The topic of changing workplaces has been all the rage amongst human resources professionals over recent years, according to Linda Nazareth, an Ontario economist and author.
And with 2019 upon us, one thing has become abundantly clear, she said at a recent SCNetwork event in Toronto.
“Honestly, the future of work is already here,” said Nazareth. “We’re there. What hasn’t changed is everything around it.”
Global economic conditions, shifting demographics and technological advances have converged to forever alter traditional jobs, with only more transformation coming over the next decade, she said.
For HR professionals, that means it is high time to make the transition and usher in new conventions to deal with employees’ changing work habits, said Nazareth, author of Work is Not a Place: Our Lives and Our Organizations in the Post-Jobs Economy.
“We have a lot of challenges ahead,” she said. “We have things we haven’t even talked about or thought about or imagined yet, but we’re getting to this point where everything has to be on the table.”
“We are going to be hiring and rethinking and perhaps reskilling… and making these assessments on an ongoing basis. It’s kind of an era of constant curation.”
The future is now
Holding a stable job has been relevant only for the past century; before that, most workers spent their days toiling in a farm capacity, according to Nazareth.
The notion of a job — gathering workers in one place because that’s where the machines were — stems from the Industrial Revolution, she said.
From this structure came the advent of HR procedures such as health benefits and standard wage increases, said Nazareth.
“Lots of things were positive for workers and for companies in terms of productivity, growth.”
But today’s technological advances now allow colleagues to communicate freely from remote offices.
“We’ve kind of moved away from the reasons to having workers together,” she said.
“We’re at an era where everything is changing up, as it has changed in the past... That work-for-life model has already dissipated a bit.”
Adhering to a singular set of rules, responses or recruiting practices no longer works, especially in an economy where most American positions being created are non-traditional, said Nazareth.
Governments haven’t paid enough attention to this, she said.
“All our policies are wrong... It’s going to take a long time before governments get there and figure this out.”
As a result, the lion’s share of the responsibility will fall on business and HR’s plate in the near-term, said Nazareth.
Lean, agile organizations
The current labour environment has resulted in two major storylines — there won’t be enough workers to fill jobs, and automation will eat up the majority of work positions to the point where governments will have to consider basic income, she said.
“Which is the right narrative? There isn’t one correct story,” said Nazareth.
“It depends on who you are, what you want to do… and it depends on any given day, the industry, the business cycle.”
“Overall, I do think we have a trend towards fewer workers going forward, or at least fewer employees,” she said. “We don’t need the organizations we had in the past — the large ones that employed a lot of people and that’s what it took to get the work done… We’re making the shift to different kinds of companies.”
In a competitive economy, lean and agile is the strategy of choice, with talent driving business success, said Nazareth.
Corporations are trending towards fewer employees with a focus on the short-term, she said.
Demographics will keep labour scarce, and aging populations in Quebec and Atlantic Canada will make those jurisdictions a leading indicator in Canada, according to Nazareth.
Less productivity and low economic growth will affect profits and force employers to consider automation, she said.
“It makes more sense to bring in a lot more of this. As we look for things to make us more efficient, then of course we’re looking at an era where we have a lot more technology.”
“The jobs have already evolved and they’re going to evolve more,” said Nazareth. “It’s the speed that’s different this time around and why people are actually scared of this and say, ‘This is going to change everything.’”
Advice for HR
Ushering in the future means senior leaders will be looking to HR for labour guidance, she said.
Strategic plans will be “built around human resources and human capital, because that’s a big cost to companies, but it’s also a big strength to companies if you get the right pieces in,” said Nazareth.
“It’s not just about getting the right people in as employees. It’s about getting the work done. That’s really the next challenge.”
Different formats may need to be implemented to get work done, she said. Benefits packages, office surroundings and telecommuting options could be differentiators as recruitment becomes even more competitive and employers search for specific talent.
“People don’t just want money. People want lots of things besides salaries.”
Future teams will see gig workers assembled for temporary projects and then disassembled after, said Nazareth.
“You have to try hard to create the water-cooler effect when people are actually not hanging around the water cooler.”
Employee engagement and reskilling will remain major issues going forward, and as the gig economy becomes more prevalent, corporate culture will need to shift, she said.
“It’s going to be interesting to see how much we — as an economy — are willing to train (workers),” said Nazareth. “Perhaps a bit more as it becomes more difficult to find them, although I haven’t seen much evidence of it.”
Amazon’s decision to locate its highly touted HQ2 amongst a U.S. talent hotbed is “very telling,” she said.
“When they’re looking at their longer term, they wanted to be where they could get people easiest and have the best pick of them.”
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