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Anu Shah, CEO of ZAG, discusses the future of the workforce and the rapidly changing workplace of tomorrow.
Although the future workforce is a much-debated topic, how many businesses can genuinely say they’re prepared to reap the benefits from the rapid changes taking place within it?
Research suggests that demand for greater flexibility at work is increasing much faster than we think, from 70% of workers citing it as important in 2017 to 75% in 2018. This trend is amplified in the younger generations: 82% of 18-26 year olds aspire to be flexible workers. There are two key factors driving this: culture and technology.
Start-up culture has gone mainstream and the number of would-be entrepreneurs is rising.
The majority of people in this emerging generation don’t want to build a unicorn. They simply see start-ups as their job and their lifestyle. They may well move from one start-up to another, or even be involved in multiple start-ups, fuelling what’s becoming known as a ‘micro-business culture’. Businesses need to adapt to accommodate these changing approaches to work.
Elsewhere, the rise of ‘on-demand’ culture has led to people expecting everything to happen faster, more conveniently and more transparently than ever before, resulting in a generation who are more demanding across the board. Learning culture is also on the rise: the desire and necessity to self-skill and upskill on an ongoing basis to keep up to date with rapid changes in technology. All of these factors are changing how, when and even why people are working.
When it comes to technology, we’re already seeing the early impact of developments in machine learning and AI technology to everyday jobs and social communications.
This is set to increase with the emergence of ‘always-on’ comms, fuelled by 5G. Human-to-human communication will intensify but the most dramatic growth will be seen in the object-to-object and machine-to-machine space where IoT may truly come of age and which could have a huge knock-on effect for businesses in all sectors. Meanwhile, the increasing number of aggregated mass datasets outside of the big giants like Google and Amazon, will see a faster acceleration in machine learning and AI.
Companies are going to have to be much more flexible in how they operate and how they deliver services and products. The impact is likely to hit professional service firms first but will eventually impact all organisations and sectors. Some statistics predict 30%+ of all workforces will be fully flexible within the next 5 years. In particular, companies will need to:
– Adapt to the rise of micro-business culture (ie. the increasing number of SMEs at the smaller end of the scale and their needs)
– Prepare for the emergence of human-assisted digital tools or personal bots
– Adjust to having less humans across many key business processes and more tech.
– Develop a strategy addressing the premiumisation of “Actual Intelligence” verses Artificial Intelligence. A recent PWC report suggests that 73% think technology can never replace the human mind.
All of these challenges, and the evolving nature of the workforce as whole, will present a diverse set of business opportunities for both new and established companies to take advantage of:
1. New platforms
There is a huge opportunity to develop new platforms and services to fully support the emerging needs of a new generation of flexible workers and microbusiness owners, including legal, accounting, insurance, infrastructure and banking services. Many of these flexible workers will need support that is easy to use and transparent in terms of costs. Trusted brands in the financial services space and Telco space probably have the biggest opportunity to tap into this market through new brands and products that aggregate multiple services and partners into a singular trusted and targeted proposition.
2. Talent hubs
Co-working spaces could be developed into specialist “hubs” with people working for a hub rather than a traditional employer and each one having its own brand and expertise, (eg. creative, technology or professional services). Larger corporates may create these hubs for themselves to attract and accommodate flexible workers, trading investment in fixed employee costs for more flexible infrastructure facilities. The plethora of co-working spaces demands the need for evolution and perhaps these providers could partner with larger corporates to create these new hubs or even hybrid centres.
3. Super benches
Today’s thriving freelance culture could be evolved into “super benches” for corporates including experts and consultants available on demand, and in the longer term be powered by machine-learning- led talent matching, surfacing the right talent – internal or external – when needed. While this will not be easy and will require the right technology, the benefits from a talent access and a business model perspective are huge. It’s already happening within the professional services space with significant investment going into recruitment tech and workflow management tools to facilitate these benefits.
4. Education and training
New kinds of education systems could be developed based on solution-led learning or always-on subscription learning. There are already start-ups looking to reinvent higher education to enable students to look at delivering real solutions, rather than undergoing a linear programme of learning. Businesses should look at the success of Masterclass and the London Interdisciplinary School to assess how they can offer different ways of learning to keep their workforces moving forward.
5. Personal bots
Another opportunity is the development of personal bot training platforms, and in the long-term, the emergence of a bot market to help assist people in everyday work and personal tasks. Arguably we are already in the age of personal bots like Echo and Google Home. However, the next generation will experience genuinely “personalised” bots, uniquely created by consumers for their own preferences. Perhaps the gaming industry will lead the way where we have seen some stealth mode start-ups developing AI game bots that are trained by you to fight and play alongside you. Perhaps these bots could even become tradeable commodities in their own right. Stranger business models have prospered.
In summary, we know that dramatic changes are coming to the future of the workforce – some are already here. The question all business leaders should be asking themselves now is not what these changes will be, but how they are going to adapt to them and what stepping stone investments they should be making now in brand, new partnerships and technology to fully reap the benefits (or minimise the risks)