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HR: here’s how to prep for the future of work

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HR practitioners everywhere are trying to imagine what the next generation of the workforce will look like. With the rise of artificial intelligence (AI), automation and robotics keeping up with the future of work; can seem like a daunting task.

Yet, when you really analyse the data the effects of technology on human capital are not as scary as you think – for the agile firm that is.

According to global advisory firm Willis Towers Watson’s The future of work survey – more than half of employers (66%) in Asia Pacific said the key goal of automation is to augment human performance and productivity. Furthermore, 66% said that they do not think automation and digitalisation will replace humans to autonomously complete work.

The second myth the data exposed was around the loss of jobs due to automation when in fact automation will result in new combinations of work, talent, skill requirements and work relationships. According to the survey, in three years organisations in Asia Pacific can expect to reduce the percentage of full-time employees but anticipate using more non-permanent or contingent workers. 65% of employers in Asia Pacific expect automation to increase work flexibility and enable work to be deployed to numerous locations.

Speaking exclusively to Human Resources; global head of human capital and benefits at Willis Towers Watson Julie Gebauer discusses HR strategy to cope with this uncertain future.


Q HR will need break-through approaches to attract and retain talent, what will these be?

It will start with understanding where the available talent is and considering not just regular employees as a potential source but other talent platforms like upwork and topcoater which really just aggregates free agents as a place to tap into them. Understanding the full range of available talent will be very important and then determining the best pool from which to pull to get that talent from an attraction perspective. And considering talent all around the world. When we do surveys of organisations we get feedback that says there’s a skills gap, we can’t find the people we need. So it’s creating the job that can tap into talent where it’s available.

From a retention, perspective organisations need to really think about whether a job should be structured so that they want someone to stay for a long period of time or whether they want some to serve as a tour of duty and set out the job in that way. And set out job programmes to support what they decide. So if the organisation establishes that a job is almost temporary in nature and they want someone to fill it for the three to five year period they would put together a programme they probably wouldn’t involve accumulating retirement benefits because that’s not going to be appealing to someone for a three to five year tour but perhaps gives them resources for placement or transitioning at the end of that period.

Q In your presentation you mentioned more companies are offering benefits for contractors or freelancers, could you elaborate more on this?

There are a number of ways to do that. There are companies that have started to offer a benefits platform for these individuals. There’s a company called stride health in the United States for example that is established specifically to provide benefits for people who are not regular employees. While companies may just subsidise a portion of these benefits at the moment it sounds like they are considering doing it to a greater extent in the future. The other tool companies use to attract a contingent workforce is training. Creating the job so that they can gain new experience but also additional training programmes. Also, I think recognition programmes that give people the opportunity to earn more or get potential stock compensation in some way or the other as part of a recognition programme. 

Q What broad global trends are you noticing when it comes to Human Capital?

Diversity and inclusion – there is a business imperative to address that issue. Heads of business see a need to make a change here. And they’re working to not only look at metrics to ensure that people are promoted appropriately and development opportunities occur but to create a culture of inclusion. To create a culture of inclusion there are three aspects; that’s to ensure that there’s an opportunity for development and people feel that there’s an opportunity for development. regardless of their background, that there are strong relationships across the organisation  and that would mean that individuals feel that they can get help from anywhere in the organisation – whether its from a different function or a different geography or different part of the business – and individuals feel believe that the organisation is making sufficient effort to get input from employees and that they can express their opinion openly. Having those three things really establishes a culture of inclusion where people really feel that they can contribute and achieve their potential. That improves engagement and retention and as a consequence improves diversity ongoing.

The other area that’s getting a lot of attention right now is the well-being status of the workforce. And not just physical well-being but emotional well-being, social well-being and mental well-being. There are four components of it and there’s a strong correlation between high levels of well-being and high levels of productivity and performance. What we’re seeing is that there significant risk that the sense of well-being in the workforce is actually under strain. Four in ten people will say I have high levels of stress related to finances and there’s then a strong correlation between individuals who have stress about their finances and their physical health. So a sense of well-being at risk and there are things that organisations can do so that individuals can enhance that sense of well-being. Helping them with financial planning, helping them maintain their physical health and emotional well-being. Providing things like support where people are suffering from emotional challenges.

Q What are jobs in the future going to actually look like?

What I would rather talk about is what skills and capabilities are going to be most important in the future because I can’t predict exactly what job titles are going to exist. However, we do know that the top jobs in every industry didn’t exist 10 years ago, we do know that it’s expected that 65% of children entering elementary school today will land the first job that doesn’t exist today and that those jobs are just going to continue changing. So the key for someone to be successful in the future of work is to have learning agility. So that suggests the big focus on STEM education should probably continue but alongside that liberal arts education to help with the ability to continue learning is important. Another key capability will be relationship building and communication will incredibly important in the future and being able to operate with a virtual team and people of all backgrounds. Operating in a diverse team – very important in the future as well as business acumen. Those are the key things we’ve seen in terms of capabilities but learning agility being the top one necessary to be successful in the future.

Q Are we just at the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the future of workspaces?

I think the notion of being able to get work done any place, any time is an important one. Something organisations have been doing that have embraced that is eliminating the notion of time off and holiday. Saying basically here’s your job, here are your responsibilities, you can get it done wherever, however, whenever and if that allows you six months of holiday -great. If that allows you six days of holiday – great. Here’s your job, here are your goals – you get it done wherever, whenever. So that’s a component of the work environment.

One thing organisations need to balance is fostering team environment while offering flexibility. Managers need to establish protocols to create that team environment. So that will put some requirements on individuals when they first start at a company and will put some requirements around having touchdown days so that everyone on the team comes together at certain times. Special training for managers who need to learn to manage a remote team because it can be difficult for someone who is used to managing a team who is in front and can walk over and see what someone’s doing, provide coaching right there to doing it virtually via chat, email, via hologram. Manager training about taking care of a remote force and then the protocols about how to ensure team interaction.

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