Webcast: “The future of work and the future of HR: Remaining relevant as Humans”

29 April 2019

On 29th of April 2019, the Cyprus Human Resource Management Association in collaboration with the department of MSc Human Resource Management of the University of Cyprus, organised a webcast with the topic “The future of work and the future of HR: Remaining relevant as Humans”.

The keynote speaker was the President of the CyHRMA, Mr. Panayiotis Thrasyvoulou and the webcast was held virtually with more than 100 participants.

On the below article you can read Mr. Thrasyvoulou’s commentary on the Future of Work.

What are the people implications from all those things we are living through? How do we design organizations and prepare our workforces for what’s next and beyond?

I am going to start by referring to some megatrends of the future which are driven by the forces of globalization, demographics and technology.

The first trend relates to the fact that the average life span is increasing, people live longer and through the medical technologies are ageing gracefully. While this is a good thing for humanity, it also puts a lot of pressure on social welfare systems and makes prolonged retirement a necessity. This in turn, creates a very diverse workplace where up to 5 generations can co-exist, with 4 generations being already the norm.

A related trend is that the definition of employee is changing; we now have full time workers, contingent workers with alternative forms of employment such as freelance (which, by the way, will constitute 50% of the global workforce from next year onwards), we have remote workers whose talent can be tapped from everywhere in the world and we have robots.

So, imagine the leadership challenges, the situation millennials are faced with having to lead teams of people and bots with such diverse backgrounds and demographics. At this point I should mention that, within the next 5 years, millennials will occupy 75% of managerial jobs. We already see that the majority of team leaders are called to lead teams composed of people who are older than them, much younger than them, some are not physically present, some others work for multiple employers and many tasks are automated and executed by algorithms. The combination of inter-personal skills, emotional skills as well as the digital skills needed in order to coordinate work and produce results are immense and can make them or break them. Note that millennials and GenZs today grow up to be much less empathetic and less emotionally skilled than their counterparts a couple of decades ago. This creates an added need for up-skilling them even more, and not just making them digitally savvy.

Some other key trends have to do with technology, which has evaded our personal lives and this trend is here to stay. We no longer refer to work-life balance but instead to work-life integration, which means finding ways to live our personal lives and at the same time face the fact that technology and work are following us at home.

We also need to be able to manage the fact that younger generations have specific needs, in this case GenZ which needs consumer-grade experiences at work, technology interfaces they can find on Amazons and Alibabas. They need to feel that the experience of receiving feedback, of being on-boarded in the organization or the simple task of tracing their annual leave balance is online and of consumer-grade.

Other key trends include the physical infrastructural changes to cater to the new demographics and realities; people want flexibility and tools to work remotely, and this has been exacerbated by the current covid-19 situation. Moreover, de-urbanization trends in the developed world constitutes the use of expensive city-centre offices a bit less necessary.

The acquisition of digital skills by tomorrow’s leaders will be imperative to get the work done efficiently. Coupled with the key trend of organizing around teams, highly diverse teams as we have seen, makes digital skill acquisition by leaders even more important.

Finally, beyond technology, demographic changes and new habits, we have to also account for the fact that people of all generations want meaningful work, they want to contribute to something bigger than them and they are more attuned to employers who are both Purpose-driven and socially sensitive. Highly talented people refuse to apply to an employer who does not seem to operate for any reason other than money and who does not respect the surrounding communities and the environment. They even avoid applying to companies who are not pet-friendly! Having a purpose and providing meaningful work will be a huge challenge, especially for traditional industries who find it hard to convince people that they are here to change the world for the better, for example banking, retail, HORECA and consumer goods. Even retailers have to compete for attracting data analysts, user experience designers and app developers away from high tech industries these days.

So, what can we do about it? How can we respond to these key trends of the future?

Well, first, we have to invest time and resources to designing high-performing organizations. We have to design the organizational structure in a way that brings about both efficiency and effectiveness, efficiency for back-end automation and front-end shift to digital channels and effectiveness for bringing about collaboration, innovation, customer-orientation, complex problem-solving and superior leadership of cross-functional and fluid teams. We have to automate but also innovate, reduce human interaction where it matters but also enhance it where it makes a difference. While applying “one less click” strategies for optimising customer experience the Amazon way, we have to also remember that Amazon employs 750k people, among others on designing e-commerce solutions, cloud computing, digital streaming, AI and so on. In a few words, intelligent automation and streamlined process management should be coupled with effective functioning of teams in order to constantly innovate, create new products and services, take evidence-based decisions and managing customer experience face-to-face where it makes sense. All these mean that a tremendous shift in headcount will occur, with rightsizing being the name of the game. Simplified, mechanistic jobs will become automated and human capital will have to be shifted to other parts of the organization where creativity, problem-solving and highly complex interactions are needed. Whether this will disrupt the labour markets partly depends on the up/skilling, cross-training activities that will take place within organizations, whether current workforces will be sufficiently prepared and equipped for the transformation of work.

Along with these trends, acquiring the necessary digital skills and being able to utilise advance analytics and process automations will also become part of work transformation.

Agile HR processes and systems will have to be designed, in order to instil the necessary flexibility and adaptability whenever circumstances change and customer needs evolve, a phenomenon which will become more frequent.

Along this transformation process we must identify and leverage enabling technologies that will bring about the desired results. It should be added that technology alone is not enough, and disruptive innovations are not only technological innovations. Disruption comes from new ways of thinking about processes, organization and job design, new business models. Technology can be an enabler and not an end.

So, designing the future-proof organization will require novel thinking and enabling technology to enact it. We have seen recently organizations that rolled-out quite a few of those technologies to help organizations enact their vision for the future. Take for example crowdsourcing; crowdsourcing had been a predominately marketing tool to promote products or secure funding, but we see that nowadays it also constitutes an effective way of deploying novel and fun recruitment campaigns, especially appealing to new generations. People log-on to the crowdsourcing platform and get the opportunity to deploy certain skillsets, within the framework of a competition or challenge. Recruiters then interact with candidates and evaluate their work and select people who exhibited the skills and even the values sought and invite people for further assessment.

Another example is leveraging technology in order to facilitate peer recognition and rewards programs; newer generations are more accustomed to near real-time feedback and rewards, and they can get it from both their managers and peers via these platforms.

Bigger organizations can utilise platforms for designing and constantly adjusting their job grading systems and pay structures, and at the same time deploy the right people at the right time and at the right cost, via the strategic workforce planning & manpower optimisation platforms.

Of course, predictive people analytics provide the means for evidence-based, data-driven decision-making which can come before uncomfortable situations emerge. HR departments can utilise such readily available tools to assess turnover intentions, sentiment regarding near real-time employee engagement levels and psychological and physical well-being. Advance culture fitness diagnostics can also add to the effectiveness of this process.

To recap, I would say that the future of work is driven by the three forces of globalization, technology and demographics and brings about challenges for both the HR Function and the employees themselves.

New, agile organizational formats and designs will become imperative and upskilling in the areas of essential human skills such as empathy, creative problem-solving, leadership of highly diverse teams and complex cross-functional collaboration will be coupled with the need for digital up-skilling to facilitate those designs.

Technology enablers will drive HR to improve employer branding, make decision-making more informed and more convincing with the use of analytics, enhance the overall employee experience by making it consumer-grade via superior HR information systems, optimise sizing and deployment of staff through digitalised workforce planning, transform learning and leadership development directed to the effective leading of highly diverse, cross-functional and fluid teams, optimise and increase the frequency of feedback and rewards and at the same time reduce costs.