Five ways to prepare your organisation for the future of work.

Five ways to prepare your organisation for the future of work.

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In almost every industry, the forces of artificial intelligence, globalisation and demographic shifts are changing how people work, where they work, and the skills they need to work.

Many forward-thinking companies, governments, academics and entrepreneurs are embracing these changes and the benefits they bring to business and the economy—increased productivity, improved performance and unprecedented growth.

In fact, the International Data Corporation says that artificial intelligence will boost global revenues by $121 billion over the next five years. And, according to Accenture, 82% of leaders expect their organisations to be a digital business in the next three years. 

“We’re on the precipice of major disruption to how we work and the emergence of a future we can’t even imagine. The real question is how we forge a fundamentally different industrial relations system to protect future workers.”

This is about so much more than just the internal digital transformation. It’s about the blurring of the digital and physical worlds, evolutions in consumer purchasing behaviours, transformative digital marketing and integrated social experiences.

The digital future appears to be full of excitement, prosperity and opportunity. However, as with all revolutions, this change will bring a shift to social, economic, environmental and political systems that will truly alter the course of humanity.

One thing’s for sure, this transition isn’t on the horizon—it’s already here and happening. For this reason, organisations, leaders and workers are all urgently seeking the roadmap for navigating such profound change.

Here’s how you can prepare your organisation for the future of work:

1.      Accept that artificial intelligence will result in jobs lost and jobs gained.

Firstly, we have to acknowledge that there are two sides to the technology coin: Yes, artificial intelligence and automation will result in jobs lost, but it will also result in jobs gained.

Concerns that machines will spike unemployment have abounded for the best part of two centuries, but many economists argue the contrary. In fact, the 2019 World Bank’s World Development Report suggests that, while automation may temporarily displace workers, technological innovation can also create more new industries and jobs on balance.

Similarly, The World Economic Forum recently found that 65% of primary school children will find themselves in roles that do not currently exist, such as robot trainers, drone experts and chief imagination officers.

In addition, some leading economists believe that while artificial intelligence will continue to transform industries, it will largely redefine, rather than eliminate jobs.

A recent study by McKinsey found that 60% of all existing occupations have at least 30% of activities that are technically automatable. Meanwhile, in Australia, it’s estimated that 46% of jobs will change with automation.

This will likely result in the alleviation of routine tasks in many roles, making room for work that is more stimulating and rewarding. So, as workplace automation becomes more widespread, human and artificial intelligence will come to be considered different in complementary, rather than conflicting ways. Workers with the right attitude and ability to re-train themselves will move into new occupations, face exciting opportunities and dynamic careers.

But, technology and automation does not affect all occupations equally. Over the years, we’ve seen technology enable the rise of ‘superstar economics’ or winner takes most. Many economists worry about these trends and their impact on inequality. Specifically, how they could further widen the gap between the rich and the poor.

The Foundation for Young Australians says that, in Australia, inequality has worsened. Higher income brackets, especially the top 10-20%, have enjoyed much higher income growth than other income groups. As a function of this, our gini coefficient (the measure of inequality in the economy) has worsened over the past 15 years from 0.29 to 0.32.

This begs the questions, what are governments and companies doing to help transition low-skilled workers so they don’t exit the workforce? Where are their new jobs? And, what will be their new skill requirements? This will almost certainly require a number of interventions and experiments to see what works. In that sense, the only way forward is to partner with workers to reinvent the future.

2. Build a digitally fluent culture.

Digital fluency will be particularly important as we move towards a multi-generational workforce

Any organisational development professional will tell you that digital transformation is not just about the transformation of technology, it’s about the transformation of an organisation’s culture and priorities.

In the future, workers will need to be confident operating in a digital business and adopting new workplace technologies as they continue to advance. For this reason, they’ll need to be more than just digitally literate, they’ll need to be digitally fluent.

Being digitally literate means selecting and utilising the most appropriate technologies for assigned tasks. Being digitally fluent requires competencies and capabilities that go beyond that skill level. Workers who are digitally fluent will not only be able to select and navigate basic systems, they’ll be able to effectively and ethically interpret information, discover meaning, design content, construct knowledge, and communicate ideas in a digitally-connected world.

Digital fluency will be particularly important as we move towards a multi-generational workforce. Escalating living costs, together with inevitable increases in the eligible age for receipt of age pensions, indicate that the number of older workers participating in the labour force will continue to rise.

As demographics change, it will become necessary for businesses to engage and retain mature-age workers to reduce the impact of a large non-working population on the economy and welfare system.

For this reason, it’s imperative that organisations start building enthusiasm, knowledge and proficiency in technology. And above all, they’ll need to set the expectation that this will not be a one-off learning experience. Workers of all ages will need to self-direct their digital learning and development on an ongoing basis, as technologies continue to advance.

3.      Place entrepreneurial skills at the heart of your organisation’s learning.

Gone are the days when we could rely solely on technical skills like accounting, engineering or architecture to get a job. The reality is, artificial intelligence is increasingly performing these tasks.

However, economists predict that smart machines will struggle to automate problem solving, creative and social intelligence tasks. To stay in demand, workers will need to upgrade their capabilities and fill these gaps left behind by machines.

New desirable capabilities will probably include a transferable toolkit of entrepreneurial skills, such ascommercial awareness, decision-making, innovative and critical thinking, human creativity, problem solving, prioritisation, strategic thinking, working independently and as part of a team, and communicating professionally.

Already, demand and pay for people with these types of skills is going through the roof. And many forward-thinking leaders are creating organisational development strategies that focus on this type of vertical development, which basically teaches people how to think, not what to think.

The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn.

In addition, organisations will need to help their workers with ‘unlearning’. This basically means disregarding activities, skills and formerly productive (or wise) activities so that new learning can take place. As futurist Alvin Toffler once wrote, “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn.”

In the future of work, leaders and workers will continue to face complex and rapidly-changing situations. By placing entrepreneurial skills—and more systemic, strategic, and interdependent ways of thinking—at the heart of your organisation’s learning, your people will be better able to adapt and thrive in future challenging environments.

4.      Expect to engage more flexible workers.

The changing landscape of the workforce isn’t just being driven by technological advances, it’s also being driven by the workers themselves. Through the recent rise of the ‘gig economy’, we’re seeing a growing number of people abandoning traditional 9 to 5 employment in favour of working independently on a task-by-task basis for various employers.

Organisations will engage flexible, skilled experts who can fill the gaps left by artificial intelligence when they need them. 

In fact, in the U.S., the freelance workforce grew three times faster than the overall workforce, and according to a survey by the Freelancers Union and freelance platform Upwork, 50.9% of the U.S. population expect to be freelancing in the next 10 years. In Australia, 4.1 million people, or 32 per cent of the workforce, freelanced in 2014-15. At this rate, freelancers are expected to represent the majority of the workforce by 2027. 

Driving this growth is the rise of digital platforms that link workers with jobs or ‘gigs’. A recent analysis by McKinsey projected that by 2025, online talent platforms could raise global GDP by up to $2.7 trillion and increase employment by 72 million full-time equivalent positions. In Australia alone, they’ll boost GDP by 1.9% and create jobs for more than 270,000 people.

At the same time, as automation increases and becomes more sophisticated, organisations will continue to scale their workforce and find they no longer need as many traditional workers on full-time, indefinite contracts.

Instead, organisations will engage flexible, skilled experts who can fill the gaps left by artificial intelligence when they need them. This will make contractors, freelancers, and gig workers key players in most organisational strategies. In many ways, this is already happening. According to Deloitte, 51% of global executives say their organisation plans to increase the use of flexible and independent workers in the next three to five years.

While workers may appreciate the flexibility of managing a portfolio of opportunities, the movement of work outside of formal organisational structures is not without risk or challenge.

The gig economy can provide employment for people who are otherwise unemployed or underemployed, but it can also lead to uncertainty of income that can engender anxiety and stress. In addition, blurring lines of employers would impose questions on ‘uninsured liability’ and reduce the broader adequacy of the superannuation and retirement income system.

So, what does this mean?

Firstly, workers will need to set their sights on longer careers, with multiple stages, simultaneous employers, and lifelong learning and reskilling.

Secondly, with more workers being based off-the-books or off-campus, organisations will need to rethink their operating processes, hiring practices, talent management, community and engagement plans. This will include inductions and onboarding. After all, organisations won’t have the traditional 12-month period to deliver a return on investment when hiring a new worker. Instead, they’ll need to familiarise giggers with their brand, strategy and culture as quickly as possible. On top of that, annual leave and wellbeing practices and benefits will also need to be considered to protect workers’ wellbeing and prevent burnout. 

Thirdly, governments will be asked to answer some tricky questions on social protections like minimum wages, insurance, sick leave and parental leave. Ultimately, these will need to adapt to accommodate all forms of work.

As the Business Council of Australia says, “We’re on the precipice of major disruption to how we work and the emergence of a future we can’t even imagine. The real question is how we forge a fundamentally different industrial relations system to protect future workers.”

5.      Create virtual, connected working environments.

But while technology creates many possibilities in how we work, most people want flexibility on when they work. 

Globalisation and advancing technology will continue to transform our work from a place to an activity, with much of it being done without even entering a traditional office. But while technology creates many possibilities in how we work, most people want flexibility on when they work. So, organisations will need to strike a balance that meets the requirements of the company, their customers and their workers.

While virtual environments can be convenient for everyone, they can also present unique challenges like isolation, and health and safety risks. For this reason, we’ve seen an increase in co-working or ‘shared workspaces’ that provide many of the amenities of traditional serviced offices, as well as a community atmosphere.

Overall, when we talk about the future of work, we’re really discussing how the relationship between organisations, customers, workers and society is being renegotiated. Organisations that fail to address these challenges may risk being left with a workforce that’s poorly equipped to drive long-term success, which will ultimately lead to business failure. But the futuristic organisations, the ones who reimagine workforces, build digitally-fluent cultures, develop entrepreneurial workers and create virtual working environments, they’ll go on to thrive in the realities of the new world order.

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