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Partnering with a more human resource

Bring it On! It Takes More Than a Gas Leak to Prevent HR Leaders From Exploring the Future of Work

By Erin Siemens, Division Vice President and General Manager, National Account Services

Human Resources (HR) leaders are a tough bunch. You wouldn’t think it to look at us, but it takes a lot to keep us from learning more about our discipline and the trends impacting the workforces we support.

That’s why it was especially gratifying to participate as a panelist during the FT-ADP® Evolution of Work Forum conducted recently in Chicago. Despite a news-breaking gas leak in downtown Chicago that day, which shut down trains and delayed car traffic, a tenacious and fortunate bunch of us gathered for an intimate discussion over dinner about how businesses must evolve to attract and retain top talent, while managing performance, productivity and security.

Keynote speaker Alexandra Levit ignited the evening’s conversation with her presentation about what she calls the three C’s of future work: Collaboration, customization and creativity. Levit has impressive credentials and has conducted proprietary research on the future of work, the Millennial generation, gender differences and bias, and the skills gap.

Based on her research and experience, Levit shared these three insights.

  1. Increasingly, collaboration at work will be defined by a trend toward employees “partnering” with intelligent machines in an environment where a greater number of devices will communicate with one another and human judgment will guide the work they do.
  2. Technology that has emerged in the consumer space will continue to integrate into the business environment. This trend, Levit says, is giving rise to other trends, such as virtual work, holocracy which is when decision-making is spread evenly among members of an organization rather than being driven by “upper” management, and swarming, which occurs when a company shares the majority of its knowledge with customers and competitors, and keeps a small portion to gain a competitive advantage.
  3. Customized work arrangements, such as flex time, will continue to evolve as a burgeoning Millennial workforce influences HR policies.

The three C’s of future of work set the stage perfectly for our panel discussion on “Strategies to Define the Future Workplace.” I came armed with insights from the 2016 ADP Research Institute® Evolution of Work study – a global look at 2,000 employees and employers across 13 countries. That study reveals that there are five key themes driving global workplace change: Workplace flexibility, access to real-time learning, increased autonomy, a sense of stability, and the ability to work on projects that are personally meaningful.

Our discussion was pretty lively. Brian Little, head of human resources for Zurich® North America, and Ravin Jesuthasan, managing director and global practice leader for Willis Towers WatsonTM, shared their viewpoints on the impact evolving technology is having on the workplace and on the caliber of talent that today’s companies are screening.

They both made the point that technology in the workplace has evolved from replacing entire jobs in blue-collar industries to now replacing certain tasks and skills of workers in white-collar industries. As technology continues to accelerate, they said, it creates talent gaps, which result from technology replacing certain skills and our educational system not equipping our incoming talent with the skills they need to be successful. These talent gaps, they suggested, are creating a shortage of qualified candidates and shifting the responsibility to businesses for filling the gaps.

Despite the challenges, the panel concluded that there are three opportunities emerging from this workforce trend:

  1. As technology continues to become more integrated into workplace tasks, we should cultivate human attributes such as creativity, empathy, and collaboration, which may become even more valuable in an evolving workplace. We agreed that technology will never replace people, but it may create new jobs we’ve never imagined that require a distinctly “human” approach to the work.
  2. Businesses may want to consider redirecting their workforce talent to focus on growing new lines of business. Technology by itself will make their organizations more efficient, but if that efficiency comes at the expense of headcount reductions, it may be difficult to sustain a competitive advantage or nurture a long-term human capital management strategy.
  3. It’s in our own best interest to create programs that help our existing employees develop the skills that enable them to professionally grow and establish professional alliances. Doing so will fill our talent pipeline with the caliber of skilled, knowledgeable individuals businesses will need to sustain the workplace of the future.

In the end, gas-leaks notwithstanding, we had a valuable discussion and came away more informed with useful perspectives.

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  1. Technology is wonderful and necessary in today’s workplace. However, human interaction is still needed and necessary for the technology to be beneficial.

  2. Technology is a great tool, but it is only as good as the end-user applying it correctly

    • Katie, that is so true! There are so many people in this world that don’t know how to use the technology they are provided which leads to disastrous results. Not everyone is tech savvy.

  3. Technology is great however you still need the human factor!

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