Future of Work

Wendy Kelly
Wendy N. Kelly, MSHRM, PHR, SHRM-CP
How do you make sure you adapt to the constant changes in the workplace to keep your company competitive and your employees satisfied? The “future of work” is the proactive study of how work will shift in the next decade due to changes in society and technology.

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Peer reviewed by Ryan Archibald

What Is the Future of Work?

The Future of Work is a concept that acknowledges the changing nature of work as technological and social shifts inevitably continue both inside and outside the workplace. It helps businesses consider how they can prepare to meet those changes proactively.

Organizations have a tremendous opportunity to transform and adapt to the changing workplace. By continually redesigning work, you can drive growth, better anticipate uncertainty, and create a workplace that top talent is eager to join.

The future of work includes questions like how will your organization transition to a remote, flexible and/or hybrid work model? How will you adapt your processes and operating models and revamp strategic planning? And most importantly, how will you keep your organization attracting and retaining top talent?

Why It Is Important to Think About the Future of Work

Identifying possible changes coming within your organization, industry, region, country and more enables your strategic planning. That planning creates a roadmap to follow when transformation arrives; for instance, you’ll be ready with budgets for special projects and/or the personnel necessary to launch potential new products and grow your organization.

Trends That Will Impact the Future of Work

Now is the time to anticipate major changes in your workforce. How will your employee demographics change? How might climate change impact your business and your workforce? Here are a few specific trending issues that will extend into the future.

1. Remote Work

Remote work allows employees to work outside the traditional office environment, and is based on the concept that work does not need to be done in a specific location to be successful.

Starting with the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, remote work came to be seen as normal. As of 2021, some of the top remote work insights are:

  • More remote jobs are becoming available. A 2020 Enterprise Technology Research survey of CIOs found that the percentage of permanently remote workers was projected to double in 2021 to 34.3%, compared to the pre-pandemic 16.4%.
  • The United States is the top country in the world for hiring remote employees.
  • Cyber concerns have increased; for instance, accessing sensitive company data through unsecured wifi networks, or sharing files in unprotected ways.
  • Workers are happier working remotely. In an Owls Lab study, 83% stated that they prefer to work remotely.

Many, if not most, large corporations (including Twitter, Facebook, and Nationwide Mutual Insurance Company) have shifted to some sort of remote work as an option for their employees.

Consider: How has your organization adapted to remote work? How do you need to prepare for even more of it, if or when it is demanded in the near and long-term future?

2. Flexible Work

Flexible work is also a rising trend. It was previously managed as an accommodation, such as when an employee requested a different schedule or remote work due to illness. Now, flexibility supports both the employer’s and employee’s needs to achieve performance and work-life balance, and is a driving force for many job seekers.

Work flexibility provides employees control and freedom over when and where they work, and can help them adapt to life changes. An example of flex work is allowing employees to set their own schedule, as when parents might work hours outside the organization’s normal business hours. Other examples include an employee who is required to work 40 hours per week and is given the autonomy to determine their own weekly schedule to meet the hours required; or job sharing, where two or more employees share job responsibilities.

Consider: What are your current policies around flexible work requests? As employees continue to expect more such options, what new policies and procedures will allow you to respond to their requests?

3. Employee Experience

What employees expect from their workplace is a moving target, both from societal changes like the pandemic and younger generations’ focus on values and work/life balance. Rather than merely focusing on a paycheck, more and more people choose to work for companies that encourage work/life balance, build a culture of safety, wellness, and collaboration, and reflect their personal values. As those desires continue to impact which organizations win top performers, you had best determine how you will respond.

Organizations that demonstrate a commitment to their employees’  well-being experience a strong ROI. That includes physical, mental, financial, and social well-being.

Employees seek workplace equity: the concept of providing fair opportunities for all your employees based on each employee’s needs. Fostering an equitable workplace begins with cultivating a safe environment that allows for open discussion and understanding.

People are no longer content to work for organizations that do not actively support personal values such as environmental sustainability and other issues of corporate responsibility.

Consider: How can you increase and/or communicate more clearly your company’s commitment to employee wellness? How will your organization enact, measure, and communicate diversity, equity, and inclusive initiatives? Where does social responsibility fall in your strategic planning? What other employee values can you anticipate becoming important in the coming years? What talent and budget will you need for this area of development?

4. Workforce Automation

More than likely, your organization uses some type of automated software. Workforce automation replaces labor with machines and/or technology to complete repetitive, easily replicated tasks without human labor. Email marketing is one form of automation; for example, Constant Contact provides a service that allows users to tailor the parameters of their email marketing campaign, which runs automatically.

Another example of automated software is Eddy, which allows HR to automate tasks such as onboarding, payroll, timekeeping and benefits administration.

Consider: As artificial intelligence continues to develop in leaps and bounds, how will you harness it? Do you have the skills and budget that will be needed to do so?

5. Gig Economy

Gig workers are independent contractors, on-call workers, and freelancers who do temporary work. It’s a robust and growing industry with significant impact on the workplace. The freedom to work at your own pace, set your own hours, and work as much or little as you want is attractive to these workers.

In 2021, the gig economy was popular and growing.

  • Approximately 34% of the workforce were involved in the gig economy even before the pandemic.
  • 50% of full-time gig workers felt more financially secure.
  • Wages and participation in gigs increased by 33% in 2020.
  • 70% of freelancers cite a better work-life balance as the reason they choose the gig economy.

Consider: How can your organization benefit from the gig economy? What research, knowledge and processes will you need in place to do so?

How to Invest in Future-of-work Initiatives

How can you form a plan to evaluate and adapt to the changing workplace now and into the future? Your initiatives need to respond to today’s issues and empower your people and your organization to thrive in a constantly changing environment into the future.

Here are steps you can follow to develop your company’s plans to embrace the future of work.

Step 1: Set Your Goals

Investing in the future of work will impact everyone in the company. Bring these issues to senior leadership and provide HR knowledge and perspective into each. Once the objectives have been identified, you will be able to identify the skills, knowledge, budget and talent needed to support them.

Step 2: Communicate and Involve Your Employees

Change can be difficult for many, and successful change is typically bottom-up that involves the entire team. Don’t plan and then tell your employees what you’re going to do. Involve them in the process. Before change is implemented, gather insight and feedback from your employees on their preferences. A few methods to gather feedback include:

  • Employee focus groups. Convene a small group that represents all employees and roles, from leadership to entry positions, to brainstorm what they’d like to see in the future or review the changes being considered.
  • Anonymous employee surveys. Whether you use a platform like Google or Survey Monkey, this allows every employee to be involved and give you feedback..

Once a decision has been formulated, communicate it to your employees as soon as possible. Being transparent about the company’s new direction is key.

Step 3: Embrace Change/Innovation

Embracing change and innovation improves an organization’s ability to identify challenges and opportunities for change while maintaining effectiveness during it. Change and innovation are not led by a few people at the top of your company; it requires all your employees. To embrace change and promote innovation, consider the following:

  1. Host brainstorming sessions spark creativity, to solve a problem, generate new ideas for the improvement of a product, organization, or strategy.
  2. Lead by example by sharing your decision-making processes with your team. Encourage others to think about advantages and disadvantages and give you feedback.
  3. Reward innovative thinking by giving employees the autonomy to move forward with an idea, without feeling any pressure or fear of failure.

Step 4: Train Your Employees

Training your employees is an opportunity to expand the knowledge base of your employees. Training and development provide both your organization and your employee the benefits that make the cost and time a worthwhile investment. For example, training your employees helps with avoiding making mistakes that result from their lack of information and knowledge, it also helps your company increase employee retention, gain loyalty, and ultimately boost organizational productivity.

Step 5: Invest in the Right Resources

As the pace of change accelerates, it is imperative that organizations invest in resources, it is the key element to a growing company. Today, organizations are dealing with a mass amount of data that is almost impossible to manage manually, and the risk of mistakes could cost your organization significantly.

Investing in solutions such as Eddy that addresses your needs to deal with the massive amount and complexity of information is vital.

By implementing a tool such as Eddy, your organization can reduce the time spent on analyzing information from hours to seconds while ensuring that every document is processed with the accuracy of the most efficient human expert, reducing the risk of mistakes significantly.

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Questions You’ve Asked Us About the Future of Work

What are some jobs that will disappear in the future?
Constantly evolving technology has and will continue to make some jobs obsolete. In the future, this may happen to travel agents, postal services mail sorters, and switchboard operators.
What are factors that influence the future of work?
Factors that influence the future of work are technology, demographic, social and environmental changes.
Wendy Kelly
Wendy N. Kelly, MSHRM, PHR, SHRM-CP

Wendy is a HR professional with over 10 years of HR experience in education and health care, both in the private and non-profit sector. She is the owner of KHRServices, a full service HR management agency. She is also SHRM and HRCI certified, serves as a HRCI Ambassador, and voted 2021 Most Inclusive HR Influencer.

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