Workplaces of the future will have simpler processes, inverted competencies, and an emphasis on relationships, not merely employee engagement – says Richard Cowley.
In the broadest sense, the definition of a workplace has not changed over the decades. It is still an area where people work such as an office or factory or an individual’s place of employment. However, we can see reality evolving faster than the definition. The reality is that a home, car, cafe and train have become extensions of the traditional office or field of work. The workplace is changing, and how. What was once buddy-buddy in the same office has now changed to virtual teams spread across several geographies. Open plan offices have emerged in place of the traditional rabbit hutch floor plan.
As technology takes over the world, we look at how the management of human resources is set to change in office spaces and how we can make the most of it.
Add to that the growing trend of ‘hot desking’ where your workspace changes daily and your in-tray is mobile. Last, but not the least, the transition from face-to-face to email or chat. With constant variation and complexity in these collaborative yet impersonal workplaces, it was inevitable that the traditional structures had to succumb. I have heard that the ‘new’ millennial generation is the main contributor to the evolution of this new workplace. Although I tend to believe that it is simply technology that accelerated this change, if one explores the context further down to the individual job level, the implications of this change are numerous, fuelling the need for a rethink about the future workplace. As individuals, human resource leaders, and organisations, it’s important for us to take note, and adapt. Here’s my list of ways in which workplaces are changing, where they’re headed, and how we can make the most of it.
Technology enables process simplification, which improves productivity and can drive down customer pricing. With the elimination of non-value added work through the use of technology at the basic level, we will start to evaluate established norms and practices and their lack of value, at a more macro level. For example, why get in a car, drive to many shops to see and compare prices when you can review them online and get delivery in less than one day, often at a much reduced price? This will lead to a drive to take out the ‘middle man’ and traditional jobs filled by less educated and skilled masses are going to be hit the worst. The onus, then, is upon young entrants of the workforce to take charge of their careers, evaluate skills from this newfound perspective, and consistently develop them. Employers, too, must pitch in to meet needs of the present, with those of the future in mind.
Gone are the days when your age and seniority meant a higher level of competence. Jobs in fields like law and medicine, where application and experience develop over time, will continue to survive this paradigm. However, for functions such as marketing and sales, the knowledge of technology, awareness of social media tools, and new ways of doing business are held with the young. Hence the inverted competency model, where the young have more to contribute than the experienced. As human resource practitioners, it will be critical that we help our existing leaders, managers and supervisors to be effective in this new paradigm; building conducive structures to enable the young to contribute and lead with authority will be critical for some industries.
Going beyond engagement, towards relationships
We hear a lot of talk about employee engagement these days. I am convinced that the belief that employee engagement is key to retention, is misplaced. If the aim of productive workplaces is to enhance employee-employer relationships, we must build bridges to cross existing gaps. In my view, engagement is merely one brick in the bridge, not the bridge itself. Thinking of an employment contract as a long term relationship will ensure that we value the depth required in building one, versus momentary engagement.
Relationships require considerable commitment from both sides to stay open. The other route is to simply accept that transient workforces will become the norm. We are seeing a rise of self-awareness in the workforce. People seem more tuned to their needs and have well-articulated expectations from their workplace. Some look for an ethical and socially responsible organisation, while others may look for professional development. It is imperative to shape workplaces that take the needs of each one into consideration. The new workplace demands that we focus on the fact that what got us here is not what will get us where we want to be in the future. Beyond the general, and frankly, superficial needs of the workforce such as a pleasant work environment, food stations and gyms, serious considerations are going to determine whether we are going to be remembered as the generation who worked to hold on to the past or those who created the future. The great news is that companies are recognising the newer needs of the workforce, with policies that cover effective social responsibility to enabling greater work-life balance.
Human resource departments are focused on this need, and the transformation required to close the gaps has already commenced. New entrants to the workforce are increasingly aware and vocal about their demands, and this helps businesses take note and adapt, too. Assertive collective action will ensure that we evolve at a pace faster than our surrounding environment, building workplaces that inspire individuals and empower businesses.
This article first appeared in the print and online edition of India Today Aspire.