsible business with sustainability at core. As Declan Bogan, Engagement and Sustainability Lead at Future of Work Institute states “We need sustainability built in; we cannot wait any longer.”

The three future of work pillars

As leaders how can we design our organisations to be future fit now? There are 3W’s that really matter – workplace, workforce and worktask when it comes to the future of work.

  • Workplace – Where the work takes place across physical and virtual space. 
  • Workforce – How the overall workforce is designed and managed. 
  • Worktask – The methods, tools and mindsets that deliver the work. 

The workplace: flexible, smart and distributed

It is likely that we will see a greater harnessing of collaborative platforms, new forms of mixed, multi rich engagement tools, as well as a greater drive towards appropriate forms of flexible, distributed or hybrid working.

It is also clear that a formalised approach to what the workplace is and what it means for employees will be a critical design component for organisations to consider getting the most out of the physical-virtual opportunity. It is likely in some instances that some parts of the physical footprint of an organisation and its role may well need to be reconsidered.

Our research, which sampled over 1,000 employees, stated that a blended mix of in-office and at-home is the preference for 85% of those surveyed. For many organisations, the physical workplace will remain as is, in manufacturing for example. However, for others we may see a re-evaluation/re-imagining of the role of the physical office as a hub, club, a place for deep social collaboration, an experiential place, or an area where the important meetings need to happen. How we manage people across these hybrid working models will continue to be a key consideration now and into the future.

Workplace wellness needs to broaden and evolve if it is to fully support the future of work world. The future of wellness can have a strategic impact on both the business bottom line and the employee’s general wellbeing but it must be tailored rather than a blanket one-size fits all approach.

Elysia Hegarty

The workforce: design, experience and care

A broadening of what the workforce is, with a greater use of the blended workforce to access the best talent globally is likely, everything from permanent employees to ‘hire by the hour’ knowledge workers. Libby Kelly, Director of Cpl Technology says: “Clients are already looking to hire on a short term/contract basis and looking further afield for candidates, this is only going to rise as leaders get better at managing people remotely.”

Organisations will have to place a greater emphasis on designing people propositions and employee experiences that are value led and create a sense of care and belonging, harnessing appropriate technology platforms.

Aine Fanning, Director of the Enterprise Solutions team at Cpl says: “Employees across all generations are rapidly moving from traditional career paths to more experience led careers. To stay relevant, organisations need to be able to manage blended workforce models that strengthen their own strategic goals and the career journeys of independent talent.” It is likely that leadership will need to evolve towards a more empowering, orchestration and coaching style allowing employees to experience a greater sense of ownership along their career journey.

Some of the key challenges highlighted to us by leaders in managing hybrid teams included a lack of social connection, teamwork and camaraderie and long-term negative impacts on employee mental health. Elysia Hegarty, Associate Director and Wellness Lead at the Future of Work Institute highlights that “Workplace wellness needs to broaden and evolve if it is to fully support the future of work world. The future of wellness can have a strategic impact on both the business bottom line and the employee’s general wellbeing but it must be tailored rather than a blanket one-size fits all approach.”

The worktask: automation, autonomy and human skills

Automation and augmentation of people and associated tasks to deliver work is set to accelerate over the next five years according to our study. There are strong considerations for the importance of a conscious and ethical approach to technology.

A move towards work practices that enable a greater sense of ownership, community and collaboration are likely to see greater adoption – like agile and design centred approaches. As with technologies, pockets of units within organisations are already well on the way to adopting these practices but as such, they are not always evenly distributed in organisations.

An increased importance on human and transversal skills will continue to emerge as we move into a more augmented future including stronger communication skills, self-awareness, self-management, team collaboration and an ability to adapt and understand new technologies. From our research, 67% of organisations rated evolved leadership skills as one of the top skillsets need for the future of work.

A strategic opportunity for advancement

The future of work is a leadership imperative and as such it is not something that is ‘owned’ by the HR, or People function. It should be driven and sponsored at the very top and viewed as a strategic opportunity for collaborative and competitive advantage. Given the current challenges and changes facing us surely now is the time to create exemplar future fit organisations and ignite the beacons for the next generation of work and talent. As Lorna Conn, Cpls Deputy CEO, states “The future of work is about how we find, recruit, manage and motivate the best talent. Ultimately it is talented teams who transform businesses and exploit change.”

It is the popular thing to say that the future of work is already here, it is not, it is in a state of becoming. It is up to us to harness the change and build something fundamentally better for our colleagues, customers, and communities alike.

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