Workforce of the Future: 7 Major Trends

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In my new e-book, Workforce of the Future: Building Change Adaptability, 2nd Edition, released in early September, I identify seven key issues that present challenges and opportunities to both employers and workers. While not a definitive list of workplace issues, they are a synthesis of many intersecting developments that will influence the success of organizations in the coming years. Here are highlights from this section of the e-book.

1) Decentralized and Specialized Work
The trend towards decentralized (or virtual) work has gained momentum in the past decade due to two key drivers: a) rapid advances in information communication technologies, and b) the growth of newly industrialized countries whose appetite for creating wealth and jobs for their citizens is insatiable. Decentralized work, in contrast to outsourcing and offshoring jobs, involves work being carried out in a non-traditional setting characterized by organizational walls, management structures, bureaucracy, policies, culture and so forth.

More and more of occupations are under threat of being virtualized. Examples range from newspaper photographers to radiologists to translators to airline booking agents. Referred to as the cloud workforce, people around the world now bid for contract work. Talent exchange companies such as Elance.com, oDesk.com and Freelancer maintain virtual staffs that compete for work. The result is the steady pushing down of wage rates. Those who have earned healthy incomes in the past in their fields of specialty face much lower revenues. Some would argue that this trend represents a race to the bottom of the wage barrel; others would argue that this is positive since it disperses jobs and income generation to less wealthy countries.


2) Workplace Diversity

North America’s cultural diversity is steadily growing, although its geographic distribution is skewed towards major urban and metropolitan areas. This in itself poses certain challenges for areas such as the Atlantic Provinces and parts of New England and the Mid-West, which face more static, homogeneous populations. The cultural dynamics of Toronto, New York City, Los Angeles, Vancouver, Calgary and Montreal are rapidly affecting the composition of the workplace.

Combined with cultural diversity is the issue of an ageing population, which brings with it different value sets among the main age groups. Concerns have been expressed by a number of organizational experts on a clash of values among Boomers, Gen X and Gen Y, with respect to how work is carried out, the ability to make decisions, being able to work independently, sharing leadership and challenging authority. Addressing these dynamics presents significant challenges for leaders in the coming years.


3) The Networked Workplace

Social networks are rapidly becoming what Don Tapscott has called “the new operating system of business.” Of note is the workplace of relationships extends well beyond face-to-face interactions to increasingly virtual ones. Whether through webstreaming, Skype, new video-conference technology or social media, people will connect however they want, whenever they want and wherever they want. Corporate policies aimed at repressing the use of social media on intranets, for example, will become an exercise in futility as smart phones and tablets circumvent these policies.

The leadership challenge, therefore, will be how to align and focus the use of technologies to support the organization’s mission, objectives and priorities.

How will your organization adapt to these changes?


4) I am my “Brand”

If the traditional employment contract is broken, and if workers are expected to be lifelong learners, then it’s logical to assume that people must take personal responsibility for their career development. In keeping with the trend of social media, it’s all about personal brand, building credibility, your network and knowledge so that you remain one step ahead of your competitors.

As much as organizations must pay closer attention to their brand, so too must individuals in a competitive global labour market. Social media provides the platform on which people will market themselves to the world. The “I am my brand” metaphor is very important from a lifelong learning and personal adaptability perspective. It’s about how employees pay ongoing attention to their skills development, the building of their learning and experience portfolio, and how they seek out new opportunities.


5) Self-Reliance Through Continuous Learning

The gradual death of the traditional employment contract, the fallout from the Great Recession, different value sets held by younger generations, the growing emphasis on knowledge work, and globalization are among the major factors that have spawned the emergence of personal self-reliance. This trend is most prominent among Gen Y, but is also valued by Gen X. Baby Boomers have been caught off guard by this, and many feel betrayed after devoting themselves to their companies for three decades.

The new loyalty to organizations, as noted above, will be oriented towards one’s career development. Continuous skill development, knowledge acquisition, personal networks and value-added work experience will be among the most highly valued benefits an organization can provide to employees. This is where the reciprocal relationship will evolve between employees and the employer–the new employment contract. Taking personal responsibility for one’s learning is the most important strategic decision an employee will make.


6) Sharing Knowledge: Anytime, Anywhere, Anyhow 

The workplace of the future will encompass a variety of means of sharing information and knowledge. The traditional “water cooler” chat will not necessarily disappear, but will be largely replaced by the use of social media –call it the virtual water cooler.

Social media tools will become the new way of doing business. This will provoke conversations within organizations on whether access to social media sites should be blocked. This is an issue that is being vigorously debated within government. Gens X and Y, the latter especially, work horizontally in real-time, and believe that social media should be incorporated into the workplace.

Smart 21st Century organizations embrace their employees’ use of social media. A survey by Manpower explains the transformational power of social media to improve productivity, innovation, collaboration, corporate brand and employee engagement. The survey reveals that three quarters of organizations do not have formal policies dealing with the use of social media at work. The leadership challenge, therefore, is figuring how to effectively integrate social media tools within business practices while minimizing potential security risks.


7) Leading in a Globalized Workplace

The greatest personal challenge for those leading others is building adaptability to a rapidly changing labor market. Leaders must deal increasingly with ambiguities, the unknown and unpredictability. They won’t have the clear cut answers their followers will demand, in contrast to past decades where managers were expected to have definitive answers for employees’ questions.

In contrast to the past where changes were observed shortly after they occurred and where sufficient time was present to adjust course, the increasing velocity of change doesn’t allow time for plans to make corrections. This means that leaders need to become both change agents within the organization and adaptable learners as they see change occurring. This presents a whole new dimension to leadership, or what could be called 3-D leadership.


To create the incentive to think seriously about future strategy, you have to create a deep sense of restlessness with the status quo. You have to help people understand that current success is very impermanent.

– Gary Hamel

Workforce of the Future Footer CoverClick here to download my complimentary e-book Workforce of the Future: Building Change Adaptability, 2nd Edition.

 

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Jim TaggartTake a moment to meet Jim.

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