The Digital Workforce: What Does the Future Hold?

By Elena Stoyanova posted 07-29-2020 15:59

the future of work
Covid-19 has tremendously shaken the work patterns in the corporate sector especially. “Remote working” “working from home” has accelerated a trend already happening at some offices: “the digitalisation of the workforce”. What does this mean and how to be best prepared to approach the future of work?
Covid-19 and its challenges: finding the work-life balance when working from home 
The Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) has surprised and shaken the world as we know it. The last time we faced a pandemic was the Spanish Influenza in 1918. COVID-19 has forced organisations to make drastic changes to make sure they survive. Organisations have had to fire, furlough and allow their employees to work from home (WFH) or remote working, a change that many organisations thought would never happen so soon. COVID 19 has accelerated the phenomenon of WFH and remote working, something many organisations like the Technology Industry thought would not be possible in the current times. How could their employees work on projects without being in office, it was quickly found that something that was thought to be impossible is more than possible. WFH made it possible for many companies to stay afloat and not have to fire massive numbers of employees. Employees were able to adapt to WFH quickly, they did not have to commute to work, they could work in their pyjamas, and were able to spend more time with their significant others or children. WFH looked like it would be a fantastic time, and life would be much more comfortable. 
However, like any relationship, the “honeymoon” phase only lasts for so long. That one to two-hour commute that was being saved or being used as an excuse “sorry I am heading to/from the office can I replay that question when I get to the office/home”, was now more time to work. Work started much earlier and ended much later than being at the office. You are supposed to be available all the time for countless virtual meetings because you are at home and have nowhere to go, you have no time to wind down, the time you wanted to spend with your family has gone. The Work/Life balance that was built while working at the office has gone out of the window. This is where the Human Resources (HR) comes in; HR needs to be the champions of their employees. HR needs to step in and explain that not all 24 hours of the day belongs to the organisation. Employees have a personal life as well. Even though work has moved to the home, the Work/Life balance has not changed, employees will burn out if they are working all the time.
However, COVID-19 has brought upon an increase in technology and digitalisation which will be covered in the next section

Technology and the future of work: leading digitally 
“Automation means taking the robot out of the human” this is what Blue Prism’s employees mentioned during the “HR & The Future of Work” webinar with LSE HR Society and remained in our minds. Automation may take over some back-office jobs, but it also presents opportunities to transition employees into more value-additive roles researchers say. This software, which is designed to carry out simpler, more repetitive human tasks, such as data entry, accounted for about 7% of repetitive work in 2014. It will rise to 23% by 2020, according to a Willis Towers Watson study. That means that, by next year, RPA will be doing nearly a quarter of back-office chores. In addition, the digital worker means that it takes off the low value and repetitive task and enables the human workforce to focus on the strategic and creative aspects of their task. For instance, in Human Resources, a manager that previously spent around X (number of hours) hours to execute a payroll, can now focus almost exclusively on how to adjust the organisations’ reward packages. Updating and rethinking these are very much likely to have a strong positive effect on the satisfaction and productivity of the workforce. By taking away repetitive tasks, research suggests that job satisfaction increases since it would give more responsibility and creative-driven tasks to people. Additionally, it is very likely to increase employee attrition, important issues organisations are facing since turnover costs more than X on average per year. In other words, instead of ‘the robot taking the place of the human’, it takes the ‘robot out of the human’.

With the transition to digitalisation and including robots in our working life, it is therefore fundamental to also have people who could manage and lead in the digital world. You wonder who they are? They are so-called digital leaders. Digital leaders are not so different from the leaders before the digital transformation. They do have strategic views of the company’s digital assets such as people for instance and they look for ways on how to achieve their business goals. What is really important for the digital leaders is again not so distinct from the traditional leaders. They need to have a vision. For example, to ask the people what they want. In addition to that, a digital leader in our opinion should think about the vision as if going to speak on a Ted-Talk, e.g. what would they want to talk about there?  Moreover, they need to be flexible. As mentioned above, now with the pandemic people can work from anywhere. Big companies like Google, Twitter, Siemens and others now allow their employees to work from home or from anywhere forever which shows how flexible they are, also that they trust their employees and believe in their productivity even outside the office environment. Furthermore, they not only show what their experience is but rather what their expectations are. To continue with, another aspect which is essential is the collaboration which now has a different meaning than it had before the pandemic. The digital leaders now need to offer support to the activity’s employees are completing online. Moreover, they need to take into consideration the style they’re using. For example, not to be too autocratic and demanding. However, to still require things to get done but instead of saying ‘can you do it in 1 hour’ rather ask them ‘can you do this by tomorrow 5 pm/9am’. In this way, they allow more time, flexibility and trust in their employees even if they work online, which is greatly appreciated by them and thus their productivity and satisfaction remain on a decent level. In this context of digitalisation of work, the function of Human Resources is changing and is adopting an increasingly strategic role (FT, 2019). 
The strategic role of Human Resources in the digital transformation. HR as a driver for change
Through its people, Human Resources are drivers for organisational change by having a holistic view of the organization. The route for digital transformation requires more than ever HR to promote the human touch and ensure employee experience. Indeed, on the one hand, HR has to bring technology to support people and enhance employee experience. This supposes driving culture change to be more adaptable and tech aware. On the other hand, it also has to ensure that technology does not replace people’s interactions and that workplaces embrace technology while keeping the human aspect. The worst scenario for organisations transitioning to the digital sphere is that they rely entirely on technology. How to find the balance?
Blue Prism has four main elements central to this. First, developing and supporting strong leadership. Leaders and more particularly transformational leaders, who gather their people around a common vision to implement change, enhance the motivation, morale and performance of their people. Second, policies and processes have to be aligned with the wider organisation, to fit the purpose between the HR goals and the wider goals. Indeed, when organisations go through fundamental changes, it can create disconnections in the organisation between people and it is important to emphasise the connection and interdependencies. Third, organisational commitment through clear and constant communication is key: to make the digital transformation positively, it is not just about the physical or financial resources but about the psychological and the can-do attitude that supports its employees. This is even more important since there are a number of misconceptions about the consequences of the digitalisation of work especially in terms of job security as suggests the popular motto ‘the robots will take our jobs’.  This leads us to the fourth element central to promote humanity in a workplace that embraces technology: involvement. It is important to democratise the digitisation process by involving employees in the process of designing, testing, advocating and understanding what people want from a new HR digitised system. 
Supporting its people through L&D
Organisations need to reskill their workforce to be more prepared for the future. In particular, all activities related to learning and development will be increasingly important since managers will have to figure out how to lead teams virtually, build team and organisational culture via distance (McKinsey, 2020). It is key to put the human at the centre of the organisation since people will be the ‘glue that binds technology together’. 
Diversity is another theme on the top of the leadership’s agenda. An increasing amount of research proves the benefits of a diverse workforce. Yet, in the technology world, women only make a small fraction of the technology industry: 3% of women say a career in technology is their first choice (PwC, 2020) and according to the National Centre for Women & Information Technology (2016), of the 25% of women working in tech in the US, 5% of them are Asian, black women are 3% of them and Hispanic only 1 %. Organisations need to encourage women, in particular, to apply to the technology industry to prevent a wide gender gap that may only increase since the world of work tends to be more digitalised. A real effort has to be made to bring people a more diverse and inclusive workforce from diverse backgrounds (disability, black ethic minority LGBT+). Unconscious biases still exist, and HR has a key role to play in ensuring a diverse and inclusive workplace through staying connected and facilitating self-directed learning. 
In a world that is increasingly digitised, Human Resources play a strategic role in enhancing ‘people skills’, emotional intelligence, relationship skills, and the ability to think creatively in shaping the future of work. 

#HR #humanresources (click the tags to see related content!)

Written by: Elena Stoyanova, Mazzarine Studer & Rishi Sharma - Co-Founders & Committee Members of the HR Society at LSE 

Elena Rishi Mazzarine LSE logo


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