“Study the past if you want to define the future.”
—Confucius, Chinese philosopher
The future is increasing and, at times, scaringly unpredictable, uncomfortable, and uncertain for employers, employees, and society in general. With unprecedented events like the pandemic that have proven that. Artificial Intelligence (AI), cloud technology, and robotics are incorporated into the workplace, transforming traditional employment models. Consequently, it makes business sense to keep up with developments.
Robots, Artificial Intelligence, and algorithms are becoming smarter by the day. But so far, fears of robots taking all our jobs have proven unfounded. As the technological revolution progresses, human work is becoming more and more valuable. Many successful businesses put a premium on human-only skills and human involvement activities such as creativity, innovation, flexibility, inclusion, diversity, and teamwork. But, unfortunately, most companies with their workplaces are still designed to treat employees more like chess pieces in a game of chess and not as humans.
As technology changes and new employment models shape the future workplace, new mindsets, perspectives, and strategies are most important for this “new normal” shift.
Businesses that build their workplaces and business culture around inclusion, purpose, and connection are best suited for the future of work. What’s more, this will boost performance, retention of skills and talents, and drive profit into the future.
The future of work is about remaining relevant, understanding the nuisances of the changes before they happen, and responding proactively. So how will your business remain to be competitive in the quicksilver shifting business landscape?
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948 guarantees that all humans have the right to work in their chosen jobs “free choice of employment”. So this also makes business sense that businesses have a socially connected workforce that is psychologically safe and that represents the core human values that the company embodies.
Undoubtedly, rapidly evolving technologies such as the internet, automation, and artificial intelligence have transformed the way we work, and there are no signs that this will slow down soon. But, unfortunately, this ever-changing tech environment has created a market that experts sometimes describe with the term VUCA: volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous.
The fundamental premise is that to stay competitive in a VUCA market. Businesses need to adapt and constantly evolve, too. This means that they need to attract and retain employees who are willing to do the same. Since employees today are more socially conscious, informed, and mobile than ever, keeping them inspired and engaged isn’t an easy task.
The critical thing businesses can do is create a workplace where employees feel recognized, valued, and appreciated as whole human beings. The old, hierarchical business structures are hardly a source of creativity and innovation, let alone employee satisfaction. In turn, companies must transform their practices in such a way that boosts employee satisfaction.
How work has evolved
Due to the pandemic, things have changed rapidly. Flexible work arrangements have become the order of the day. With minimal to no face-to-face contact with people, employers work with or hire or promote employees. These days, many employees work from home and inevitably have a looser relationship with the traditional office environment as were in the past, with remote work and dealing with ever more complex technology and information. Also, social norms are transforming the texture of our everyday life, and the workplace is no exception.
A recent study found that the global healthcare industry will face at least a deficit of 15 million workers by 2030. As a result, human resource departments and agencies will have to change their approach by employing internationally to meet these demands. Inconvenient as this may be, sourcing more workers from the global talent pool and adapting to more flexible, remote work arrangements are inevitable if not outrightly essential.
New research also found that the business environment is on the cusp of a revolution called Industry 4.0. Similar to how the steam engine vastly expanded our control over physical power, the new technologies of Industry 4.0 are significantly augmenting our mental capabilities, opening up new possibilities for manufacturing and management.
Fast-forward to today, then consider the Internet of Things, also known as the IoT. This vibey term refers to the increasing ability of machines and other objects to communicate and coordinate actions without human intervention. In the coming decade, billions of devices will be connected through IoT technologies. What’s more, when combined with the analytical power of Big Data and cloud storage, this will allow for considerable gains in efficiency in sectors such as manufacturing. A sneak peek into the future boasts automated factories, just-in-time logistics, and decentralized production lines that can self-organize. Furthermore, a recent McKinsey study found that the potential economic impact of these innovations could be more significant than $10 trillion by 2025.
Companies and their workforce will undoubtedly feel such dramatic leaps in our current technological prowess. However, one significant change could come from the type of skills employers will need in Industry 4.0. With machines handling more elements of production, the demand for low-skilled manual labour could continue to decrease. Meanwhile, the need for high-skilled labour, such as analytic thinking and strategic planning, will continue to grow.
To future-proof their businesses, business leaders have to rethink their ideas of leadership. Leadership within companies will have to adapt. Business leaders can no longer be the aloof, authoritative “bosses” they have been in the past. Instead, they will have to be much more involved, dynamic, and accommodating. Managers need to begin thinking of themselves less as commanders and more as coaches. Essentially, their role is to facilitate employees to grow, learn and do their work to the best of their abilities. And like any decent coach, they should have a clear sense of their employee’s strengths and weaknesses and meet all of them precisely where they are.
To nudge employees in the right direction, future managers can draw on the three c’s: continue, consider, and celebrate. Continue means quick check-ins throughout a work project to ensure that an employee is on the right track. Consider means working together with employees to determine whether they need to improve their processes or change direction. And celebrate means showing appreciation for an employee’s work once it’s done.
Back to the Future
Indeed, businesses can’t be sure what the future will hold, but if it’s anything like the present, it will be full of constant disruptions and change. With that in mind, if businesses want to keep abreast with these volatile changes, they will need to upgrade their knowledge as frequently as their devices and business tools they use.
In a rapidly evolving world, businesses need to reconnect their work with people. As such, creating workplaces that allow people to thrive, learn and feel safe. The best way to do this is to adapt fast to enable your business to navigate the future. Or at least, your company will better understand an increasingly bewildering world. Therefore, it can also put your business light years ahead of the pack.
In parting, the question remains what is your business going to do to stay ahead?
Mosley, Eric, and Irvine, Derek (2020). Making Human Work: How Human-Centered Companies are Changing the Future of Work and the World. McGraw-Hill Education.
Clarke, Andrea (2019). Future Fit: How to Stay Relevant and Competitive in the Future of Work. Major Street Publishing.
Levit, Alexandra (2018). Humanity Works: Merging Technologies and People for the Workforce of the Future. Kogan Page.
Derera, Kudzia (2019). The future of work: The upcoming digital disruption. Industrial Psychology Consultants (IPC). Available from: https://www.thehumancapitalhub.com/articles/the-future-Of-Work2 [Accessed 29 August 2021].
United Nations General Assembly (10 December 1948). Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 23. Paris. Available from: https://www.un.org/en/about-us/universal-declaration-of-human-rights [Accessed 29 August 2021].
About the Writers:
Romein is a (self-confessed) Pan-Africanist by heart. His diversified professional career spans many different sectors, i.e., local government, mining, consultancy, construction, advertising, and development cooperations. He has an MBA in CSR and various qualifications in engineering, environmental health, and leadership. Romein is the Head: Business for Development at PIRON Global Development, Germany (www.piron.global). Contact him via ([email protected])
Ebenezer is a Development Communication Specialist, an SDG Mkt Building & SME Researcher and Finance & Investment Nomad. He`s Country Director (Ag) with PIRON Global Development GmbH, Ghana (www.piron.global). Contact him via ([email protected])