The industry is evolving at a rapid pace and the effects of this change cannot be undermined. In the last decade, digital technologies have already contributed to steep transformation of work and job profiles, and now other innovations such as automation and intelligence are bringing further significant changes. The millennials or Gen Y are exploring career choices and using technologies that did not even exist at the beginning of their careers. According to the Deloitte Millennial Survey 2019, 49% of Gen Y respondents believe new technologies will augment their jobs. As more technological and human capabilities get integrated, the impact on the work, workplaces and workforce will multiply.

These changes are occurring faster than ever and are irreversible. Here are the two primary drivers of changes in the industry.

1. The Demographic Shift

A major demographic movement leading to a behavioral shift in the workforce is at play in transforming workplaces. According to the CBRE research, roughly 75% of the workforce will comprise of millennials by 2025. Millennials are known to have a clearer idea of their desires as compared to their previous generations and they are not hesitant to demand the same. This characteristic trait of the Gen Y is evident even in their career and employer-related choices. Therefore, it is essential for recruiters to design their HRM policies and infrastructure based on what engages and satisfies this generation of workers. With flexibility, collaboration and work-life balance high on their list of priorities, modern workers prefer a working environment that exemplifies all these features. ‘Ease of communication’ is another factor that takes precedence when it comes to choosing a work style. This is what has majorly contributed to the rise of co-working spaces such as WeWork, Regus, Impact Hub, etc. New-age organizations are focusing on recruiting top-notch talent by offering them flexibility of work space and time, which in turn has paved the way for another industry trend i.e. gig economy. Platforms such as Upwork are enabling recruiters to find freelancers and contractual employees at minimum recruitment cost and effort. By now, there is enough empirical evidence that millennials choose to associate with employer brands that can provide them a sense of purpose and social responsibility along with the freedom and resources to pursue it. Organizations attuned to this fact are creating workplaces that adhere to the needs and desires of this crop of workforce.

2. The Technological Shift

Today, CEOs as young as 25 or 30 years are running their businesses with minimal infrastructure and workforce, practically from anywhere in the world. Some businesses are run on-the-move, simply on a phone and a laptop. The time to commute is utilized judiciously to prepare for meetings or even conduct them through advanced audio and video calling platforms. Mobility of workforce is no more a challenge, thanks to tools such as Slack, Trello, Google Docs, etc. that help managers designate tasks as well as communicate with team members. Millennials demand the evidence of latest technology as an enabler of collaboration and remote communication, and forward-looking organizations are gearing up to provide the same. Another aspect in which technological advancements are reshaping work is by leveraging the massive amount of data being generated today. According to Microsoft, by 2020, data will reach 44ZB, four times of what it is today both in terms of variety and velocity. New-age companies understand this, which is why four out of five firms invest in public cloud technologies. Companies today cannot afford to allow their data to exist in silos and not leverage it to make credible business decisions. Business leaders are realizing that it is no more a good-to-have and rather a must-have practice to use data science and analytics to derive real value from data. At an age, where chatbots, virtual reality (VR) and biometrics are redefining human touch and interaction, cloud computing and big data analytics have become the pre-requisites of business growth. Today, a customer is more likely to interact with a robot rather than an actual person while reaching out to share a grievance with a bank or an e-commerce site, which goes to show the permeation of technology even in the service-led functions of businesses. In addition, according to the 2019 State of the Cloud Survey, implementing predictive analytics is crucial to not only leveraging data to gauge customer and target insights, but also to combat data theft and fraud.

The challenges and opportunities ahead

As technology and digitalization transform the way companies work and communicate, there are both opportunities as well as implications to consider. Business leaders and policy makers need to assess organizations’ capabilities to face the rapid transformation knocking at their doorstep. As per McKinsey Global Institute’s recent research, the time for “AI technologies may finally have come, but more progress is needed”. Both businesses and economy stand to benefit from technological innovations such as automation, language processing, and artificial assistance. From customizing product recommendation to optimizing routing of delivery traffic, artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) can bring in tremendous predictive capabilities to improve business performance. However, priorities need to be set in order to fully achieve these benefits.

Challenges such as the increasing need for unsupervised machine learning due to the difference between ‘deep learning’ and ML still exists. Human intervention at many levels is still required to alleviate this data comprehension difficulty. Another major challenge on the horizon of automation is the potential work displacement. Policy makers, organizational leaders, and even individuals need to ask whether adoption of automation could lead to job displacement or to change in occupational category. E.g. autonomous vehicles will be led by advanced driver-assistance systems (ADAS), and this could mean displacement of jobs for drivers. However, there will be need of service technicians to maintain such vehicles, which means that people will have to be trained in autonomous vehicle technology before driver-less cars hit the roads.

The role of HR will be redefined as we move close to the future

With the fast-spreading impact of demographical, technological and societal shifts in the industry, HRM is required to lead organizations strategically like never before. As companies become less restricted geographically and more data & analytics-driven, HR will have to prepare employees to become highly flexible, adaptive and agile. Adopting the newest recruitment techniques such as AI-enabled scientific matrices and psychometric analysis will be the key to identifying best fits for the 21st century profiles and creating a baseline of high potential employees (HiPOs). DBS Bank is a leading example of deploying the AI-based JIM (Jobs Intelligence Maestro), a virtual recruitment bot to conduct candidate screening. Similarly, employee engagement and talent development strategies are also required to be redefined, so that both the Gen Y as well as the older generations of employees can fit and succeed in the new realm of job roles.

While firms will have to assess these drivers of change and consider optimum solutions to manage their transformation, employees will also have to reassess their career choices and skills. Essentially, as the millennial workforce surges to rewrite the rules of modern workplaces, the onus of accepting, adapting and benefitting from the changes at work will lie on individuals.