Posted: 07 Sep. 2020 8 min. read

Returning to work in the Future of Work

In this blog post we explore the highlights of the Deloitte 2020 Human Capital Trends report. Will Gosling, Partner and UK Human Capital Leader and Rachel Charlton, Human Capital Partner and Digital Enablement Practice Lead, discuss the trends which we expected will have the biggest impact across work, workforce and workplace.

Headlines of this year’s Human Capital Trends Report

This year’s report, in many aspects is an extension of the themes that we began to see emerging last year. Organisations need to realise that they have to take a responsibility for a broader set of stakeholders than just their customers and employees, and focus on their role in society. Organisations should think about their purpose and really live up to that purpose - beyond just making profits.

COVID has amplified and accelerated the role of technology, creating an impact in society and in the world of work. As organisations invest in and continue to adopt technology, they need to ensure they don’t just beat the life out of jobs through technology but that human factors are kept front and centre, reskilling individuals to help them where their jobs have been disrupted. ‘Humans + Machines’ can really boost productivity but it’s important to ensure employees remain relevant in the new world of work.

Responsibilities of a social enterprise

In last year’s report, the social enterprise provided stability within change. Change driven by technology, which is increasing even more now. Technology drives change in uncertain times - economically, societally and culturally. The social enterprise is shifting the focus of organisations, from thinking about concerns within their business, to concerns of the ecosystem they operate in and wider concerns of society. Organisations cannot just be inward looking.

COVID and The Black Lives Matters Movement have accelerated the disparity in society and has brought it to the centre in a way that hasn’t happened before. The role of a social enterprise has become increasingly important and a huge amount of emphasis has been put on how organisations respond to these challenges. How are enterprises responding in meaningful and impactful ways, helping not just their employees, but individuals within society?

Human centricity translates into all of the transformational change that we’ve seen in previous reports. Change has been driven by technology, but is now also being driven by societal impacts and societal change. It is important for organisations to figure out how to successfully navigate human centric change, technology change and society change.

Role of the organisation in a social enterprise

The word purpose is often used in the context of a social enterprise. It’s about redefining work that the organisation does to deliver its purpose, it’s having a more external facing view. Many organisations at board level are thinking about how to make choices about the products they make, their supply chain, how they treat their employees, their role in a society - over and above selling products and services and to actually drive a societal impact, not just a commercial impact. The Black Lives Matters Movement is one important example of this.

As well as looking externally, organisations are also looking inward; examining their own diversity, their role models and their unconscious bias within talent processes, amongst other things.

Return to work in the future of work

The conversation around the flexible workforce has been turned on its head over the last few months. Traditionally, industries would never have thought about operating and continuing to deliver on a home working basis. Collaboration, human interaction and flexible ways of working are now key challenges faced by everyone.

Organisations have seen a huge shift and acceleration towards technology, moving to the cloud, and the use of cloud technology to drive some efficiency and flexibility, and bringing a supply chain closer to home. It is also important to look at security measures and the automation of previous processes. There’s an enormous agenda when thinking about what the return to work looks like and it can’t be underestimated. A lot of organisations are seeing this as the chance for change because the return to work is going to reform how organisations and workforces work, how they manage talent, how they plan workforces and how will it look in the future.

Talking to individuals, talking to clients and organisations, they have managed to make that shift into the new normal, which is going to be a new relationship between employee and employer. Organisation models are arising out of this with people testing and trying. People are less afraid to try something new because everyone has demonstrated (almost overnight) their ability to do work differently. There is a new appetite that is been seen about testing things – and if something doesn’t work, try something else. It will be interesting to see the variety of organisation models as there won’t be a one size fits all.

The role of the social enterprise is going to be crucial here, for how organisations support their workforce throughout the crisis, and how they continue to improve productivity and engagement of the workforce.

Highlights of new challenges

Technology is creating this world where anything and everything can be individualised but the human element is still important. 79% of survey respondents, from the 2020 Human Capital Trends report, said that fostering a sense of belonging in the workforce was either important or very important to the organisation’s success in the next 12 to 18 months.

The challenge for an organisation here is, instead of using technology to create divisions and individualise everything, it needs to be used to bring together unique complimentary skills and abilities in the context of a shared goal. Purpose is important as it creates that shared goal, and technology can then be used to bring people together to deliver that purpose more effectively.

Secondly, with technology continually leading people to reinvent themselves, organisations have to help employees reinvent themselves and reskill and remain relevant as more technology comes in. They should leverage technology to help employees have and maintain their potential for long term success in work.

Finally, human wants to take bold steps yet technology can sometimes paralyse action. Technology and humans can work together to make sure organisations are looking at new possibilities. To transform uncertainty into perspective, and to give employees confidence and the capability needed to thrive in a new environment.

Preparing for Future of Work

Jobs and skills are changing far more rapidly than they ever have. Skilling becomes a very self-owned requirement for employee and individuals. Lifelong learning and re-thinking and reinventing learning is going to be important, and that’s a real mind-set shift. 73% of respondents believed their organisation should be the entity for responsible for workforce development, equally 54% said that it was the role of the individual to do reskill. It’s important that individuals take ownership of learning and building skills that are both relevant now and will set them up for the future. Having the mind-set for skilling and learning is going to be a key factor to prepare workers for the future of work.

There will be less demand for everyone to be the same, and more demand for a blend of different skills and capabilities, increasing diversity within organisations which is needed to be successful. If individuals understand the process for reinvention and redefinition it will help keep organisations at the forefront of thinking and innovation. Human centricity is going to be the gem at the heart of successful organisations. Now, technology is going to be an enabler, but human centric individual success is going to be what changes organisations. HR leaders in particular need to pay attention to this and work out how to get the workforce in the right state of mind to be ready and to thrive in the future.

For more Future of Work insights, check out our Humanising the Future of Work podcast

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Key contacts

Will Gosling

Will Gosling

Partner and UK Human Capital Consulting Leader

Will is the UK Human Capital Consulting Leader and leads the UK CHRO Transition and Development programme. He advises private sector clients, specialising in the Technology, Media and Telecoms industry, in the areas of organisation transformation, employee engagement and HR effectiveness. Will also leads Deloitte's Digital Leadership research and founded a professional community for digital leaders and talent across the UK. His work has contributed to industry recognition, winning the MCA HR Consulting and CBI Human Capital awards.

Rachel Charlton

Rachel Charlton


Rachel is a partner in Deloitte's Human Capital business where she leads the Digital Change practice. She helps companies to get the most of their technology investment, transform the way they do business and leverage their people to deliver business value, through smart, precise technology adoption. Deloitte's Digital Change uses innovative solutions and analytics based insights to help organisations manage change, equip employees with the competencies to adopt new technologies and ultimately capitalise on ever increasing digital investments. Rachel has shaped and delivered complex technology enabled business transformation programmes for over 17 years, working across the public and private sector, working closely with CXOs as they have embarked upon their transformation to Digital.