Posted: 16 Aug. 2021 5 min. read

The social enterprise in a world disrupted

What are the key headlines from the 2021 Human Capital Trends European Special Report? Sam Shindler-Glass, Consultant within Deloitte’s Human Capital practice speaks to two Human Capital Directors about the most important takeaways from the report. Melissa Bramwell (who also co-authored the report) and Jonathan Eighteen discuss all in the bonus episode of our Humanising the Future of Work podcast. Below are the highlights!

What are the key headlines from the report?

Throughout the five trends we see shaping the future of work in this report, the unifying thread is the need for leaders to prioritise the abilities and adaptabilities of their workers, by humanising work.

The challenge becomes how we sustain the momentum we’ve created over the past 18 months, to discover new ways to thrive in the longer term. 54% of European execs stated they will be focusing on reimagining work in the next one to three years, versus 28% pre-COVID. This tells us that leaders are shifting their focus away from work optimisation and redesigning, towards reimagination, which is fundamentally different to what we’ve seen before.

Previously, it was doing the same work more efficiently, or achieving the same work outputs, with new combinations of technology and people. Reimagining work is much more about achieving new and different work outcomes, with new combinations of technology and people.

The thoughtful use of technology makes it possible to change the nature of work, to make the most of people’s distinctly human capabilities. The power of human potential is undoubtedly one of the strongest themes we’ve seen in this year’s report.

Finally, if I can touch on one other trend. Workers’ wellbeing has always been important, but the pandemic has meant ensuring employees are physically and mentally healthy is more important than ever. Companies have generally done well with this but I think there’s scope for more.

How will the future of the workplace impact workers and organisations?

We’ve seen lots of announcements from organisations about the future of the workplace, whether it’s remote-first, hybrid working or predominantly on site.

I think the new world of work is really about creating conditions for people to be successful wherever they are, and judging them on their outcomes. In our trends report 73% of executives said that they were confident that today’s remote work practices would be sustainable in the future.

When we asked them about what factors they thought were most important in making it sustainable, they chose options intrinsic to the design of work itself. So, allowing for personal choice in determining how work gets done, introducing digital collaboration platforms, and establishing new scheduling meeting norms, all of which directly embed wellbeing into work.

Hybrid working comes with opportunities and challenges to productivity. Increased employee flexibility often encourages productivity, but logistical and technical difficulties can hinder it. Some firms are using hybrid working as an opportunity to drive their employee value proposition and to become a more attractive employer.

There are risks to organisations that rush into hybrid working models, without taking the time to think things through and look at the supporting data. Where organisations are successful, they are piloting alternative strategies and assessing/iterating them before they implement them more widely across the organisation.

So yes, there are tensions and significant considerations that play into hybrid working, but it’s imperative for organisations to look at their longer-term vision, to be agile and learn and iterate as they go, to try and uncover what works best for their people and for their business.

The future of skills: European executives identified the ability of their people to adapt, reskill, and assume new roles as the most important factor in navigating future disruptions

It’s important to recognise that through the pandemic organisations have pivoted roles and skills quite dramatically and there have been some very remarkable displays of individual and team re-invention.

We’ve seen retail organisations move their staff from being in-store to operating remotely and still managing to deliver. We’ve seen organisations focus on new areas and new products to assist pandemic support, or to create new value for their organisation. Reskilling can move at pace, and has moved at pace, at an individual level and a team level during the pandemic.

It’s not a surprise to me that when we did survey people 42% felt that building an organisational culture that celebrates growth, adaptability, and resilience is absolutely crucial. And then, the second most important factor was building workforce capability through upskilling, reskilling, and mobility.

The ability for people to understand what skills are required in their current roles, where they aspire to be as individuals, and where the organisation wants to put them in the future, is a crucial area for HR and indeed the business to understand.

Workforce strategies: mapping out how organisations see their workforce changing over time

Firstly, we need to recognise that there are ‘skills’, which are a sub-element of a capability or competency. Skills enable you to do something that is linked to a functional or technical capability, that continually changes over time.

However, we also have ‘enduring human capabilities’ that are important for organisations and individuals to harness and foster, alongside typical technical skills.

The question here is: how strategic do you need to be to be able to continuously predict what skills are going to be needed, in what amount and where those skills are. These will be skills that your organisation requires to deliver value - for shareholders, society, customers etc.

Being forward-thinking and scenario planning will be key. Where skills can’t be developed quickly enough, or if there’s competition for certain skills, organisations may need to buy them, or partner with others to bring in an external supply, Or, alternatively, to automate. This supply and demand equation is vital and is changing rapidly.

I don’t think the answer is out there right now, in terms of what the actual ‘go-to’ solution actually is. It’s an evolving area. But we are seeing organisations focusing more on how to understand exactly what skills they require and how they can get those skills.

Rearchitecting work

2020 was not only a year of extraordinary disruption, but it was also a year of extraordinary resilience. During incredibly turbulent times we’ve seen some fantastic results generating the highest increase in productivity since 2010. Historically, when we’ve looked at productivity, we’ve been adding technology to the workplace but not stopped to look at the work itself. This raises the question: how can we sustain this productivity?

At Deloitte we believe the answer lies in thinking about work differently and starting with a focus on the humans who do the work. The pandemic has highlighted, for us, that the workforce is more than an enabler to what organisations want to achieve, it’s a real source of value and meaning.

The workforce needs to be treated as a distinct path to expanding productivity. This is where we talk about rearchitecting work - putting work at the centre. Shifting work from a traditional process to a more humanised flow. Work is no longer static and process-driven, it’s fluid and is constantly evolving and requires us to rethink what we should be doing and how we should be doing it.

Rearchitecting work begins with reframing the work conversation around outcomes, to increase productivity and unleash potential across the organisation. It drives a future focus towards achieving work aspirations and outcomes that create lasting value for individuals, the organisation, and for wider society at large.

By centring on work as a flow, aligned with how humans think, analyse, create, and engage, we can really illuminate the human and technological capabilities required to achieve new outcomes and unleash new possibilities. Ultimately, with the end result of making work better for humans, and humans better at work.

What is the role of HR in all of this?

I was working as a HR professional when the pandemic hit and saw first-hand how HR was really thrust to the forefront, and extended its influence and remit beyond its typical role, to really start to orchestrate work across the entire organisation.

HR and human capital issues are truly business issues, and that puts the Chief HR Officer (CHRO) at the centre of really high-profile decisions that are directly impacting the organisation.

And what this means is that the CHRO is not just responsible for driving the transformation of HR, it’s also being asked to take the lead across organisation-wide issues and on how work gets done. This has brought the CHRO and Chief Information Officer (CIO) closer than ever, with the CHRO driving the re-architecture of work, and the CIO leading on the acceleration of digital.

To effectively rearchitect a human vision of the future of work, HR will need to partner closely with business leaders and with workers, and treat the re-architecture of work as an ongoing capability that needs to be embedded across all operations.

The role of reskilling and learning functions

If you’re going to get into the re-architecture conversation at the workforce level, it’s not just a learning conversation, it needs to involve wider HR, talent and leadership. The conversation then becomes more about the whole talent process, the ‘build-buy-bots’ strategy across the overall organisation, to develop or to rearchitect the workforce.

Other considerations:

  • How you enable the workforce though performance management, ensuring that wellbeing is factored in, so that workers can feel and perform at their best
  • How teams work together – to ensure that work happens in the best possible way, using technology that’s complementary to human skills. Rearchitecting the way that work gets done!

There is an opportunity here for reskilling to be part of the overall rearchitecting narrative. 

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Key contacts

Melissa Bramwell

Melissa Bramwell


Melissa is a Director in our Human capital practice, who leads UK Deloitte Future of HR proposition. She has extensive experience working across multiple large scale global transformation programmes helping clients shape, deliver and communicate complex transformational outcomes. Melissa has delivered projects across sectors, with a particular focus on Technology, Media and Telecommunications industries. Previously she has been an HR professional in industry and has a background in Organisational Psychology. She co-authored 2021 Deloitte European Human Capital report.

Jonathan Eighteen

Jonathan Eighteen

Director, EMEA Learning and Talent Advisory Lead

Jonathan is a director in the Human Capital practice of Deloitte Consulting in the UK. He leads the Learning Advisory practice in Europe, and brings more than 20 years of either leading, or consulting with, Corporate Learning & Leadership Development Departments. During his international career, Jonathan has lived and worked in the UK, US & Asia-Pacific with client experience in the Financial Services, Oil & Gas, Pharmaceutical, Telecoms & Media and Consumer Business industries. He has also held senior HR positions in both the Banking & Pharma industries. Jonathan contributes extensively to Deloitte’s eminence on Learning and Deloitte’s Human Capital Trends. Jonathan has significant experience in managing Learning & Development operations for large-scale organisations, joining from a Global Bank where he was Director of Learning and Leadership Development. He has a track record of helping organisations optimize their L&D operations, ensuring L&D & Talent strategies are aligned, efficient and appropriate to business needs. He leads large scale Learning Transformations for FTSE50 clients and has worked with some of the world’s leading brands to make them market-leading learning organisations.