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Forces Shaping the Workplace of the Future

Contracting: Professionals are no longer independent entities. They will be seen as extensions of the company. Organizations will require comprehending their competencies, value-alignment, reputation and other intangible qualities. With social media, association will end up being more transparent, so managing the relationship between a company and its contractors might include public relations and legal, as BP just recently found with Transocean, its platform operator during the Gulf of Mexico oil spill. Contract-to-hire: Contract-to-hire might offer the balance between leasing skill and filling a function.
It will include discussions about where and when people work, what skills people have and what skills they need, how to get along with people in other generations and how to work with people from different cultural backgrounds and those with various work arrangements and relationships. On-boarding will talk through assumptions, offer disclosure and promote transparency. Contractors and others will need their own versions of on-boarding to help them integrate into the organisation effective Demographic shifts: Demographic shifts during the next decade won’t be limited to millennial figuring out how to work with baby boomers. Demographics shifts will create new markets in Africa, South America and Asia as younger populations become wealthier and more consumers driven. Consider sub-Saharan Africa, for example, with an average fertility rate of 5.2 and a median age of 18.
Demographic shifts also will disrupt currently emerging markets such as China and Russia, which are both projected to experience rapid increases in their median ages due to low birthrates. “Young, highly-skilled and technically proficient talent from emerging markets has the potential to offset retirement and succession issues generated by the aging workforces of Europe, north Asia and North America,” said Rob Salkowitz, author of Young World Rising: How Youth, Technology and Entrepreneurship are Changing the World from the Bottom Up. Virtual work: Today, virtual work is something most people experience as an alternative to the traditional workplace. In tomorrow’s workforce many people may not spend much time in offices at all, choosing to spend more time with customers or local affiliates at a mutually agreed upon location or on the Web. Because of this technology capacity, many organisations, from large firms like Cisco to smaller firms like corporate expedition facilitator WDHB, will select talent based on need and value rather than location.
Letting people stay where they are will drive down hard infrastructure costs as organisations realize they don’t need as many buildings and all but eliminate moving expenses. It will, however, drive up the need for social network management skills and for clear and transparent communications. It won’t be as easy to assert culture or managerial will on a virtual workforce, so people will need to be more proactive about defining work outcomes and expectations, and communicating status and changes. Organizations that learn how to foster and nurture virtual relationships will find that capability a competitive differentiator in the decades to come. Transparency and trust: As organisations pull out of the Great Recession, they may find their reputations as reliable employers permanently tarnished by layoffs and a slow return to hiring. Boomers may feel it is time to call in promises made against frozen wages and other concessions. Employers that articulate and demonstrate accountability to their promises will be the most likely to attract and retain talent. “Authenticity and transparency, aka honesty and truthfulness, are the new communication standards for the future,” said Sara Roberts, co-author of Light Their Fire and president/CEO of Roberts Golden, an organisational change consulting firm.
“In a Wiki Leaks era, privacy is an elusive goal. While it’s always been unbecoming and costly to be caught in a lie, the risk of false or partial disclosure is even greater now. The discovery of the truth can be accomplished in the push of a button. Honesty is a good policy not just because we’re forced to do it in this Internet era, but also because telling the truth demonstrates respect for one’s audience and gains people’s trust.” Out-tasking: Outsourcing is passé, but it will continue. Outsourcing will be joined by out-tasking, which farms out small projects and tasks to specialists and generalists. Budgeting, managing and vetting out-taskers will become a critical skill as options increase, co-ordination costs rise and the impact on the organisation in terms of dollars and people involved escalates.
Organisations will need to evaluate risks associated with agreements with individuals who they may never meet. Making sense of online reputations will be a new core competency. Diane Spiegel, CEO of The End Result, a management consulting firm, said on-boarding needs to be seen as bi-directional. “With millennial, it is important that they see others recognising their value. It can’t be all push, and all conform. Millennial will stick around longer if the organisation values the knowledge and experience they bring with them, even if that experience comes from other places like gaming or social media. Today’s young workers have things to teach the firm and if the firm doesn’t reciprocate early by acknowledging that, the on-boarding process may be very close to the exit interview.” Parallel promotions: Becoming the boss may not be in most people’s future, because being a boss may not be a job. With the world moving toward networks and away from hierarchies, employees will need to appreciate learning opportunities and new experiences as they move laterally through the organisation.
Accepting risk will be reflected in the pay associated with learning something new. Specialisation, expertise and a desire to “move up the ranks” will seem archaic for all but the most technical roles. Organisations will need to realise that hierarchy represents reporting relationships, but that people get work done through the parallelism of networks, which are a source of value. Spiegel said managerial skills may need to be widely distributed, as conflict and negotiation is likely to take place in situations where a “boss” has no clear means of influence. Hire-to-automate: Knowledge workers and information workers will encounter more automation as the decade unfolds. Computer operations roles will be the first to fall, but anything that involves repetitive analysis involving patterns eventually will be automated.
Business continuity: Organisations need to develop active and passive means to gather and vet knowledge, rapidly disbursing it and looking for changes, improvements and discontinuities over time. They will need to learn what to forget as well as what to remember. This is tightly tied to hire-to-automate, but operations are not the only investment a firm makes. Business continuity is also about new products, innovations and customer relationships, all efforts best conducted through people with deep insight, knowledge and organisational context. Organisations that focus too much on automation and efficiency in lieu of human relationships may find their efficiencies and increased productivity stifle their ability to remain relevant. Spiegel recounted a story about a bank merger where she was asked to see how the rebranding was reflected by line staff over the phone. She discovered the line staff reverted to the pre-merger messaging of their original institution, not the new messages of the merged entity.
The merger was a vague event in which “some really smart business guys are trying to make the bank better.” Summary: Never before has demographic change happened so quickly. Global employers face the challenge that, despite a growing global population, they will soon have to recruit from a shrinking workforce due to an aging population. Despite a growing global population, the availability of skilled workers is actually shrinking, and no longer just in advanced, aging countries such as Japan and Italy. Now, some emerging markets, such as China and Russia, are also feeling a demographic pinch. The data suggests that this is only the beginning. A “demographic divide” will soon arise between countries with younger skilled workers and those that face an aging, shrinking workforce. The war for talent will become increasingly acute in certain sectors, especially areas requiring high skill levels and more education.

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