The Future of Work

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With so much happening on Automation, Robotics, Big Data, Digital Platforms, including impact of Social Media, Machine Learning, Internet of things and other innovations there are lot of discussions happening around the topic Future of Work.

Reams of literature are already available on the topic of “Future of Work” in the public domain, ranging from well researched publications to well-articulated individual opinions. As the future hasn’t yet fully unfolded and due to genuine concerns emanating from the understanding of possibilities, it is but natural that everyone is developing a view. Here is my take on how the “Future of Work” the way I am imagining it from a Chief Human Resources Officer perspective.
  • The key characteristics and relationships that shape organizational environment and its governance system are set to change. In future, we may see increased transparency levels in the way business transactions are done through block chain technologies and may be crypto currency might impact the way international businesses are done though at the moment many governments are skeptical to the extent of being critical, wary and adversary about the crypto currency.
  • The disruptions to the businesses in various sectors of economic significance will increase and the wealth might shift in a more rapid manner from one set of people to another basically from those owning physical property to those who shall be owning knowledge, know how and networks. The requirements of regulations will vary accordingly and shall be more driven by market / customer demands than by the whim of the Governments. The governance systems, the internal work structures, the stakeholders equations will accordingly see an impact.
  • The nature of organizational social responsibilities will undergo a transformation. Communities will become more vibrant and the sense of collective ownership of natural resources will increase. With the churn and turmoil businesses undergo environmental, economic and societal demands and sustainability issues assume greater concerns. For example, issues of Safety and Health affecting occupations will see increased automation and where employee wage costs are lower than automation costs may not see automation even when opportunities are there. Creative solutions to balance interests shall emerge.
  • Organizational senior leadership will be focusing more on fine balancing in evolving strategies to encounter business disruptions, evolving new business models and cost benefits analysis of capital investments in newer technologies and increased insights available from newer technologies. These will have impact on evolving business strategies and ways of deploying them.
  • The performance projections would be more authentic in terms of rigor with data analysis and emphasis will be on learning, un-learning and re-learning in terms of continuous skills enhancement and improvements. Organizations would be spending more on knowledge enhancement and management enablement with training and development.
  • Expansion and retention of customer base in at least some sectors such as manufacturing would entail upon firm’s ability to invest in newer and better technologies and working out cost vs. benefits in a continuous manner. Jobs involving data gathering and processing, mechanical and physical work will decline drastically. While in services sector where machine component is less and human care, empathy, commitment is more would orient organizations to accordingly become better customer centric. Data analysis would continue to provide better insights on customer perceptions, loyalty, brand image etc. Organizations would be vulnerable as many social media platforms are already available and everything becoming viral with catastrophic impact.
  • Factory system of work, where people congregate at one location to do jobs might go away with 4D technologies and virtual meeting rooms. These might call for transformational personnel laws impacting the distinction between contract and regular workforce, trade union and blue collar workforce issues, work structures and employment contracts w.r.t service conditions etc. In future we may be needing people to manage machines while there may not be supervisors to manage people.
  • The work structures would be “design think” based with whole systems thinking and workforce knowledge and skills will be multi, inter and Trans disciplinary. Accordingly the Education sector will transform and we may see a renaissance in Arts and Languages as these disciplines might become more sought after educational programs compared to today’s majority focusing on the disciplines of sciences and engineering.
  • There will be hopefully productivity gains, lesser accidents with self-driven vehicles, lesser commute times, and more work life balance for employees and customized product and service offerings to customers, multiplicity and specialized suppliers and partners.
  • The value adding and support processes for delivery of products and services would be accordingly changing and the issue of quality and segmented offerings based on cost, time, quality specs and parameters would increase, as occupations shift from employees doing jobs to becoming service providers. Demographic dividend might be offset with workforce migrations and cross cultural issues and managing diversity might become great in demand.

How better the future shall be with the technology may not be known and gross happiness quotient for the society may remain the same. As life spans increase, the retirement age will increase. and there is a greater span to learn more skills, to unlearn and relearn. People as a result might become more flexible in approach and open to newer things and innovations.

On the whole we are in an exciting time, a transformational phase and change management skills shall be put to test.

For the likes of my tribe who are on cusp of this change and unwilling to accept the settling to old age, longing for one more quest, am aptly reminded of the Alfred Tennyson quote in Ulysses

“Death closes all; but something ere the end,

Some work of noble note, may yet be done.

….Come, my friends,

“Tis not too late to seek a newer world.

Push off, and sitting well in order smite

The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds

To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths

Of all the western stars, until I die.

…..Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and tho’

We are not now that strength which in old days

Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;

One equal temper of heroic hearts,

Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will

         To strive to seek, to find, and not to yield.”

Author- Nagendra Prasad is currently employed as Director – Human Resources with Apeejay Stya and Svran Group, New Delhi. He is an alumnus of Institute of Rural Management, Anand (IRMA) and has worked earlier with National Dairy Development Board, TATA Group and the LNJ Bhilwara Group in senior positions. He has two decades of work experience in the field of Human Resources Management, Business Excellence, Corporate Communications and Corporate Affairs.

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