We’re experiencing a fundamental shift in the way that we work. Times have changed and our approach to business and the workplace needs to change with it. Rapid advances in automation and artificial intelligence (AI) have the potential to significantly disrupt labor markets, and will likely transform almost all occupations to some degree.

Workplace

This technological shift, along with globalization, social values, demographics, and the changing personal expectations of today’s workforce has had a tremendous impact on the business landscape, disrupting models and radically changing where, when, and how work is done. An ability to improve the effectiveness of the workforce, develop and move talent around the business, and manage human capital risks is crucial in the digital age. As a result, companies who want to grow and remain competitive need to focus on harnessing and adapting the talents of their workers, and their uniquely ‘human’ skills.

Navigating change: The Future of Work Is Here report

Much has been written about the future of work and the impact of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) on the workforce. The scenario is often played out as if we, the human race, have no control over the outcome. But this is simply not true. The changes that we’re currently experiencing, including the shifting landscape as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, are ultimately driven by humans.

In light of this, GetSmarter, a 2U, Inc. brand, has produced ‘The Future of Work Is Here’ report with the aim to help professionals and organizations navigate this change. The research unpacks findings from over 106 countries and 8,000 respondents. With insights gathered from more than 100,000 students over the past 12 years, the report provides a deep understanding of how the workplace is changing as attitudes and values shift. It also explores the rise in remote work and what it means for the future.

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The 21st-century employer meets the 4IR

Humanity continues to embark on a period of unparalleled technological advancement, offering significant challenges and opportunities in the coming five, 10, and 20 years. According to Klaus Schwab, founder and executive chairman of the World Economic Forum, ‘’We are at the early stages of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Unlike the previous industrial revolutions­, the current one is not changing what we do, but rather, is changing us.’’

In the 4IR, lines between the physical, digital, and biological worlds are blurred. Owed to advances in AI, robotics, the Internet of Things (IoT), 3D printing, genetic engineering, quantum computing, and other technologies. The 4IR is paving the way for transformative changes in the way we live and work, radically disrupting almost every business sector. As AI and increased automation takes control of more repetitive tasks, the discovery of entirely new categories of jobs are emerging.

From an employer’s perspective, retention of skilled employees becomes increasingly important as a strategic priority. Organizations need to recognize their current employees’ strengths and focus on upskilling to fill skills gaps and remain agile in an ever-changing workplace. As highlighted in the report, HR professionals and talent managers have both turned to reskilling and upskilling their teams to respond to the significant changes catalyzed by the 4IR.

Anticipate the workplace of the future

Empowered by universal primary education, marked progress in adult literacy, improved healthcare, global access to social networks, and mobile money, the workplace is changing so fast that it’s hard for many organizations to keep up.

Digital technology has changed the way employees interact with each other and their employer: teams are more matrixed, more remote, and more flexible than ever. This has upended the traditional worker-manager relationship, and has reshaped how employers and employees see one another. We are also living longer and navigating change at a more rapid rate, which means that we will need to master a variety of skills to keep up with the evolving workplace.

Despite technology being the most radical driver of change, other global trends are proving to be just as impactful.

Other important factors that will shape the future workplace include:

  • Diversity, equity, and inclusion

In the age of intelligent technology, focusing on innate human needs is imperative to maintaining growth and remaining competitive. The demand for diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) is more than just another target to meet. Companies are called on to make meaningful cultural change in order to foster inclusivity.

There are many benefits to having multi-generational teams working together. Research shows that age diversity can improve cognitive performance, and can also lead to more creative thinking and innovation.7 By viewing age and generational differences as an opportunity, organizations can shift focus to the abilities, experiences, and knowledge of individuals, leading to innovation and productivity.

  • Freedom and flexibility

Previously, being able to work from home was rare and considered a ‘perk.’ As the population demographic and way of life changes, flexible and remote work is proliferating.9 Used to describe any role that breaks the traditional norm of a rigid 9-to-5, five-day week structure, flexibility offers more freedom over when, where, or how employees can fulfil their particular roles. Organizations are starting to recognize this and act on it – since 2016, there’s been a 78 percent increase in job posts that provide work flexibility.11

  • Agility to change management

To grow a suitable candidates pool and foster a workforce that is able to adapt to change and innovate, it’s critical for human resources (HR) and learning and development (L&D) professionals to prioritize a culture of continued learning in their organizations. This will not only allow them to remain agile in the face of disruption, but will also create a more engaged workforce that has the tools to drive innovation for the future. If employees are taught how to build a learning mindset, it will help prepare them for dealing with a constantly, even abruptly, changing environment.

  • Whose responsibility is continuous learning?

Most respondents agree that continued learning should be a joint responsibility between the business and the individual. Our survey found that employees feel individually accountable for continuous learning whereas talent management and HR view it as being more of a business or joint responsibility. This misalignment may mean that employees are unaware that their employer is willing to support them to learn. On the other hand, HR and talent management may view continuous learning as too important for business to have no responsibility for.

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Discover the alternative workforce

According to research conducted by Upwork, nearly two-thirds of companies have remote workers, with the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic increasing this figure, with possible permanent effects.21 This has given rise to what can be known as the ‘alternative workforce’.

As defined in ‘The Future of Work Is Here’ report, a remote worker is someone who is employed by a company, but works outside of a traditional office environment. Post-COVID-19, GetSmarter predicts that companies will expand the acceptability of remote work, and will provide more choice and flexibility to full-time contract employees to work wherever they can get their best work done, including away from the office.

A gig worker, defined in the report as someone who works part-time, on contract, and has no long-term employer-employee relationship, could work anywhere from a local co-working space, a coffee shop, or in a city across the world. While this is becoming an increasingly attractive option for those looking for more flexibility, predicts that the rate at which remote work is adopted will outpace the rate at which companies adopt the gig economy, with only nine percent of HR and people managers indicating that they hire ‘giggers’ to fill skills gaps that exist within their teams and organizations.