The current wave of technology has started making greater inroads into the workplace world over and is stimulating innovation in the way work is done. In the evolution of work, digital transformation is taking hold of workplaces like never before.

So what is the Future of Work? What is the impact going to be? What’s causing it? What is the role that organisations need to play to positively respond to the changes at hand?

Work is now all about adopting trending technologies like Artificial Intelligence (AI), Machine Learning (ML) and the Cloud to maximize efficiency. These are impacting and redefining the future of work, transforming how employees work, where they work, and the new skills they need to keep pace with change.

The future of work will not be very different in terms of the scope of work itself – what will change is how much work will be assisted by automated systems, machines, technologies like Artificial Intelligence to help enhance productivity. In this scenario, organizations can be human oriented or machine oriented and the speed of execution will increasingly depend on the direction taken.

Looking back at previous technology waves in the 20th century, when computers were first introduced at work, retrenchment was the biggest worry amongst the workforce, till employees actually realized that computers were a boon in aiding them to work faster and better. When the ATM machine was introduced, there was a fear that bank tellers would be eliminated, when in fact they were trained to do other customer facing tasks instead of dealing with cash. Bank branches became more profitable allowing banks to increase their geographic spread by opening more branches countrywide.

If the future of work is going to be increasingly based on machines, there are some important missing aspects in Artificial Intelligence like creativity, empathy, intuition, emotion, humor etc. Machines do not suffer fatigue which is a positive factor. Whereas HR is a function of people management where you are also dealing with emotion, which at times presents challenging situations that require empathy.

In the future of work, man and machine will work together. Co-opting machines into the way we work to enhance decision making and maximizing efficiency for the organization will be crucial. Change is the constant that the workplace of the future has to take head on to stay competitive. HR will play a critical role in re-shaping the organization as it re-defines all aspects of the future of work.

The role of HR in the Future of Work

Is HR going to be decimated because of machines? On the contrary, HR will evolve to become more polished in the days to come. The assistance of more machine led, algorithm led computing to take care of mundane, repetitive and predictive tasks will enable the HR function to focus on value added activities. For example, AI powered interview screening in the first stage of candidate interviews is gaining ground as it can process large volumes of candidate resumes at a given time, generate a lot of useful data about candidates and give unbiased results. AI led interviews are also being used for the first round of interview which again garners another set of useful data, useful for shortlisting candidates. So companies are assessing the use and deploying AI and ML in different phases of the recruitment funnel.

Today is the age of continuous performance and continuous improvement. While in the former, machines can take over and replace human intervention because of autonomy, in continuous improvement, the predictive nature of the role is played only by machines, without any human intervention. Take, something like Strategy, only humans to do strategic thinking. A machine cannot think strategy. But humans can use data generated from machines to make strategic decisions. There are challenges today because humans are grappling with 10 things at a time. If machines deal with the repetitive tasks, people will have more time for newer tasks, better decision making and enhanced job performance.

Challenges and opportunities were always there even generations ago and will be there in the future too.

Workforce skilling to adapt to the changing environment

Learning is the key to the future and for continuous performance. If tomorrow you need to work with a machine – which does not have monotony, emotion, fatigue etc., you will become more competent and productive. Workforces will need to improvise or become redundant – 60% of the time should be spent on competency and 20% of a person’s time should be focused on learning something new.

Cost is a concern for everyone today and needs to be optimized, so organisations tend to focus on re-skilling the top 20% of the hi-potential employees. This category of people are treated differently from the skilling perspective as they are the drivers that move an organization to the next level.

Cricketer Sachin Tendulkar was once asked about how he managed such high scores. His secret was to identify the gaps on the field and hit runs in those areas. Similarly the talent pool has to work on their gaps and focus on key areas to be able to grow.

Getting the workforce future ready

Organisations need to get academia in educational institutions to focus more on application oriented learning for job ready candidates. Employees need to have an application oriented mindset and hands-on execution to deliver faster results. HR has to identify the gaps and develop people and systems to assist them.

Enterprises need to have laser focused vision on what may come 5 years ahead. HR needs to ensure that their people reach the next level of performance and that 60-70% of their potential is being harnessed. Employees have to be incentivized to be kept continuously engaged.

The best product or service should be made available in the market so everything needs to be benchmarked on quality and cost which cannot be compromised. Workforces need to be sensitized to this to meet the bigger challenge of continuous improvement.

The rise of millennials in the workforce – challenging continuous engagement

The rise of centennials and millennials in the workforce is a reality. Today the older workforce needs to learn to work with technology in this changed environment to stay relevant.

The challenge of continuous engagement is not for millennials and centennials alone. It is a challenge for all generations in the workforce. According to estimates, about 60-70% of people are not engaged. This stat needs to be reversed by making employees engage more for better outcomes.

Dealing with the challenges of a broader and diverse workforce

Where is a person more productive? At home? At office? At the beach? Or elsewhere?

The global job market has changed dramatically with more perennials, part-timers and interns etc. joining the gig economy. Organisations are being forced to move to this model of hiring outsourced resources. There is a growing trend of job seekers who want to be engaged in a job even without TA and other benefits and still make adequate money. People want instant gratification. The challenge for such job seekers is time bound assignments and maintaining the expected quality.

People are increasingly doing jobs that they love to do, unlike the erstwhile conventional trend. In the future of work, if that makes a positive impact and a positive change to make a city or nation grow – then bigger the purpose, better the life.

In previous technology waves, career stability was achieved in 15-20 years which then whittled down to about 10 years. We are now witnessing a further dwindling of this timeframe to 5-7 years or less.

So we see that HR is going to be central to shape workforces in the future of work.