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Yesterday. Today. Tomorrow: The future of work, workforce and workplace

Today’s workplace is very different from the workplace that existed 24 months ago. It will also differ from what we will witness 24 months from now.

The pandemic has disrupted many norms and well-accepted notions. Work completion was assumed to be dependent on the place of work, and performance on close monitoring and scrutiny, while workplace experience was interlinked to office infrastructure.

That was then. Today, as organisations adjust to newer assumptions, there are more learnings coming their way. The primary one that organisations are grappling with is that of competing expectations of the employee and employer; while the critical factor shaping the work-workforce-workplace of the future is the change in the expectations of organisations and their employees.

While organisations are using technology to move towards a more predictable, automated and controlled work environment, employees are being driven by the purpose of their being, the value they add to the job and to the organisation, and most importantly, their ability to make critical choices around what they do, where they do, when they do and how they do.

Yesterday. Today. Tomorrow: The future of work, workforce and workplace

As we think of our future needs, there are additional dimensions that will likely further transform the world of work, pushing the competing demands of employees and organisations. These include the impact of asymmetry,  demographics and the environment / climate-induced changes that will compel both organisations and employees to take a clear stand.

Accordingly, new employment models are likely to come into play. Designed strategically by factoring in future tax implications could well be a win-win situation for both the employee and the organisation. Irrespective of whether it is to do with a change in role with additional responsibilities - for instance, leading more business verticals or businesses in different geographies or working from one’s home country due to pandemic-led restrictions - employee experience, connectedness, compensation and tax implications for both the employee and the employer would need to be considered with the spotlight on creating life-work synergies. 

Critical challenges shaping the work-workforce-workplace conundrum

Yesterday. Today. Tomorrow: The future of work, workforce and workplace

As is evident from the points of consonance and dissonance between organisations and employees, the future of work needs to be thought of very differently. Employees and their considerations need to be accounted for in the design of work-workforce-workplace strategy to ensure genuine inclusion and adoption of a multi-stakeholder approach for driving sustained outcomes.

Implications for the human capital team within an organisation

If we look at the CEO's priorities and the future of work, it is clear that human capital cannot be treated like a commodity, irrespective of which industry sector and level of workforce we are catering to. The give and take between an organisation and its workforce will have to be that of equals, and the human capital function will be the most important differentiator for the organisation to deliver on its strategy.

This ability of the human capital function to deliver results and remain ahead of the curve will be determined by an understanding of the following critical success factors of the organisations :

  • HR function of the future
  • Organisation of the future
  • Upskilling and capability for the future
  • Transformation agenda for the future

The journey of the human capital function as a true partner to the organisation’s business will entail understanding the paradigm shifts for the business. That is what will set them apart. Further, the role of technology and human capital as partners in the process will need to start with delivering the employee experience, with the employee at the centre of this ecosystem.

A recommended practice to build a culture and mindset for the future and digital would be to transform the employee experience. A customer’s experience will always be an extension of what an employee experiences. Thus seeking an organisation’s employee engagement and experience data could be a good way to understand the probable customer experience the organisation can deliver.  

The role of HR then is cut out in a big way, and prioritising what HR will drive in the context of the organisation to derive sustained outcomes will be key. Needless to say, the single most important differentiator of the HR function within an organisation will be the complete transition from solving the immediate ‘leaking tap for today’ to taking a ‘long and short term prioritised approach’ .

Critical priorities for the long term

Organisations and HR need to consider the following factors to get ready real-time for the future of work:

Yesterday. Today. Tomorrow: The future of work, workforce and workplace

Employee experience centricity

The future of organisations is going to be about taking an employee-centric approach to design the work-workforce- workplace.

  • Organisations may choose to encourage employees to turn up at the workplace because of the assumption that it’s the right thing to do. But if employees don’t see value in it, or the organisation is not able to help them see the differentiation, chances are we may lose these employees to organisations that are designing the workplace equation flexibly. Even worse, they may turn up less motivated and anxious, resulting in reduced productivity.
  • Designing organisation practices that focus on trust and outcomes as a starting point, and at the same time, drive a strong culture of no tolerance for unethical / inappropriate behaviour will be key. Thus focusing on ‘trust on credit’ and ensuring a culture of adherence to organisational standards that is not compromised will be important.

Employee well-being and productivity

A key differentiator for organisations will be about prioritising holistic wellbeing of the employee. As the focus shifts to outcome, the focus on employees getting their entire self to work and delivering value will be critical. This entire self of the employee that drives motivation and productivity includes holistic well-being. Understanding and focusing on an employee’s holistic wellbeing will enable the employee to deliver sustained results. This includes not just physical well-being but also mental-emotional and social well-being. An employee who is physically, mentally and socially well will be able to generate significant value and contribute to the organisation’s growth and success. 

Upskilling for the future of work

The past, present and the future of work are going to evolve constantly. The ability to keep up with this constant evolution while being resilient and focused is going to be one of the biggest mindset requirements of the future. While the onus of making ourselves future ready is going to be an individual expectation, the ability of organisations to drive the right mindset for learning and building the capability to learn will be a key task.

Culture for the future of work

Organisations are transforming their HR function to deliver the above capabilities and practices. While there are sectoral nuances, most organisations realise that more than best practices, the focus is on the critical few differentiators to enable ‘your unique purpose’. The need may be understood differently at different levels and may be experienced differently across sectors. However, one thing is certain: the journey of competitive advantage now and in the future is only through the employee experience route. The ones who own it and transform it first will be the ones to deliver sustained performance and growth.

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Chaitali Mukherjee

Chaitali Mukherjee

Partner, HR transformation, PwC India

Tel: +91 124 626 6620