6 future workplace trends businesses must watch out for

The sad truth is we don’t have a template for this scale of disruption. Worse, individuals or businesses are not even ready for this transformation

Updated: Feb 20, 2018 07:02:20 PM UTC
Image: Shutterstock

If there’s one thing that has been constant across civilizations, that’s change. Today’s machine revolution, triggered by tech breakthroughs like artificial intelligence, machine learning and big data is all set to disrupt the lives of at least three billion working people. The scale of the current disruption is bigger than the total global population during the previous revolutions. Sad, but true: we don’t have a template for this scale of disruption. Worse, individuals or businesses are not even ready for this transformation.

The biggest inflection point ever witnessed by mankind was the time when motors replaced physical human effort, which multiplied the economy manifold. Of course, jobs were lost, fear was high in people’s minds, triggering protests from all segments. The world is currently at the second such inflection point – when human thinking power is poised to grow at an unprecedented pace – thanks to Quantum Computing, AI and Machine Learning. No other change in human history has been more disruptive than these two. And there’s enough reason to believe that this one will also be the biggest.

So what’s the way forward? Race with machines and not against them – that should be the guiding principle for modern-day Human Capital Strategists. The three biggest areas where companies falter in their digital journey are when they assume that digital is all about the best technology investment, and forget to focus on a new culture and a new structure. Take, for example, a legacy retailer who’s moving into online business. Will the same talent pool, culture and hierarchical structure work? Not really.

Corporates would do well to focus on rapid and massive re-skilling and re-tooling – at least in the next 3 years. Most curriculums seem to be very legacy-focused for the masses. This calls for making giant strides in curriculum and per capita investments.

At another level, organizations need to accept that careers of tomorrow’s workforce will be built across organizations, and that will be the new norm. Loyalty is limited only to learning and craft of the day and the gig. Remain loyal to learning and revisit hubris that this transformation and change is not coming for your job. Individuals need to take charge of their learning journeys and find the same ways to disrupt their careers, relearn and enter into new gigs to keep relevant. No one can help unless you have the humility to learn and grow.

Besides, organizations need to treat employee engagement as real-time initiatives. Workplace benefits need to be hyper-personalised and contextualised to create effective employee journeys. Learnability is a trait worth developing continuously. Employees of tomorrow should make learning a lifelong habit.

Here are a few transformation megatrends business heads must watch out for. They need to use a Human Capital lens to view these real eye-openers that will affect their organizations before 2030:

Entry-level jobs of today will disappear: We are in the middle of a storm. According to The Washington Post, the first decade of the 21st century didn’t create any new jobs in the US economy. In India, there’s a pressing need to create millions of jobs every year just to keep pace with the graduating talent seeking employment. The Indian Government Vision 2022 foresees us as a net exporter of talent which maybe a deviation from this trend. Globally, wages for University graduates declined in the past decade. More than 50% are employed in jobs with no connection to their domain of study. I attribute this to the automation of entry-level jobs which will continue to be a major trend.
Plutonomy as a trend:
A top-heavy economic system where 1-5% of the digitally-able population who have access to and drive the best technologies, seem to be garnering all income and driving consumption.

AI and Machine Learning as autonomous workers: Human Capital Strategists need to include the use of Machines as part of their workforce, not only to enhance employee productivity but to be the alternate as well. According to the International Federation of Robotics, global shipments of industrial robots increased by 60% in the last decade with China being the biggest consumer. Strange, considering its massive and cheap workforce.

The language advantage vanishes: An English speaking workforce at scale which was an India advantage will be under tremendous strain. Google is working on a “universal translator” which will soon remove the biggest barrier for a nation like China where English language usage is critical. This may completely redefine outsourcing dynamics.

Cloud Robotics & Democratisation: The power of a machine goes up when it’s on Cloud – something that’ll change the onshore-offshore dynamics – another big challenge for India. Google announced its support to Cloud Robotics in 2011, allowing developers to interface AI, Robotics and Android. Today, 40% of the work in an American farm is performed by robots.

The parting words
The onus lies on businesses to be the catalysts of change. They should continue to explore avenues of co-existence – and identify areas where machines and humans can work in tandem. Continuous upskilling and reskilling ought to be an integral part of their Human Capital strategy.

The world has witnessed three waves before this and the fourth one is mightier than all of them taken together. History and civilization are great teachers – there’s so much to learn, adapt and adopt from them. Now it’s over to you – business heads – to decide whether to ride the wave or be washed away.

By Naveen Narayanan, Vice-President, Hiring, Sapient Razorfish APAC

The thoughts and opinions shared here are of the author.

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