As the world marches on after the Covid-19 pandemic, we are left with critical questions about how society and the business world will adapt. Many professionals are asking: will this be the catalyst for an entirely new era of work? Or is this time just another 'blip' in history, soon to be eclipsed by the next big change?
Let's take a look at the where, when, who, and how of this ever-evolving world of work. We'll consider what companies can do to prepare their workforce for the coming changes and how they can best equip themselves to get ahead of the game in terms of competitiveness and resilience.
WHERE Is the Future of Work?
Research by Accenture shows that a majority of employees (83%) believe that a hybrid workplace is ideal for them, but exactly what that hybrid workplace looks like in practice may be vastly different among people, companies, and roles.
Only one thing is for sure – the future of work and workforce management is moving online. It’s no longer an accepted truth that presenteeism at a fixed workplace location is sufficient for measuring productivity, meaning that workforce management also needs to go digital.
Many workforce management software tools have been developed to support the shift towards hybrid and flexible work, enabling managers and leaders to effectively supervise their workforces from a distance. These tools will become more prevalent and advanced as remote work becomes the new norm and as managers are expected to provide richer reporting on the effectiveness of their remote teams.
Workforce management tools will be particularly essential for teams based in different parts of the world as work may be conducted asynchronously, i.e. made up of contributions by employees over different time periods. A workforce management tool able to accurately measure employee productivity (regardless of location and time zone) will equip leaders with the data they need to make effective workforce decisions.
Recruitment, onboarding, and employee onboarding will also make the move online to enable candidates and new employees to work from wherever they live. Meanwhile the convenience of video interviews, online assessment tasks, and remote background screening will help widen the potential pool and diversity of candidates available for recruitment. Onboarding can also be completed online in a thoughtful way so that new employees continue to gain value even while apart from their new teams or managers.
In addition, companies need to provide cloud-based solutions that enable their workforce to work from anywhere. This always-on infrastructure will improve a company’s technology ecosystem and empower a remote workforce for the long-term.
The costs of setting up digital and cloud-based channels, along with the requisite cybersecurity controls to protect sensitive data, will be offset by companies being able to downsize their physical footprint. Morgan Stanley has predicted that office tenants across Asia will permanently dispose of 3% to 9% of their existing office space over the next three years, while Buildremote reports that only three of the Fortune 100 had declared a full return to the office for employees in 2022.
WHEN Is the Future of Work?
Employer expectations concerning work hours are also rapidly changing, as companies and employees are beginning to see the benefits of results-driven work over hours-based work. This trend has been spurred by the pandemic, where many employees were entrusted to complete their work in a more time-flexible manner – particularly for working parents who had to fit work around their child’s home-schooling needs when schools were closed.
Research found that 60% of workers reported being more productive working from home, and that their productivity was 7% higher than they expected. HR company Adecco further found that over two-thirds (69%) of workers are now in favour of a shift towards delivering work against business needs rather than working a set number of hours, with the majority (74%) of C-suite executives agreeing.
This new work trend will enhance the opportunity for employees to attain that ever-elusive work life balance that has been touted for decades. However, it may come with an unexpected drawback: often, results-driven work demands even more flexible and "always-on" hours than working fixed hours.
We expect to see both businesses and employees struggle to achieve a balance between delivering work on time, but also being able to "switch off" when needed. This issue was born during the pandemic when our homes suddenly became our workplaces, but it will be up to businesses and employees to negotiate a suitable solution that works for everyone.
In addition to results-based working, we are seeing a growing trend of on-demand work. The rise of platform and marketplace models like Uber, Airtasker, and Amazon have completely reinvented entire industries and changed how work is conducted and performed.
Both during and after the pandemic, we have seen the corresponding rise of ‘gig work’ and freelance or contract work, where workers have the flexibility to opt in and out of work when it suits them. In 2021, Pew Research reported that 16% of Americans have earned money from an online gig platform, and the New York Times reported that people are continuing to take up this kind of work amidst a booming job market.
On-demand work suits the on-demand world in which we now live – consumers, workers, and companies all reap benefits from having a flexible workforce willing to meet market demands as and when required.
Consumers also benefit from getting tasks completed or goods delivered with maximum convenience and speed; workers have the flexibility to work when it suits them around other obligations and to supplement their primary income; whilst companies benefit from having a more flexible workforce without the associated benefits and overheads of typical employees.
As the world becomes increasingly accustomed to an ‘always-on’ environment, it is expected that on-demand work will become mainstream and increasingly regulated by governments. Companies that have a flexible, on-demand workforce will therefore be prompted into considering how they can best manage a geographically disparate and diverse workforce for the future.
WHO Is the Future of Work?
We’re seeing a generational shift in the workforce like never before due to the pace of technological change in recent decades.
Gen Z (born 1997 to 2012) and Gen Alpha (born 2013 and onwards) are digital natives with access to the internet from a young age and an easy adaptability to technology unlike any other generation. Even compared to millennials (born 1981 to 1996), the incoming generations have had technology integrated so deeply into their lives and will inevitably bring this nous to the workforce. However, as their managers will largely be millennials, a conceptual gap needs to be overcome through collaboration and by developing a common understanding about productive working styles and expectations.
As post-pandemic digital natives, Gen Z and Gen Alpha employees will expect the flexibility to work from anywhere and for companies to facilitate their ability to do so. Similar to the innate attraction of tailored and personalised experiences, these generations bring with them an expectation that their work will meet their needs and demands rather than the other way around.
HOW Will We Achieve the Future of Work?
During the pandemic we saw the remarkable breadth and speed with which companies were able to mobilise their teams to work from home – not merely to survive but to thrive in the new environment. But as we progress past this initial spike in remote worki, we will see increased demand for different sets of competencies for both managers and employees.
For managers, there is demand for greater emotional intelligence and "soft skills" in providing support to employees who aren’t physically onsite. Managers need to understand how to effectively manage staff remotely and to implement procedures that ensure employees strike a healthy balance in their working lives, whilst maintaining their productivity, security, and team cohesion.
Managers also face the challenge of keeping employees engaged and feeling motivated about company goals while being physically absent. A recent Gallup poll of U.S. employees showed that engagement has fallen for the first time in a decade. Just over a third of employees (34%) were engaged in 2021 compared to 36% in 2020, and the number of actively disengaged employees increased from 14% to 16% over the same period.
Gallup found that the main issues were in clarity of expectations, having the right materials and equipment, and the opportunity for workers to do what they do best. Managers therefore need to ensure that all employees, regardless of location, are equipped with a clear understanding of their role, and are provided with the tools they need to achieve and excel in those roles.
For employees, there is a need for mass upskilling to meet the demands of future jobs. With automation well on its way, employees need to be supported to diversify their skills and learn the competencies for a new age of working. Research by PwC has found that 74% of employees are ready to learn new skills or re-train to remain employable.
Candidates may also come to be judged higher on generic skills such as adaptability and curiosity due to the fluid nature of future roles. According to Korn Ferry, 69% of the world’s most admired companies value learning agility and curiosity over career history and experience when it comes to hiring.
For organisations, it is expected that we will see flatter, non-hierarchical structures, similar to a network of small businesses compared to the current hierarchical and bureaucratic structures prevalent in many companies. This will have a flow-on effect in creating more project-based work within an organisation, requiring interaction between relevant teams to achieve specific goals, and then dispersing again when the project is complete.
WHY Change Now for the Future of Work?
As the pace of technological development accelerates, the only constant is change.
Certainly the pandemic has only hastened the need to embrace digital transformation and to think more innovatively about where, when, who, and how work will be conducted in the future. Companies leaving these questions unanswered will find themselves falling behind competitors in the race for the best talent.
Companies therefore need to plan for the future and form a proactive strategy about supporting their workforces with the technology, infrastructure, and skills they need to face the future of work.
How Can National Crime Check Help?
National Crime Check is an expert in providing background screening services, such as criminal history checks and identity verification, for organisations of all shapes and sizes. We pride ourselves on our deep and nuanced understanding of the future of work and workforce management solutions to meet the challenges ahead.
Our services can be tailored to the evolving needs of businesses, and particularly to meet the online and on-demand requirements for workforces of the future. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org to discuss your needs and ensure you’re planning for the future of work.