Engage with employees, yes…

But understand who they are first!
Ten trends that are shaping the Modern Workforce

Not so long ago, the workforce could be broken down into two primary categories: manual or professional. In most cases, this workforce was directly employed and based at a headquarters or regional hub.

Welcome to the Modern Workforce

Today, in contrast, the modern workforce is a diverse mosaic of people from different backgrounds, cultures, generations, and ethnicity; and many are not full time employees. They may include interns, part-time workers, consultants, vendors, partners, analysts, agencies, outsourcers, temps, and even robots.

Why is this so important to HR? Because as the makeup of work teams continues to evolve, management teams need to understand that how they acquire, engage, manage and develop these ever changing teams also has to adapt. So what are the key factors to take into consideration when managing the modern workforce?

1. It’s global. The modern workforce is no longer co-located in an office. It’s ever more rarely even in the same town, city, region, or country.  Even the smallest of companies are finding themselves dealing with co-workers who are located miles away in different locations, time zones, and cultures.

2. It’s dispersed. Technological development allows workers to be working anywhere, not just in the office, or even a remote office, but from any location that they have access to the internet. People now work with others who they may never meet in person. By 2020, it’s projected (PwC) that there will be 50% more locations used by companies than there are today. Organizational leadership must be able to adapt to this new reality. “The workplace of 2025 will be wherever you want it.”

3. It’s multi-generational. We are currently experiencing a period where four generations are in the workforce for the first time.  Soon, this will be five as generation Z enters the workplace. Different generations have different values and different attitudes to work and technology, and this raises significant challenges as to how to manage these alternative views and perspectives in order to get the best out of each and every individual.

4. It’s multi-cultural and diverse. People from different backgrounds bring their own unique cultural experiences to situations, along with a broader set of perspectives and viewpoints.  However, this diversity brings the need for understanding, acceptance and tolerance. Different cultures have different values, alternative beliefs, ways of thinking, and communicating.

5. It’s tech savvy. The modern workforce is tech savvy. We are approaching an era where at least one-third of all data will live in, or pass through, the cloud. Information flows faster and in all directions; people download new apps and create new content; they connect and engage with each other in different ways; and all without training – learning as they go. Over time, the ability to interact with machines, sensors and robots will blur the boundaries between human and artificial intelligence, as technology becomes ever more integrated within the workforce and workplace.

6. It’s mobile. The growth in mobile devices and mobile usage is well documented, with the explosion of mobile devices projected to reach 10 billion by 2016. It is common for people to have multiple devices – 30% of US workers now use three devices or more (Forrester) – so the modern organisation needs seamless experience across devices; pick up on one where you left off from another. It means work teams are always connected, always on and potentially available; they can work from anywhere, anytime. This allows for rapid decision-making and perfect connection to customers, teams, and each other. Despite the work/life issues that this will develop, 24/7 accessibility is a must-have – to power, to the internet, to data, to apps, to people.

7. It’s social. 72% of companies used social networking, blogs, and/or video sharing (McKinsey). Companies are adopting social tools because they need better ways to communicate, interact and engage than just using email or the phone. Social tools do not in themselves improve productivity; unfocused conversations aren’t in themselves productive. The important thing is that you need to move beyond just enabling conversations to getting work done.

If interactions and conversations are contained in the right group, with the right people, and is embedded in the workflows, it is possible to enable social as part of the framework of structuring work and getting it done faster. Applications and workflows need to incorporate social interactions so that people can understand the broader context of work and are able to engage more quickly and get work done faster.

8. It’s contingent: 20% of the Fortune 100 workforce were contractors in 2011, and this is projected to grow to 50% by 2020. Teams increasingly include outsiders – interns, part-time staff, temps, ‘permatemps’, consultants, advisors, agencies, and outsourcers. This trend is increasing with the growth of contingent workforce and the rise of the freelance economy. Soon half the people involved on projects in organizations are likely to be contingent workers supplementing the direct employees.

9. It’s fluid. Teams and projects are transient; they often exist for short periods of time and then disband and move on. Routine work built around routine transactions or production lines has continued to decline, whereas work built around complex interactions is growing.

Work is increasingly non-routine as anything that can be automated, will be. This leaves people with the jobs that computers or machines can’t do: creative work and complex tasks. The result of this is that you need new ways for teams to organize work on the fly, the way they see fit. People need to be able to get on board quickly, be able to access the apps, data and people they need to access, to get work done quickly and efficiently. As a result, you need to be thinking of new ways to engage team members who are outside your company.

10. It’s increasingly automated. Any work that can be automated will be. Automated (self-driving) vehicles and delivery drones are examples of what is to come. Robots are becoming cheaper, more precise and flexible, so they no longer need to be separated from human workers for safety reasons. Consequently we can expect to see the rise of collaborative robots or ‘cobots’.  Robots will move beyond manufacturing (where developed countries are using them to “reshore” manufacturing that was previously outsourced to low-cost developing nations).and into the service sector.  These changes are creating challenges for policymakers (such as the European funded RoboLaw) as they seek to protect humans while taking advantage of ‘robotomation’ (robot automation).

The Modern Workforce, so what next?

The emergence of the modern workforce has far reaching consequences for how organizations have to change and adapt. As the CMO of a global cloud HRMS company, we see so many organizations struggling with HR systems that are out of date, fragmented, and unable to support the way people are working. And I’m talking about yesterday and today’s simplest challenges, without all of the complexities outlined above. The way organizations manage their people is evolving rapidly, and by implication, new tools and systems are required that are in keeping with this new generation of employer and employee, in support of the modern workforce.

The way organizations acquire, engage, manage and develop their people needs drastic transformation to keep up, remain competitive, and stay ahead.

The time has come for change and that time is now.

Wait - don't go!