By Archana Kumar, Chief Human Resource Officer, Ireo Private Limited. 

 the workforce will define how workspaces evolve

work forceThe most powerful defining characteristic of the future of work is the workforce of tomorrow. With rapid growth and adoption of AI and machine learning, the digital worker is moving to the front and centre of the workforce. Technology enabled collaborative platforms combined with the imperative for talent, has widened the demographic scope of the workforce like never before. For example, India is seeing a rapidly ageing population segment; talented people from this segment are not in a hurry to hang up their boots and are coming back to, or remaining in the workforce. At the same time a growing number of talented workers of all ages are moving to freelancing for different companies and projects. Freelance workers if properly managed are a boon for companies too. Payment to such workers is usually project based and outcome driven, which strengthens the profitability of an organization. These factors have created a colorful employment landscape which is multi-generational, and which demands multi-faceted and flexible work contracts from employers. Experts predict that in the not too distant future, this flexible and ever-changing workforce will form the bulk of workers both globally and in India.

Indian industry is slowly and steadily moving away from the culture of traditional large organizations, and is moving toward a new ethos defined by rapid adoption of technology, and greater flexibility in engaging with different kinds of employees. This shift is dictated by the necessity to remain relevant and attain leadership in the marketplace.  E-commerce companies like Flipkart, platform based companies like Uber or Ola lead the way in using multiple employee engagement models – these ‘new-age’ companies hire permanent staff, temporary staff, consultants, contractual workers (feet on the street), and gig workers or freelancers – who work with multiple organizations. Companies hire these non-permanent staff, because they have the highest skill in the area needed, and this segment will continue to grow rapidly.

Fluid employment patterns are an imperative today, and experts are certain that this pattern will be an established model in the not too distant future. Given this factor, the first and most critical challenge for companies will be to rapidly build systems to optimize protection of data and IP. Protecting a company’s data and knowledge is a constant challenge, but even more challenging is to know how to protect your data when freelancers transition in and out of the organization rapidly.

While there are many positive changes associated with future workforces, there are a few key challenges and roadblocks which must be discussed by industry and policy makers in order to create an environment that is conducive to change and growth.

legal framework

It is imperative that the legal and regulatory framework is robust and protects both the employer and the employee. Employers must be protected primarily against data theft, while employees must have a fair and just ecosystem to work and thrive. India's labour laws underwent a major update in the Industrial Disputes Act of 1947. Since then, an additional 45 national laws expand or intersect with the 1948 act, and another 200 state laws control the relationships between the worker and the company. Unfortunately, these labour laws have not kept pace with the trend towards fluid workplace dynamics.  As far back as in 2017, 3.5 million people from India were registered on Freelance.com, and 1.5 million drivers are registered on Uber. The government is unable to recognize these rapidly emerging trends, and labour laws remain archaic and irrelevant to the needs of young entrepreneurs and contractual workers. A young entrepreneur who is setting up operations, will not hire all staff on his rolls, he would prefer to engage different kinds of staff for different requirements.  There is no legal framework yet to protect the gig worker or the young startup entrepreneur.

education system

According to India Skill Report 2019, only 47% of students graduates in India are employable, highlighting the fact that majority of educated youth that India is generating will remain unemployed or will be employed in jobs that they are overqualified for. There is a wide gap between the theories taught in educational institutions and the knowledge and skills required to contribute productively to a workplace. Our education system places great emphasis on rote learning, most learning is done in a classroom setting and most students entering the workforce are not able to fulfill the expectations of employers. Development of educational courses must make sure the student understands theory through practical application.

skilling framework

Skilled employeeWith rapidly developing technology, skill requirements are also changing at a pace that has never been seen before. At the moment no one knows what skills will be required even five years from now, and industry has not yet developed the know how to ensure that learning material keeps pace with this rapidly changing environment. For example, though government policy is veering towards electric cars, the automotive industry has little or no idea what skills are required to manufacture, sell, or service these cars.

While the government has initiated laudable initiatives like Make in India, Startup India, the ground reality is that support systems for these initiatives are not adequate – policy support is weak and even tax breaks for emerging entrepreneurs are not adequate. For instance, in order to support the Government of India vision to electrify all cars by 2050, the government must take a leadership role in mapping the skills that will be required to achieve this vision. These are roadblocks that will hamper the growth of this technology ecosystem.

emotional intelligence

Strong people skills will emerge soon as the key differentiator between effective profitable companies and the others. The most important skills to develop in employees are the skills to be resilient and strong to survive and thrive in this fast-paced environment – these are human skills or people skills. Increasingly, domain and technology skills are being taught through non-traditional formats, such as on the job training, mentorships, and peer-based learning, among other methods. In order to use learning opportunities optimally employees have to learn to interact effectively with diverse people who have diverse skill sets. Team leaders and senior management will have to learn how to handle the emotions, aspirations, and self-growth plans of their team members, and unlike routine processes, these tasks cannot be simplified through technology. Thus, people skills or emotional intelligence is taking on a very high magnitude today as compared to developing technical skills, especially as one climbs the corporate ladder. Leaders need the emotional skills to handle highly skilled individuals who are diverse and may be located across the globe, but have to work together on a project to deliver a product for someone who they have never met in life. They have to extract work from different types of people, without ever being together physically in the same room as a team.

Thus, the future of work is very employee-centric or human-centric rather than IT or tech-centric. The multi-generational and the multi-engagement model is what will drive workplaces in the future.