Organising your workforce around the future of work

4 minute read

From public anxiety about jobs losses and robots taking over to business executives jumping on opportunities for efficiency and a better customer experience, the future of work is on everyone’s mind. And this presents HR with a major opportunity, say Pascal Matzke and Dan Bieler of research firm Forrester

Sian Harrington

Jobs with net loss

Everyone will be impacted by the rapid rise of new technologies in the workplace. According to research company Forrester, 85% of all jobs will change somewhat because of what's happening with technology. But this is about job transformation, not job replacement.

To help employees through this transition, businesses need to understand which tasks are better left to a machine and which to humans, say Pascal Matzke, VP & research director and Dan Bieler, principal analyst at Forrester.

“One of the things I find quite irritating is there is a broad-brush argument that, let's say, accounting jobs will disappear, or HR management jobs will disappear, simply because everything will get automated. That is certainly not true,” says Matzke.

“We have to look at it each and every job level function. We have to understand the tasks where human skills, human creativity, the human way of thinking and interacting with other human beings is not only far superior to a machine but really drives differentiation around a process or service.”

Forrester sees three outcomes from these changes:

1. Jobs will transform around machines’ competence
It is likely that in nearly every role there is an element of the daily routine that can be replaced by technology, be it data entry or initial sensing and computational reasoning. But then connecting data and ideas, collaboration, knowledge sharing and conversational intelligence – the things that ultimately help humans to be creative and which drive differentiation around products and services – still fall very much into the domain of the human being and will remain so, certainly for some time. Key is understanding those tasks that will move towards machines and the timescale of that move.

2. Automation will affect personas at different rates
So called cubicle worker roles, those whose jobs are about data entry and mundane tasks, such as auditing or compliance management, will shrink with a -67% net job change according to Forrester. Here HR will have to help workers reorientate themselves in terms of their personal skills. Other ‘machine centric’ jobs include coordinators, where the predictions are for a -33% net job change. Also shrinking will be jobs with human/machine collaboration: a -31 net job change is predicted for function-specific knowledge workers and -27% for physical workers. At the same time there are a lot of growth jobs, with +11% forecast for cross-domain knowledge workers and +32% for teachers and explainers, for example. There is the need to drive more interdisciplinary skill sets where it's no longer about a career within the realms of a finance department, HR department or supply chain management function. Instead it’s about continuous learning, moving up, left and right, to accumulate knowledge from across different functions. “There will be new roles that are more aligned around customer or employee journeys, rather than siloed business functions,” says Matzke.

3. Four options are emerging
According to Matzke there is likely to be a 29% job loss overall but 13% of new jobs will be created as a result of these changes. As previously mentioned, 80% of jobs will be restructured while the big winner is the talent economy with human-touch workers, cross-domain knowledge workers, teachers/explainers, and digital elite jobs will grow.

This all presents a massive opportunity for HR, says Matzke. “Talent management will become such a strategic topic and people who work in HR will be able to focus more on the conversational intelligence, the collaboration and the actual management of the talent rather than looking at automation as a way to push more people out of the door,” he says.

“We are looking at organisations today in a very different way. We are trying to interact with business partners and with customers in terms of the way we design and develop services. We are much more entrenched in the context of how customers use our services. And that means we need to interact with people in a very different way, which leads to a different hiring and management practice around how we look at talent. It’s much more about a continuous interaction with people rather than managing the linear transaction of a process that is shaping the way we work.”

But HR needs to start on the journey now. As Matzke says: “The future of work is here. You can feel it, you can touch it, you can see it every day. But it requires a certain amount of courage and skills and a certain amount of corporate readiness to transition into this future.”

Published 3 October 2019

The future of work is here. You can feel it, you can touch it, you can see it every day. But it requires a certain amount of courage and skills and a certain amount of corporate readiness to transition into this future

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