A major innovative shift has taken place in the HR industry over the past few years. While we admire all the boons brought in by digitalization, AI involvement, maturity in the mindset of CEOs/CHROs, let’s forecast how 2020 and beyond is going to be…
As I wound up a meeting in Boston, I grabbed my coffee before my team workshop in Bombay. “Oh, wait! What’s my team in Tokyo doing? I need to check…” so I thought, as I walked out of my home and started my car. I drove to my office and got down to work at my desk. This is a sneak peek into a few years into my future.
Are you startled? Did you expect super hi-tech screens and only humanoids moving busily around the office? Let’s bust a popular myth here. The future of work in 2020 and beyond is not going to be like a Hollywood sci-fi movie. Undoubtedly, we are rapidly progressing to a new world of work where technology-enabled workplaces will replace traditional work styles and spaces, but it’s not going to look like a whole new world. How much and how far is the transformation going to be? Let’s go back to my time travel into the future.
A DAY IN THE NEAR FUTURE
Communicating in a digitally advanced world
I walk into my office and get to work at my desk. I take quick updates from my team in Tokyo. I am happy that a colleague has resumed work after a brief illness. It’s amazing that I am able to manage absenteeism since help literally comes from across the world. The last couple of decades have indeed seen the greatest advancements in the communications space resulting in the inevitable, geographic shrinkage.
The rampant developments in this area have taken the world by a storm and workspaces of the future are no exception. Technology has given us multiple tools to virtually zip across the globe effortlessly and efficiently. Large distances will shrink faster, but what about the guy next door? There is a strong possibility that we may not know who our neighbours are both at work and home since our interactions would be more tech-enabled than touch-enabled. A colleague in the adjacent cubicle would be as far or near as one on the other side of the globe. In other words, it may be appropriate to expect geographic equalizing rather than shrinkage. I am not even commenting yet on the mindset of managers to have team members work below their noses, because going home on time is being inefficient and sitting long hours at work with some segments of India Inc is still considered as individuals giving their all to the organization. What a sacrifice, I must say!
New-age data retrieval and analytics
As I get ready for a meeting with my CFO, I am simultaneously bracing myself to face a barrage of questions that would challenge my proposal. The latest issue of a magazine pops up on my screen, and I see a very familiar title, “Data is the new oil”. My thoughts drift again. Well, hasn’t data always existed since time immemorial? The challenge was traceability and retrieval of what you want and when you wanted it. It is without a doubt that the best business decisions were taken after a deep analysis of relevant and available information. Rewards, recognitions and reprimands were the output of the analysis of facts and findings and not whims and fancies. All of the small and big mergers and acquisitions were the consequence of strategic thinking based on backed-up information and not because of a dream a CEO might have had!
What’s really going to change in 2020 and beyond is speed and robustness in decision-making due to quick data retrieval and efficient analytics.
Of course, artificial intelligence will take center stage as machines start learning faster than humans do. Come to think of it, what will humans do when machines and bots start talking to each other in a language humans wouldn’t understand and, moreover, we wouldn’t be able to stop them? Of course, that breed does exist, the ones who love their gut more than anything else. Are we soon going to have robots that will operate just like our guts? Oh, I meant gut.
Changes in organizational design
I find myself very excited to conduct what used to be very unilateral team meetings. These days, I am no longer the chairperson. Priorities are agreed, and agendas are driven by my teammates. My role remains that of an experienced facilitator, and I feel quite at ease. I recollect my discussions with the fraternity over the last decade. We have debated enough over organizations becoming flatter in structure and people learning the art of self-management.
In my opinion, this is probably something that shall become a game-changer in the next half-decade. It may just not be possible for organizations to function in a traditional manner with hierarchical structures.
When the workplace gets dominated with a young, demanding workforce adept at networking, businesses will transform into clusters of workgroups that are agile and people-centric.
Shattering the ‘Professional Caste System’
Talking of people-centric reminds me that talent management needs my focus. I navigate through reports and choose to conclude this exercise soon. I must say, succession planning is something that has evolved and transformed. Gone are the days of promotions and climbing the ladder vertically.
These days, we talk the year-round and connect with our people deeply. Aspirations are encouraged, the path forward is articulated, and career plans are co-created. Employees no longer retire in the same workstream they started their career with. Forget retiring, as of right now, I am transitioning from my current role into a new role, from supporting one business unit to another one. I don’t need to leave my organization to experience that. I am fortunate enough to gain the experience of different business stakeholders, a new boss, and enhanced challenges whilst continuing with my current organization. Talent moves across various workstreams, thereby bringing in a diversity of thought.
An acquaintance informs me that in her organization she was allowed to progress into a role of her choice even though she didn’t possess the requisite qualification, simply because the hiring manager saw a spark in her and was willing to bet on her potential. Satisfaction looms large on the faces of the employees when they feel cared for. At last, the “professional caste system” is broken!
Fluid is the new agile
I also notice another striking change since the last decade. While we were struggling to improve gender diversity, we were unable to make much progress. Of course, there were a few programs here and there, but it was, for sure, a “good-to-do” activity on most CHRO scorecards at the cost of generalization. Lately, one observes not just gender diversity but nationality, age, ethnicity and all possible elements of diversity being given their due focus. Conscious strategies are being put in place to crack the code on this. India Inc. seems to see the business case in investing through.
Technology has made it easier to bring in work flexibility; this has helped us retain and also rehire many of our womenfolk. But don’t diversity and inclusion go hand in hand? Since we have virtual offices all over the world, it has become very easy and affordable to hire anyone who is differently-abled. This is how technology has touched and transformed many lives. Back then, we debated and argued that technology is an invasion, and many jobs will be lost.
Looking back, it saddens me to think that a certain section of our fraternity impulsively made judgmental statements like, “HR will be dead by 2020”, and many echoed the thought right back. The 2020s decade has actually given birth to the new-age HR, where rigid hierarchy no longer exists. “Fluid” is the new agile. Come together, create value, and then disperse.
The gig economy and its impact
Just before I wind up for the day, my digital assistant reminds me about the manpower dashboard that has just been published. I am ever curious to see the trends, and I quickly swipe screens to see what is in store for me. I am so glad to see a decline in the headcount.
Yes, you heard me right! The permanent staff is reducing, and we are noticing an increase in gig workers. “Perfect! This is exactly as per plan”, remarked my Talent Management Head.
I wonder why we didn’t think of gig workers back then in the past. It is a brilliant way to get work done in the most economical fashion without having the headache of permanent employment and future retrenchment. Overheads are under control, and I am not expected to invest in their upskilling and training. Every gig worker is always accountable for keeping him or herself relevant. Ever since we have encouraged gig workers, many of our senior employees have decided to work part-time just enough to keep investing their expertise in the organization. At the same time, they have started to spend time at universities supervising innovation labs where future ideas are conceptualized and brought to life by young students. When we hire from these campuses, they are all futureready already. No one ever asked the question whether employability is a challenge; we always asked whether they are employable, and now, we hear a resounding yes!
Learning on the go
As I walk through the office, I find a gallery of old photographs deliberately and strategically placed where the erstwhile training room was. Now we have bite-sized learning on the go. Everyone is free to pick a course of choice, get certifications and hit their LinkedIn timeline as they traverse their return commute from Mumbai to Ahmedabad in the bullet train. This learning culture has become a business enabler and has given unprecedented business outcomes.
Improved work-life balance
What a whirlwind the start of this week has been! I wrap up my day and drive back home. Can you believe it’s just midday and I find time to devote to my home and family? Well, after a few hours, my day starts again in another part of the world with another team. My biological clock is set to a global clock, and I have started to sleep regularly and become devoid of stress. There can’t be a better balance than this!
We are at the start of 2020, eagerly waiting to see what the future has in store for us. But we create the future today, don’t we?
• VUCA, a World War acronym, became a business jargon and survived as a fad through 2019. It is upon us to make this clearly a thing of the past. The future is going to see the prevalence of predictability and proactiveness instead.
• Technology would be realistic and an enabler of enhanced productivity, not a threat of job losses. It would help in reducing extrinsic stress like long commutes, repetitive tasks, etc., and help employees deliver better quality of work in lesser time than ever before.
• People would drive organizations and not be driven instead. There cannot be a better way to instill accountability in employees. The future looks brighter with everyone delivering with an utmost sense of accountability and the capability to take calculated risks with the intent of growth.
• Agile, relevant, and competent talent will always find a place under the sun. Organizations would have flatter and more democratic structures. People will take precedence over policies and processes, and collaboration will replace negotiation. We will learn to quickly make timely course corrections rather than blindly following a plan.
Peeping over to the other side of the decade, I can see a great wave approaching us with full vigour. It’s time we brace ourselves and set sail to ride this great wave of #FutureOfWork. Thrill and excitement are guaranteed to those who are fearless and ready to ride. For others, it’s a great time to write an autobiography.
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