Current trends in business and technology show that the way employees work — where, when, why and with whom — will change completely over the next decade and bear little resemblance to work as we understand it today.
CHROs need to be prepared for what’s coming. Mark Coleman, research director at Gartner, outlines six assertions for the future direction of the workplace and how businesses can prepare for it.
“We Working” will take out middle management
Currently, teams are formed of people pulled together by reporting structure or in an ad hoc fashion. Teamwork is therefore considered more of a behavioral necessity (for example, to foster team spirit and collaboration) than a legitimate organizational principle.
But in 2027, the complexity and scale of business objectives will demand the involvement of brain power and expertise across boundaries in more intricate ways.
Technology will assess when people have worked too much and when they need to recharge
As a result, companies will gravitate toward a new work philosophy called We Working. This philosophy involves designing small and flexible teams in response to fluctuating workloads, shrinking time frames, and intense flurries of information exchange and coordination. We Working will encourage businesses to create small, autonomous and high-performing teams that form, converge, act and dismantle as assignments change.
What’s more, the rise of algorithmic management will displace middle managers whose jobs revolve around collecting data, supervising actions and ensuring compliance. The philosophy of We Working, fueled by autonomy and trust among teammates, also reduces the need for human managers to assemble teams and monitor performance.
Constant upskilling will outweigh tenure and experience
The digital economy will demand new ideas, new information and new business models that continually expand, combine and morph into new ventures and new businesses.
Employees at the center of this change will have to apply creativity, critical thinking and constant upskilling to solve complex problems. For example, straight coding will be largely automated by 2027, and artificial intelligence (AI) engineers will have to move on to other scenarios as the AI products they create (re)design themselves.
For heads of recruitment, this means a growing proportion of jobs will require postgraduate education. HR will have to experiment with boot camps, consumerized learning, competitions and hackathons so that employees constantly learn and relearn.
Extreme work choices will blur boundaries, businesses and buddies
Digital business, built on vast networks and ecosystems, will increase the distribution of work across communities of people and across businesses globally.
Companies will be as likely to work with businesses in China, South Africa and Saudi Arabia as with those in North America or Western Europe.
Everyone will be rating each other (and being rated, in turn) on trust, competence and ethical behavior
By 2027, employees will be able to work and speak with team members across languages, borders and cultures, using avatars, language software, conversational interfaces and real-time dialect translation to translate and interpret with almost no loss of context or meaning.
In this kind of system where people may not know one another, everyone will be rating each other (and being rated, in turn) on trust, competence and ethical behavior, much as people rate buyers and sellers on purchasing platforms.
And as the business landscape changes, companies will have to think up new ways to generate value, tap into We Working ensembles, and market their product to ventures, companies and causes. CEOs and heads of business must use technology and information to build a hybrid workplace — physical and virtual — that embraces the work styles of all their employees.
Smart machines will be our co-workers
Smart machines are getting smarter and more ubiquitous, doing not only what was previously reserved for humans, but also what was thought to be impossible for machines.
By 2027, companies will start to distribute more and more tasks across smart machines, software, apps and avatars. Employees will develop personal toolkits of virtual doppelgangers (think of them as virtual counterparts) with the help of AI software and devices that fulfill aspects of their personal or team-based activities. They will also be able to carry their personal workplaces with them using cloud communities, open applications and personal virtual assistants.
But to do all this, extreme digital dexterity will be the modus operandi for how employees will work in 2027. This personal digital dexterity will enable employees to leap over technical literacy for corporate applications, and move swiftly toward the deftness and imagination required to bring new media, information, devices and resources to bear on solving complex problems.
We will work for purpose and passion, not just money
In 2027, people will actively seek work that gives them a sense of purpose. Social media will encourage people to get more involved and contribute to social innovation and equitability.
Increasingly, employees will want to make a meaningful social impact, and they will do this earlier in their lives instead of waiting for retirement.
People will actively seek work that gives them a sense of purpose
Smart companies will make themselves attractive not solely by money, but by offering employees an opportunity to have socially meaningful impact through work. HR should demonstrate its commitment to CSR by encouraging employees to come forward with personal stories, experiences and successes in various social causes.
Work-life challenges will reveal a dark side
Employees working independently or in remote locations will face a dilemma — to fuel upskilling and handle better projects they’ll take on more work assignments, to a point where they will feel as if they are working 24/7. In response, employees will not strive to simply balance work and life but to emphasize life over work.
Technology will assess when people have worked too much and when they need to recharge by monitoring their biorhythms, nutritional requirements and exercise needs.
But there are shadowy aspects of the work-life balance in 2027.
As technology closes the divide between geographically separate people, it introduces cracks in relationships and cultures. The remote distribution of work means that many employees will not build social relationships in the workplace, leading to issues of disengagement and loneliness.
Heads of HR need to start working with other business leaders to ensure work-life balance swings back and forth for each employee as their work distribution, time and life stages change.