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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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44 Comments

  1. Agree – collabaration is more important than ever with so many processes being automated.

  2. Very insightful article. The 3 C’s seem to be an emerging trend within several organizations. I’ve come across 3 to 4 C’s having attended various seminars. The underlying theme is that technology is the driving force with all industry landscapes.

  3. sometimes technology outpaces the workforce’s knowledge on how to use it

  4. What an exciting time to be able to see the benefits of technology being leveraged in new and different ways. The challenge is for business to evolve to take best advantage and the company which is able to nurture and bring along the talent to this new model will be the big winner.

  5. I really think flexible work schedules builds trust and loyalty with younger employees

  6. Nice job of working through the challenges.

  7. very useful information.

  8. Growing new lines of business is an interesting approach, however, growth in general should address the concerns of reduced headcount.

  9. As an HRIS Analyst, I’m driving my organization toward technology (manager- and employee-self-service, self-directed performance management, etc.) and it has proven difficult to convince upper management that technology does not necessarily mean staff reduction, but rather an ability to refocus that staff to strategy instead of tasks.

  10. Technology can help with employee engagement. In this day an age, a company should be able to allow their employees (within reason) to telecommute; however, they are reluctant to even if the technology is in place to do so. You can still collaborate even though you are not in the same location.

  11. Technology is our greatest weakness and strength at the same time

  12. Insightful perspectives.

  13. very great article

  14. very interesting

  15. Great read! Thanks!

  16. Love the idea of flex time!

  17. I agree with the comment that technology is our greatest strength and weakness. It’s amazing how quickly a well-run operation can come to a screeching halt when the power goes out or the computer network or internet is down. While we should embrace new technologies that will make our businesses grow beyond our wildest dreams, we should also remember that it’s the people in our businesses that remain our greatest and strongest assets.

  18. In the manufacturing world, it is interesting to see how Technology is replacing jobs that were once occupied by employees. The trends that can be forecasted and the ability to increase production output. It is key to remember, that at some point technology might go to far or be relied on by employees to have technology do the thinking for them.

  19. Great insight on technology advancing our work place processes. One challenge we have is always balancing expectations of automation vs. the opportunity for human interaction!

  20. Technology is great but human interaction is the key

  21. I still like the human aspect of any interaction more than the “machine”

  22. Technology has allowed us to be flexible and complete many aspects of our HR role remotely. However, technology should not replace the human interaction at work, especially between HR and employees.

  23. There needs to be a balance between technology and human interaction

  24. Technology has increasingly helped us with shared services and having employees that work remotely. It has increased the opportunity to have communication and more human interaction.

  25. Working remotely is one of the best things to come out of all the technology.

  26. Technology is great but should not/can not replace human interaction.

  27. Technology is great but it can never replace human interaction.

  28. It’s important to find the blend between technology and humanity. I have a remote HRM role, but at the same time I’m accessible by phone and in person when needed. We should never lose the personal touch.

  29. Technology and the human aspect working together create can create a dynamic experience for employees/

  30. The balance between the two is so greatly important. One is meant to support and ease aspects of the other.

  31. New Technology helps humans expand there knowledge and turns them into more of an analytical thinker instead of just a day to day processor.

  32. I think technology is very important, but we can’t forget it doesn’t replace the importance of human interaction.

  33. Technology is great, but people still have to learn how to use it.

  34. Technology should be used as a tool to work with, not to do the work for you.

  35. Technology is a wonderful tool, but it is only as good as the people using it correctly.

  36. No only do we need to find a balance. We need to find a way to use those with a less technical background and those who are highly adept, find ways to make all work together and include technology that most people are using daily.

  37. I think that to much technology it to much, we need to get back to basic

  38. Balance is a serious support requirement as well as a keeping the technology simple

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

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

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

  42. 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.

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