Skip to main content

Future of Work: What it is, and Why it Matters

Future of Work What is it and Why does it Matter (1)

2020 is the year of the Pandemic, but also the year of the acceleration of the Future of Work.

With the changes brought on by the past year, talent leaders are paying extra attention to various trends and projections that might fall under the rather large umbrella of “the Future of Work”. The pandemic, lockdown, and ensuing stops and starts of economic growth have acted as accelerating factors, and pushed the agenda of digitization, new ways of working, gig economy, and even automation faster in many organizations, and all of those could fall under the definition of Future of Work.

But what does that phrase mean, exactly? We know, in a general sense, that it implies that talent leaders will hire differently, that they will look for skills in new places, and use data in ways that they are not able to now. But general trends are not very helpful unless they enable practitioners to formulate practical plans and next steps. Ideally, understanding the Future of Work means that you can prepare for the changes ahead.

So what considerations do we think talent leaders should be paying attention to right now? What does the Future of Work mean for them, and how will it impact the plans they make for the near future?

The Future of Work is about rapid change

If Covid-19 proved one thing, it’s that many of the constraints that businesses thought they were operating under are actually false. McKinsey lists here a number of examples, from moving to contactless healthcare support, to launching curbside retail delivery, to enabling socially-distanced construction work and factory production.

Is this another case of “breaking the 4-mile barrier”? In case you’re not familiar with the story, it’s about how Roger Bannister managed to run a mile under 4 minutes for the first time in history in 1954. The interesting part is not the record being broken in itself, it’s the fact that people failed to break it for almost a century despite strict training and a scientific approach, and believed it was almost impossible for humans to break it. And yet, after Bannister ran his first 3-minutes-and-change mile, his record was broken again not three months later, then again by multiple people in the same race within a year.

IMG 1985 (1) Photo credit: The Times

Many business practitioners use this story as an example of the power of perceived constraints on our ability to achieve goals—perceived being the operative word here. It certainly looks like Covid-19 tore down many preconceived notions about what was possible or not possible to do remotely, digitally, and with fewer resources.

So the take-home story here is that the Future of Work could mean much faster change than anticipated. New product launches or organizational overhauls that businesses think are going to happen further down the road are actually in danger of happening any day. Your competitors could be catching up or pulling away from you in a matter of weeks, not months or years.

If there are investments to be made in any of the three areas of consideration that we discuss below, then the sooner you can make them, the better. There is real urgency to this need for change.

The Future of Work is not all about AI and robots

All kinds of automation, from basic rule-based repetition of tasks, to advanced machine learning models and knowledge graphs, will play a role in the near-future of talent acquisition. The temptation to buy the technology first and figure out how best to use it second is strong, especially since, as we just said, talent teams need to move fast. However, investing in the wrong technology will take far longer to fix than taking a few more months to do the proper research.

There is a decent amount of information out there about the different ways in which automation will impact recruiting in the future. You can start with this quick guide to automation and AI for recruiters that we put together for that purpose, or dive deeper into the subject with this ebook on AI in recruiting.

One of the takeaways from those resources is that being prepared for the future doesn’t mean buying AI and replacing recruiters with machines. To come on top at the end of this time of change, teams need to:

  • Take the time to understand what these technologies do. It’s no longer acceptable to treat AI as a blackbox, for example, and simply rely on what vendors tell you about the inputs and the outputs of the technology. Without understanding how a machine learning-based sourcing program works, recruiters could perpetuate the implicit bias they are trying to get rid of for example, or they could be giving far more—or far less—importance to some factors than they intended.
  • Identify tasks where humans can be replaced with automations, and the ones where they can be assisted with it. The goal is to build the right combination of both, and not to replace humans with robots. Humans assisted with AI can do a lot of the business starting right now.

All in all, there will be “robots” in the future of work, but the stars of the show will be the recruiters who direct them from behind the scenes.

Bad data, bad data everywhere

Since we’ve made the massive shift to remote working, a lot more work-related data is now available for companies to collect. 16% of employers report using some form of passive employee data collection, including things like virtual logging in and out, computer or phone usage, email and messaging communications, as well as location. There is a well of insights for talent teams right here that can differ from one company to another.

With this amount of material available, talent teams cannot afford to think about data management in an ad-hoc manner anymore. It’s not simply a technical consideration that can be addressed further down the line, once decisions about “more strategic things” are made. Data management is strategic—it is likely to be one of the drivers of success for your business moving forward.

So the Future of Work will likely entail a closer look to questions such as:

  • How is data collected, stored, updated and made available to the different systems, and then to the different teams of the talent organization?
  • What governance should be in place to manage talent data?
  • What proprietary data do we collect, on talent or otherwise, that we can get a competitive advantage from?
  • Are we at risk of data delinquency, and what do we need to do to protect the talent organization from bad data?

The last question specifically is a good one to bring to stakeholder meetings when you are trying to get buy-in, as potential losses and added costs can sway people far more than potential unrealized gains.

cost of bad data

Source of graph here.

Why should we care about better talent data, and what is bad data, exactly? It’s data that is either not accurate, or not usable. It’s always a bit easier to imagine why inaccurate data can be damaging: out of date job histories or addresses, badly logged information, candidates tagged in the wrong pools or workflows… It’s tempting to focus on those aspects at the expense of data usability, which is just as crucial.

Talent data that is stored over different systems that do not speak to each other, or that is not stored in a compliant way, or not standardized so it can be processed in bulk, is just as costly to the business, and requires strategic planning. Companies that are serious about preparing for the Future of Work will need to give serious consideration to how their talent tech ecosystem will be set up, and what the talent data platform at its center will look like.

How a TDP works

Flexible workers in these flexible times

Remote work is not applicable in every case. 70% of jobs in the US cannot be done remotely, so some employers will have to go back to onsite. However, in many industries, companies can theoretically go 100% remote. For that to work, however, teams will need to prepare for new challenges around separating work from home life, maintaining personal connections, communicating effectively despite the loss of human interactions, to mention only a few.

Hiring in this new context is different on many levels. Recruiters need to relearn how to work as teams, exactly like every other function that is currently mostly remote. They also need to support hiring managers in shifting the way they look for talent.

For one, the answer to finding the right talent while keeping costs down during the economic downturn might be in hiring contingent workers. According to Gartner, 32% of employees are replacing FTEs with contingent workers in order to save on costs. Incidentally, this also gives them more flexibility to replace workers who need to take time off due to illness. Recruiters can also guide hiring managers to help them adapt to digital hiring. New kinds of biases can creep in when candidates have to interview from their homes, and everyone needs to be made aware of how they might judge someone on the quality of their internet connection or the background showing up on their camera.

Lastly, this period of economic instability requires higher flexibility in how we acquire the skills we need as employers. On one hand, skills no longer equate with roles, so hiring managers need to help to find creative ways to staff their teams and acquire the skills they need. Internal mobility and upskilling programs will also be needed to supplement these shortages faster and at lower costs.

On the other hand, skills that were viewed as less critical before might become more important, and vice versa, and talent teams and hiring managers will need to learn together how to filter for them. For instance, resilience and asynchronous communication can have more of an impact than good verbal communication in the current economic context, so how should teams hire for them?

Most recruiting leaders these days want to know if the future of work entails changes that are directly related to the after effects of the pandemic—which it does, of course. We will probably see more remote work moving forward, an acceleration of digitization of the whole People function, as well as some more flexibility in ways of working, types of workers hired, etc.

However, what is more helpful for talent leaders is to know exactly how fast these things are changing, and to what extent in their specific industry or market. They have to make decisions about which initiatives to fund first, where to put resources, and for that, they need to know exactly how critical it is that they update their data management systems, or start sourcing for remote or part-time workers, or enable efficient internal mobility programs.

At Beamery, we see our customers make these decisions every day. What has worked for most of them so far is not to try and predict what will happen in the future. Rather, these organizations have decided which changes they are comfortable making today based on their current information, and which ones they remain flexible on, because they are confident in their ability to move fast once they have more information. Optionality, after all, has its own value.