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Four forces shaping the future of work

There is no doubt that the workplace and the workforce are both evolving faster than ever before. This increasing rate of change can be put down to the growing influence of four main forces, that are each now dramatically evolving to continually shape and re-shape how enterprises and their employees operate.

But what are these four forces? And how are they shaping the future of work, today?

A changing global landscape

The 1960s saw the first wave of what we know today as globalisation, and the subsequent proliferation of multi-national corporations (MNCs). Benefitting from trade deals and cheap overseas labour, organisations used technology to lower costs and increase the speed of moving physical goods across borders.

Today globalisation is much more inclusive. Digital technologies have enabled SMEs and entrepreneurs to enter the fray and scale-up immediately, moving knowledge, ideas, goods, people and services across borders, without requiring the backing of significant financial firepower. We are therefore seeing many disruptive new players entering the international market, and successfully competing with the established big-guns.

However, despite the fact that digital technologies have accelerated the path to international success, a developing global trend has seen the seemingly unstoppable wave of globalisation halted. We are currently in the midst of a global trust crisis, in which the world’s citizens – tired of manipulation, scandal and disparity – are rejecting the so-called establishment in the worlds of business, government and media.

Faced with falling consumer trust, businesses must become more transparent in their dealings with customers, and show an interest in pursuing work that doesn’t revolve around generating a profit, e.g. creating positive environmental change. With renewed clarity and a higher moral purpose, businesses will become the trusted partner that consumers are now looking for.

A new technological ecosystem

With newfound digital tools at their disposal, businesses are now finding themselves in a new technological ecosystem that is redefining how things get done and making new goals achievable.

In a digital world in which customer information can be obtained at every touchpoint, data now has the highest value. If a business has newfound knowledge of specific customers, their likes and dislikes, they can provide them with personalised interactions that can satisfy the customer’s ever-changing expectations. Harnessing this data, and driving insights from it with the right digital skills, is the biggest challenge for businesses going forwards.

The cloud is a tool that is arguably enabling the biggest changes, by empowering enterprises and their employees to become more flexible and more globally distributed. With this enhanced state of connectivity, businesses are now equipped with an on-demand workforce that is always ready to react to new opportunities and collaborate with others, regardless of location.

But flexible working is also providing benefits to employees as well as employers. Now able to complete their roles away from the confines of the office, flexible workers are being granted a newfound level of independence that is resulting in greater employee satisfaction – 72 per cent claim that flexible working has improved their work/life balance. No longer seen by employees as a benefit, but instead a requirement, employers are now under significant pressure to enable flexible working for their staff so that they can retain and attract the top talent.

Socio-demographical changes

As health standards improve, the world’s population is ageing – the number of people aged 60 years or over is expected to more than double by 2050 – and this is being reflected in retirement ages creeping upwards. For the first time in history, we are seeing five generations in the workplace.

With older generations working alongside millennials – a demographic driven by non-traditional workplace values; prioritising technology and self-fulfilment over financial success, and adventure over stability – businesses are challenged with managing inter-generational tensions that are fuelled by differences in mind-sets, values and expectations.

If let unmanaged, these inter-generational differences can negatively impact internal communications, with vital knowledge sharing suffering. But these issues can be overcome by looking at employees through a generational lens, and assessing the distinct qualities of each. Promoting cross-generational teamwork and collaboration is a method that is working for businesses, and breaking down many preconceptions and prejudices.

The rise of the machines

Throughout history, ground-breaking new technologies have been received with some apprehension. Jobs that were held many years ago become surplus to requirements because of breakthroughs in technology, and before long, it's likely that many of the jobs we know today will be performed by machines – this is the nature of technological development.

Machine automation is now very much a reality for organisations. Analytical tasks, data collection and customer services are already being heavily automated, and the benefits in efficiency and cost reductions are clear. As the growth of automation continues – over 50 per cent of jobs could be automated over the next two decades – some workers are inevitably anxious about their futures.

But the reality is that automation is being used to relieve workers of mundane, repetitive tasks. This is leaving employees with greater capacity to take on higher-level responsibilities, and, in some cases, creating new roles. Workers are able to collaborate with the machines to streamline processes, creating greater overall value and putting their experience and expertise to better use.

As technology continues to develop, enabling new capabilities, the influence of these four forces will only increase. Businesses that do not react to the changes that they invoke will be at risk of being left behind in a rapidly evolving world.

Embracing the future of work today will ensure that your business is ready for all that tomorrow will bring.

Want to learn how you can be ready for the digital future? Download our practical guide The digital workplace: A blueprint for innovation

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