The future of the workplace

Looking ahead: how the workplace is continuing to evolve

Business

11 February 2022

There’s no doubt that the workplace is ever-evolving. From developments in technology to changes in the wants and needs of employees, the rate of change at work is rapid.

This shows no signs of slowing down as technology continues to develop. A report commissioned by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy in 2021 highlighted studies that have pointed to the potential replacement of human workers as these technologies become more commonplace over the coming decades; ‘Our base case estimate is that around 7% of existing UK jobs could face a high (over 70%) probability of automation over the next 5 years, rising to around 18% after 10 years and just under 30% after 20 years’.1 However they also emphasised that ‘past research suggests that AI and related technologies should be significantly positive for productivity and real income levels, boosting UK GDP by up to 10% by 2030.’1 So perhaps a welcome transition for some, depending on the industry in which you work.

The changing workplace

So what may be in store for the future of work? Rohit Talwar, a global futurist, author and CEO of Fast Future Publishing said, “Some suggest that 50% or more of the jobs people do today could simply disappear to be replaced by automation in the next 10-20 years. People will also routinely live to 100 or more, so in a typical working lifespan you might have 20 jobs across 5-10 different careers. The nature of work will also change with automation. Humans will do less of the routine and focus more on project work. We’ll have fewer full-time roles and more people will have a portfolio of income streams from side hustles.” It’s not just technology and automation that’s shaking things up. A younger generation of employees coming into the workplace is also resulting in change.

“Employers can really learn from Generation Y and how they have upped the pace in the workplace” said Jo Geraghty, co-founder of Culture Consultancy. “Change is faster than it’s ever been and that’s only going to accelerate with Generation Z coming in”.

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How can business leaders prepare for a changing workplace?

With technology becoming more and more advanced, the need for employees to have digital skills is becoming greater. According to ONS data, 8% of adults in the UK were not recent internet users in 20202. A report by the Centre for Economics and Business Research also estimated that 6.9 million people will remain digitally excluded by 2028.3 “The challenge for those not raised with a digital mindset is to learn how to evolve and compete in the new environment”, said Rohit Talwar. “Can we get there by simply deploying more technology or do we need to develop a digital and exponential mindset? We will need a very flexible organisation design that allows us to pull together teams quickly that are a mix of employees, external partners, contractors, specialist software tools, suppliers and customers. And we will need people who can manage and get the best out of all of them.”

Business leaders and their teams will need to adopt a growth mindset in order to prepare for and manage the inevitable change that advancements in technology will bring to the workplace.

“To keep up with the pace of change and the speeding up of society, we’ll need to equip ourselves with the skills required to navigate an uncertain future. This means ‘learning how to learn’ using rapid learning approaches and simulation-based training. Core skills will include problem-solving, scenario planning, design thinking, systems understanding and collaboration. It also means embracing a digital mindset, adopting exponential rather than linear thinking and seeking more than 100% improvements across the organisation. To ensure the business does not get complacent, and stays alert and innovative, we will need to hire mavericks,

encourage experimentation and have a reward structure that positively encourages people to learn and look for new ideas”, said Rohit Talwar. This desire that business leaders and employees will need to have to keep up with the rate of change in the workplace through learning and development is echoed by Parveen Dhanda, Head of Future Fifty at Tech Nation – “People are taking more control of their own learning and development. For technical training, people look for on-demand, digital, tutorial based micro-learning. Classroom learning tends to be for the softer skills around people management. Business owners are investing in this because they want to develop leaders.”

How to teach your team to manage change

So, we know that business leaders and their teams must learn to navigate an uncertain future, especially in this post-pandemic era. But how? According to Leadership Strategist and Forbes contributor Glenn Llopis, there are five things effective leaders should teach their teams to prepare for and manage change:

  1. Clarify the issues: Take time to understand the challenges your organisation is facing. Gaining clarity means you and your team can spend less time managing risks, and more time seizing opportunities, ‘Just ask companies like Kodak, Blackberry and Blockbuster, who lost clarity when they didn’t see through the right lens of opportunity.’4
  2. Embrace diversity of thought: True collaboration means embracing the different ways people think, act and innovate. ‘For example, are you a seer, sower, grower and/or sharer of opportunity? When these four skills are brought together as one, they produce an optimal collaborative environment that breeds the most successful teams and a workplace culture that continuously propels innovation and initiative.’4
  3. Strengthen your ecosystem: This essentially means getting the right people together, to solve problems, seize opportunities and achieve clear goals; ‘Opportunities are everywhere, but few have the eyes to see them. Within the right ecosystem, one can see what others don’t, do what others won’t, and keep pushing when prudence says quit.’4
  4. Create competitive advantage: Now that you have clarity on the issues, have created a collaborative environment to produce new ideas, and are comfortable challenging old ways of doing things, your team will be ready to create competitive advantage; ‘Creating competitive advantage is about finding what your team is best at doing and then keep improving upon it.’4
  5. Encourage critical & strategic thinking: Achieving steps 1-4 requires a team to be courageous and their leaders to encourage that boldness. And when it’s necessary to evolve, it means that your team is able to ‘See opportunity in everything, anticipate the unexpected, unleash their passionate pursuit of excellence, live with an entrepreneurial spirit, work with a generous purpose, [and] lead to leave a legacy together.’4

Now is a good time for small business leaders to strengthen and prepare their teams for the changes ahead, whatever they may be. By strengthening your business and team in these ways, you can create competitive advantage and be better prepared for change during the best and worst of times.

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Sources and references

1The Impact of AI on Jobs - A report by PwC for the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy 2021

2Office for National Statistics, Internet Users, UK: 2020

3CEBR, The Economic Impact of Basic Digital Skills and Inclusion in the UK, 2018

45 Ways Leaders Strengthen & Prepare their Teams for Change, 2014

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