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Humanising the Future of Work podcast
Bonus episode 1: Introduction: Returning to work in the Future of Work
In the first bonus episode, host Sam Shindler-Glass, along with our subject matter experts, takes a close look at the key trends from this year’s Human Capital Trends 2020 report. Our speakers discuss the headlines from this year’s report and provide an introductory overview into the key trends and the three paradoxes – Purpose, Potential and Perspective.
Host: Sam Shindler-Glass
Speakers: Will Gosling, Partner and UK Human Capital Leader, Rachel Charlton, Human Capital Partner and Digital Enablement Practice Lead
SSG: Hello and welcome to the first podcast in this year’s five part series where we’ll be exploring the 2020 Human Capital Trends Report. Before diving into the paradoxes of purpose, potential and perspective in later episodes, I’m delighted to be joined by Will Gosling and Rachel Charlton who are joining us to give an introductory look at this year’s report.
Will is the Human Capital Leader for consulting and Rachel leads our Digital Enablement Practice, and I’m your host Sam Shindler-Glass. So let’s dive right in. As we get into this podcast series, Will, what are the headlines of this year’s Trends Report.
WG: Thanks Sam. And delighted to be here and really looking forward to the conversation. This year’s report, in many respects is an extension if you like, of some of the themes that we began to see emerging last year. First and foremost the rise of the social enterprise, something we talked about last year.
Something where organisations needing to take, realising and recognising they need to take a responsibility for a broader set of stakeholders than just their customers or just their employees. Actually take a much broader role in society. And thinking about their purpose, and really living up to that purpose beyond just making profits.
But I think what we have seen this year, and the pandemic crisis that really has amplified and accelerated this, is the role of technology and what technology is, the impact it’s having in society and in the work at large. And I think we can see an acceleration of the disruption to work that we have been predicting for some time, now has arrived.
And I think this really plays to the importance that organisations have to think about as they invest in and continue to adopt technology, that A, they just don’t beat the life out of jobs through technology. But B, that they keep the human factors really front and centre. And that might mean reskilling individuals to help them where their jobs have been disrupted.
Or ensuring that it’s humans plus machines can really give an organisation it’s boost in productivity but also ensure that employees remain relevant in the new world of work.
SSG: Thanks very much. And you began your answer there talking about the importance of understanding that responsibility. So Rachel in the age of COVID-19 and with major social movements like Black Lives Matter at the forefront of the news cycle, what are the responsibilities of a social enterprise?
RC: Yes, thanks Sam. And I think just to pick up on some of the things that Will was saying. If we think back to what we defined as the social enterprise and what it was there to do. And it was effectively this rewiring between the individual and the individual to the organisation. And then the organisation to society.
And when we talked about it in the last report, we talked about the social enterprise providing stability in change. And change driven by technology but actually increasingly, and now even more than ever, driving change in our uncertain times both economically, societally, culturally. And we talked about social enterprise shifting this balance.
So shifting the balance of the concern of just the organisation, to the concern of the organisation out into society and the eco-system. And how organisations therefore respond to that that isn’t just inward looking. And Will touched on it just earlier there about COVID and The Black Lives Matters Movement, have really accelerated the disparity that we have in society today.
And it’s brought it to the centre in a way that we’ve never really had before. So we’ve got disparities in social and economic groups really impacted. Low skill, low paid groups. But even as individuals in terms of how we’ve dealt with lockdown, and how it’s impacted individual people. Whether it’s home working, whether it’s home schooling. And where those divides have come up.
The role of a social enterprise has become increasingly important and a huge amount of emphasis has been upon, how are organised and enterprises responding to this challenge. So I think if we look at the trends in this year’s report, I think we’ve really accelerated that because of the situation that we’ve found ourselves in.
And how are enterprises responding in meaningful and impactful ways, to helping individuals not just in internally as an organisation, but individuals within society and enterprises within society. How are they responding and supporting their workforce to deal with the change?
But also what are they doing actually to contribute to society as it responds to COVID-19? And I think this human centricity really translates into all of the transformational change that we’ve been talking about in previous reports. Change that’s been driven by technology, but now change that’s really been driven by societal impacts and societal change.
And how are we going to equip workforces to be successful in both marrying up that human centric change, that technology change and that society change?
And I think there is a much more increased role of the social enterprise now more than ever than we have seen before.
WG: Yes I think, just to build on that. Totally agree Rachel whatever you said there. It feels to me there’s a real moment now that we can really see coming together of societally commentators, the press. We can see organisation leaders, we can see workers, we can see regulators.
Everyone is starting to recognise that the human factors here, that are so important and will underpin the success of the economy going forward. Because we’ve thrown so much at technology in the past, and not achieved the productivity gains, but we’ve also got such a perfect storm of societal movements that are requiring organisations to, they have no choice.
Talent is demanding that they play a different role and organisations therefore must find ways to enable and help their employees to do that. And using technology is one way that will help.
RC: Yes I think it’s not enough just to have it as part of your manifesto or your vision or your strapline. It now has to be made a reality. And the demand from the workforce is to see that change, and to see how enterprises are responding to it. And I think it will be a differentiator, and those that succeed and those that don’t.
And those that attract the talent and they’re looking for the difference between just a shareholder view, versus a human individual employee workforce centric view. And really practicing what they preach at that level. I think that’s going to drive differentiation in successful organisations going forward.
SSG: And I think that moves us on really nicely. Because Will you just spoke about talent demanding organisations must play a different role and going back to something you said at the beginning of your answer to Rachel, that organisations can’t just be inward looking.
And I think that’s what’s often happened in the past, is that organisations have been accused of tokenism. So how do organisations start to make the social and social enterprise real?
WG: This is key. And this is the difference I think from where we were a year ago. It was happening anyway, but it’s been accelerated by the crisis. Which is making, I’ll use the word purpose, because it’s often used in this context of a social enterprise. But making purpose, not something that is to offset stuff that an organisation does elsewhere, almost like a carbon offset type model.
It is actually to redefine work that the organisation does to deliver its purpose. And that is a much more fundamental and external facing view of things. Now some organisations have been at the forefront of this. Unilever often quoted and I think is a great example of it.
But I’m seeing and have seen very recently, a lot more many organisations at board level really thinking about how do they make choices about what they do.
The products they make. The supply chain. How they treat their employees. What their role is in a society, over and above selling products and services. To actually drive a societal impact and not just a commercial impact. And I think the Black Lives Matters Movement is another really important example here and opportunity.
Because, of course organisations are looking inward, and they’re looking at their own diversity, their own role models, their own unconscious bias in their talent processes amongst other things. But I think the leading organisations are those that are also taking a role in society to help others, both black individuals, but other organisations as well make the shift and make the change.
And grow a much more diverse workforce for society at large. That to me is the difference that where we were a year ago. Actually we’ve got lots of examples now and it is a board level real requirement.
RC: Yes I think actually no one can escape this. I think it is something that, if it isn’t being discussed and treated at that board level and flowing down throughout the organisation, then there is a gap. And there isn’t any industry or any sector that is exempt from this.
I think if I look at even, probably one of the biggest challenges is how our public sector respond to this. Because very much of what their role is and their work is about setting some of those policies, and applying some of that at the broadest level for citizens.
And so actually applying that and taking that internally is making them think very differently about what their role is. Both as organisations in their own right in terms of reflecting that social diversity. That social influence, above and beyond just the policy setting and the policy remit that they have as departmental functions for our citizens and our society.
And it’s quite a challenge and a real shift that they’re having to think about reflecting that throughout those organisations as well.
SSG: And those major shifts are something that I think organisations across the board are going to face as people start returning to work in light of COVID-19. And Will earlier on you talked about the emphasis on redefining work to deliver this new purpose.
So Rachel what does this return to work in the future of work mean in practice. It’s something that or supplement to the Trends Report talks about. But what does it mean on the ground?
RC: I think it is the number one conversation that everyone is having at the moment. And I think everyone recognises that this is chance for change. This is actually a chance to accelerate the ambitions that many organisations have been talking about, ruminating on, around what their future of work would be.
And what this has generated is a huge push behind making that happen. And not only that, they’ve learnt lessons through this period as they’ve responded to the crisis and as they’ve worked through recovery.
And what is it that organisations are taking from those lessons and putting into practice as they think about returning to work. Some of the themes that we are certainly seeing, that deal with and tackle is broad ranging from the flexible workforce. The conversation previously around flexible workforce has been turned on its head over the last few months.
And mobile workforces, and actually enabling that to happen in a space of a very short period of time. And again across industries that traditionally would never have thought that they would be able to operate and continue to deliver on an at home working basis. And then there’s a lot of emphasis as well looking at cost bases.
And actually cost reviews of physical assets, and the perceived requirement for both office spaces. But also what is needed and required to make both work successful, but also individual successful at doing their work. And I think a key challenge that everyone’s facing is collaboration, human interaction, flexible ways of working.
So how to bring back into the workplace that real sense of collaboration, without necessarily requiring everybody always to be in the same place. And then I think we’ve really also seen a huge shift and acceleration towards technology. So movement towards the cloud, and the use of cloud technology to drive some of that efficiency and flexibility whether you’re bringing a supply chain closer to home.
Whether you are looking at your security measures. Whether you are just generally thinking about the automation of some of your previous processes. So there’s actually an enormous amount on organisations agenda at the moment when thinking about what that return to work looks like.
And it can’t be underestimated. The planning, the amount of required thinking that’s going into this. But I think a lot organisations are seeing this as the chance for change, and if it isn’t now, when will it be. Because this is going to reform how organisations and workforces work.
How they manage talent, how do they plan workforces, how will it look in the future? It’s a bit of a blank sheet of paper and I think everyone’s finding that quite exciting.
WG: Yes I totally agree with that Rachel. Great description. And we’ve arrived in the future of work overnight.
WG: And I’ve been amazed really at how, just actually how, of course everyone’s experienced the crisis differently. And I recognise it’s not been plain sailing by any means. But the adjustment in terms of work, I’ve been amazed at how straight forward that adjustment seems to have been.
Both talking to individuals, but also talking to clients and organisations that actually they have managed to make that shift. The reality is, there is no lancer but there is going to be a new future. There’s going to be a, I don’t want to use the overused term, new normal. But it’s going to be like, there’s a new deal or a next deal that the relationship between an employee and employer has changed.
And both sides right. And it should be a force for good. And it’s a real moment of change as you say, and I’m hopeful that organisations will seize it and not allow themselves to go back to the way things were. And certainly that’s what the workforce is certainly saying.
RN: Yes I think we’re going to see organisation models arising out of this and people testing and trying. Certainly that’s something that I’ve been hearing a lot, is the agility of testing some things and seeing if they work. Because people are much less afraid now to try something new, because of everyone has demonstrated, Will as you said, that overnight the ability to do work differently had to happen.
And it did happen. And by and large many organisations were able to continue operating that way. Large scale with big employee bases. So there is an appetite that I’m seeing that is about testing things. And if it doesn’t work, trying something else. I think it’s going to be interesting to see the variety of organisation models that won’t be, there won’t be a one size fits all.
But we’ll start to see some really interesting new ways of working coming out of this. I think, but back to our original point of the role of the social enterprise, how you support your workforce through that, and how you make, you continue to improve the productivity and engagement of your workforce through that, is going to be critical.
And a component of that is not only the communication and collaboration but the tools and how you enable your workforce to continue to work. I think some of those are going to be the real challenges as we go forwards.
SSG: And Rachel that’s a really nice return to the social enterprise. And we’ve followed the course of the Trends Report though our discussion so far. We started with the social enterprise then we looked at returning to work in the future of work. And now we’re onto the paradoxes which make up the meat of the report.
And the report talked about three key paradoxes. First of all, purpose which looks at fostering belonging amid a bizarre fringe of reality. There’s then potential which looks at creating security in a world of reinvention. And thirdly perspective which is all about taking bold action in an age of uncertainty.
So what are the highlights of these challenges? And what challenges do they pose to organisations?
WG: Well let me just try and unpick those a little bit Sam. I think this all rests, where I started in my first opening description of this year’s report. And I think there’s a call to action this year, which is, can organisations remain distinctly human in a technology driven world.
And these three paradoxes are really at the heart of this. Because, if you look at belonging and the desire for individuality. Well technology is creating this world where anything and everything can be individualised. But yet humans, workers, desire, we want to belong to something. We want to belong to a bigger hole.
And certainly a survey results pointed that this year. So 79% of respondents, and as I should have said at the outset, we had over 9 000 business and HR leaders in 119 countries respond to this year’s report. 79% said 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.
And I think the challenge therefore for an organisation of this context is, instead of technology creating divisions and individualising everything, organisations need to use technology to bring together unique complimentary skills and abilities. But in the context of a shared goal. And that’s where I think we go back to purpose.
This is why purpose is so important, because it creates that shared goal. And technology can then use the platforms to bring together people to deliver that purpose more effectively. The second paradox, security in a world of reinvention. I think this is a really interesting one particularly, and important for the social enterprise, where the emphasis is on the workforce and with technology continually leading people to reinvent themselves.
The half-life of skills continuing to accelerate, shorten and accelerate. That there’s a duty as more and more technology comes in. There’s a duty that organisations have to help employees reinvent themselves and reskill and remain relevant. And I think that is, again this is the next challenge.
Is leveraging technology to help people, help workers, the employees to have and maintain their potential for long term success in work. I think that’s a really profound challenge that organisations have today. And then the third paradox taking bold action in an age of uncertainty.
This is a little about where technology, it can also, it can paralyse because it’s such a force for good and such a force for change. But that it can also paralyse action. Because there’s a question, well things are changing so quickly, I don’t know where to start. I don’t know what to do. How do I actually move forward?
And humans want to. We want to make bold steps. That’s part of our being. So we’ve got this paradox here that technology can paralyse action and yet we want to take action. Again 90% of our respondents said that accelerating the need for organisations to change and scale of speed was going to be important for their success over the next ten years.
So what we need here is for technology and humans to work together to make sure that actually we’re looking at new possibilities. To transform uncertainty into perspective.
And to give employees confidence and capability that they can thrive in that new environment. I think these three paradoxes and the shifts and challenges in them, I think they’re really. I think to my mind when we think about the workforce in particular as a stakeholder group for a social enterprise, this really characterises what it means in that context to live up to that goal.
SSG: Excellent. And we’ve talked broadly over the course of this podcast about the workforce, about organisations. But looking much more specifically and speaking directly to our listeners, Rachel what can people do to prepare themselves for the future of work that this report discusses.
RC: Thanks Sam. I think it flows really nicely from what Will was just setting out there as part of the paradoxes, and has already been touched on. This is a two way street. There is the role of the social enterprise to respond to the individual, and to balance the need between the individual in society.
But actually for us as individuals as we prepare for this, it is a different world. Jobs and skills change far more rapidly than they ever did in the past. And the mind-set now of the employee and the individual in terms of skilling, becomes a very self-owned requirement.
So the whole approach to thinking about lifelong learning and re-thinking and reinventing learning, is what is going to be important. And that’s a real mind-set shift. When I think in our respondents, 73% believed their organisation should be the entity for responsible for workforce development.
But equally 54% said that it was the role of the individual to do that, because of the change in the skills and roles that is going to happen so quickly. The individual has to take that approach to learning and building those skills that are both relevant now, and setting them up for the future.
Now what that experience means, is whether its qualifications or whether its experience, it’ll be a whole blend of things that actually are different from what people have previously considered as being experience and CV’s of the past, to thinking about, actually how do you demonstrate your continuous learning of the future.
So having that mind-set as an individual in terms of your skilling, in terms of your learning, is going to be a key factor to prepare yourself for the future of work. And I think it’s also about organisations and thinking of the blend of the workforce. So there will be less of a demand for everyone to be the same, and much more of a blend of different skills, different capabilities increasing diversity on all elements that organisations will need to be successful.
And I think individuals also need to think about what is their process for reinvention and redefinition. Because that is what will keep organisations at the forefront of thinking and innovation. And Will talked about that human centricity. That is going to be the gem at the heart of successful organisations.
The technology is going to be an enabler, but the human centric individual success is going to be what really changes organisations. And how they leverage and manifest that workforce of the future. So there’s a lot I think that individuals can do to help themselves. There’s a lot more freedom.
And a lot more expression of thinking, but it does take more of a self-starting approach to think about your learning and your relevant skills in that market.
WG: Just to build on that Rachel, I suppose make a final point really, is I think there’s a question HR leaders need to ask themselves and ask their organisation. Is, do you know the levels of readiness, motivation, the mind-set of your workforce to embrace this future of work?
And the reason I say that is pointing back to some other research that we did about 18 months ago, where we actually spoke to the workforce rather than organisational leaders. And whilst the workforce could identify and could see this technological change coming, and the disruption it could create, there was a broad level of apathy or belief that it wouldn’t affect them.
And I think that’s a really important thing. Because as you said mind-set, having the right approach to wanting to thrive and be ready to thrive in a future of work and reinvent and embrace lifelong learning, is absolutely paramount. And I think 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.
SSG: Rachel and Will, thank you very much for a fascinating conversation that sets us up nicely to dive into the rest of the series. Look out for the next four episodes where we’ll be talking about purpose, potential and perspective before finishing off just like Will did, by exploring what this means for HR. Join us next time where we’ll be exploring wellbeing and belonging.