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PA OPINION

Creating the future of work

Imagine telling yourself in 2019 what life would be like in a year. You’d probably laugh. Or cry. You certainly wouldn’t believe your future self. But the unbelievable has happened. A pandemic and socio-political upheavals have upended how we live and work, accelerating some workforce trends and creating new ones, with still others predicted to emerge in the near future.

Despite these radical changes, some leaders still won’t accept the world is permanently different, from insisting that everyone go back into the office (despite being able to work perfectly well from home) to refusing to conform to emerging online etiquette. This has implications for workforce morale at a time when many people’s mental wellbeing is stretched to its limit, as well as productivity, which could well have improved for many. If leaders aren’t careful, they risk losing their best talent, putting the organisation at risk.

Progressive financial institutions are keen to learn from 2020 and reimagine the future of work. And we’re helping them do this by exploring the impact of trends on people, creating multiple visions of the future, and planning targeted interventions to propel the organisation in its desired direction. These are the core elements of our Future of Work thinking, and they’re essential actions for financial services to thrive in a changing world.

1. Explore what ‘future of work’ means to you

Start by defining what you mean by ‘future of work’. That is, the areas on which you want to focus. We do this by exploring the nine workforce trends below (figure 1). Today, many are debating flexible locations as the coronavirus pandemic has proven that many can work effectively from home and many people are seeing benefits of doing so. In our own organisation, 60 per cent say they now want to work home all or some of the time, depending on what they need for whole-life wellbeing.

Over the next few months, if working from home sticks, employee surveillance is likely to rise as a safeguarding measure, but many will see it as an unwelcome intrusion. On the upside, employers will review their employee value proposition and recruitment processes. Organisations might take advantage of ‘good gigs’, ethical gig-working that would be inclusive and reduce costs. And people will continue to develop different soft skills, collaborating in new and better ways using technology.

In the next six months to a year, organisations will likely start to see a change in their culture as people acclimatise to new ways of working. Leaders will need to carefully manage this change to maintain healthy behaviours and mitigate unhealthy ones. This will also have implications for leadership, whose skills and behaviours will need updating to reflect the new normal and maintain trust with their teams. To manage such fundamental changes, we could see greater investment in AI, automating or augmenting initiatives to improve the performance and wellbeing of the workforce.

These are just some of the broad trends we’re seeing in the workforce today. The factors impacting the future of work for your organisation will likely be different. By exploring them in detail, you can start to build a view of where you need to focus to create a positive future.

Figure 1: Nine workforce trends emerging over time

2. Create multiple visions of the future

The next step is to imagine how different combinations of the trends within your organisation could play out (figure 2). The above example (greatly simplified for illustration purposes) starts with the customer trend of accelerated digitisation in response to the pandemic. This has created a workforce that suddenly needs to be entirely digital. As a result, they may not have all the skills needed. Moving into the future, the organisation could respond in two ways:

Found in translation

The organisation could harness the flexi-location and translated skills trends to move their whole organisation into the digital space, focusing on improving the wellbeing of customers and employees alike. This will involve huge investment in immersive digital learning, wellbeing and diversity, possibly with artificial intelligence (AI) augmenting initiatives. And leaders will need to learn how to build trust and maintain the integrity of the culture in this new type of digital reality.

Automating the future

The organisation could harness the trend of AI-human augmentation to create a seamless customer experience.

This will mean automating jobs and skills where needed. But it could also mean the temporary hiring of AI designers to build this new capability, followed by a wide-ranging training programme for AI-users. AI could also monitor the workforce, ensuring they’re providing high-quality service while also tracking their wellbeing.

As you look at the possibilities, you’ll find elements that you want in various possible futures. You can then work out what combination of trends will drive those, so you can define a single future in terms of trends you can impact.

Figure 2: An example of how accelerated digitisation could change the future of work

3. Plan how to move in the desired direction

The last step is to identify the priority areas to shift. This could range from a redesign of the physical workspace or development of smarter working policies, to a remote leadership development programme or alignment of collaboration technologies to culture. Whatever the first step is, it’s imperative to:

  • check and leverage all relevant in-train activities
    No-one likes duplication and you could already be doing something amazing that aligns with the agreed workforce future or could with some small changes. Doing this also highlights the shape and scale of the gaps.

  • agree who will do what
    It sounds obvious, but too often people can happily agree on a strategic direction without taking responsibility. And that can lead to progress stalling.

  • build your plan and go
    Even best plans can go awry, so as you go, pilot, test and/or regularly review your initiatives, not only in isolation, but also their impact on each other and other parts of your organisational system.

2020 has taught us all that, even when we’re passive receivers of change, we’re not powerless – we can respond at lightning pace and create a better future than we ever thought we could. The future is now upon us. It’s up to us to decide what to do with it.

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Contact the author

  • Heledd Straker

    Heledd Straker

    PA future of work expert

    Heledd is a workforce futures expert and design thinker who helps clients think completely differently about their people

    Insights by Heledd Straker

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