The Future of Work – Embracing tech with a human touch

27 April 2023

Not since the Industrial Revolution has work changed so fundamentally. These past three years have forced a monumental reconsideration of how, when, where, and why we work. The global pandemic coupled with technology innovation has changed the playing field.

At ZEDRA, we were curious about how these changes affect companies and talent. So, we took a deep-dive into how employers attract and retain top talent in our September 2022 report: The Successful Global Employer: Appealing to the Best and Brightest.

Six months on, the trends we reported on still hold. As a recap, workers want:

  • Hybrid arrangements – both where they work and when they work. The solution will differ among industries and companies.
  • A values-driven organisation with a highly developed social conscience.
  • Wellbeing, life-work balance and empathy – they matter more than pay cheques.
  • Flexible working – which means different things to different people, and works differently from team to team and country to country. Enlightened employers are creating optionality for their people.
  • Agility – which requires accountability. Corporate compliance ensures they have embedded fairness, systems and controls, and monitoring.

And what about the next six months and beyond?

Tim Baker, Director, HR & Benefits at ZEDRA London, said “It’s clear the future workplace will be different, but how it will look is still in a state of flux. And that’s the challenge – to manage the flux while simultaneously building trust with your people and staying relevant to the market.”

Some are doubling down on the trends discussed in our report. They’re also keen to understand the latest trends and the potential impact on their business model and people. Different organisations will pick and choose to create solutions that suit them best.

Here are the latest workforce trends:

1 – Artificial Intelligence (AI)

AI technology can do things that have traditionally required human intelligence, such as speech recognition, visual perception, and decision-making. Your company may already use AI to do basic (voice activated digital assistants) and repetitive administrative tasks (Robotic Process Automation), as well as sophisticated tasks (complex data wrangling from multiple disparate sources used in management reporting).

One of the latest AI entrants is ChatGPT, an AI chatbot released in late November 2022 to much fanfare. It answers complex questions with eerily humanlike skills. It even passed law school exams and a Wharton Business School MBA exam, among others. Some schools are banning it citing plagiarism concerns.

At a minimum, ChatGPT – and other AI tools – are part of an evolution that will influence how work gets done. Companies that want to spend less time on repetitive and process-oriented tasks will leverage AI. At ZEDRA we have developed our own chatbot, Z-Bots. This frees up workers to provide more value-add services and innovation.

2 – Technology Upskilling

While it can be challenging to implement, forward-looking companies are figuring out how to provide the bandwidth and support for their people to upskill their digital capabilities – not just the mechanics, but also how to think and problem-solve with a digital mindset. The ability to use data analytics and AI to complete tasks quickly and precisely, predict customer behaviours, and provide meaningful insights will provide a competitive edge.

Global professional services giant PwC has earmarked US$3bn to upskill its global workforce. They’re not alone. Institutions of varying sizes are determined to stay relevant to their clients while providing meaningful career opportunities for their people.

3 – Empathic Leadership

There’s been a lot of focus on empathy and listening in the workplace. There’s evidence that engaged teams led by empathic managers, who take the time to listen to their people and act on their feedback perform better. All this listening, of course, takes time and emotional energy.

Some say too much.

London Business School professor and future of work expert Lynda Gratton suggests redesigning a manager’s job by redirecting some of their administrative work so they can dedicate more time to listening and acting on employee feedback. According to EY, 39% of US workers say they feel the greatest sense of belonging and happiness at work when colleagues check in and ask how they’re doing. Workers say this matters more to them than feedback or public recognition.

Redesigning a manager’s job to focus more on listening is good management.

4 – Flexibility

Workers the world over are looking for flexibility from their employers. Flexibility supports autonomy. And autonomy in their work lives helps them flourish in their personal lives. Increasingly, workers also want a say in not just where they work, but when they work.

Yet, not all organisations are on board. Three years on from the pandemic, some companies have or are about to call their employees back to the office – some up to five days in the office and others offering a hybrid arrangement. Still others are sticking to 100% remote work.

To add to this mix, there’s an idea that’s catching hold – the four-day workweek. The worker would spend four days working and then have a regular 3-day weekend for family and personal life.

A bill was recently reintroduced in California that would adjust the Fair Labor Standards Act to reduce the standard 40-hour workweek in the US to 32 hours.

And, a recent first-ever study – conducted by the research organisation Autonomy – of 2,900 British workers who worked a 4-day workweek showed that 73% reported being happier, and 71% reported a sharp drop in burnout. The positive results prompted 91% of the companies involved in the study to keep the 4-day workweek even after the trial’s conclusion.

“Discussing with your team members their ideas for balancing work with personal life is a potent way to build employee engagement and better outcomes for clients,” said Alexandra Suhas, Managing Director of ZEDRA Boston – which helps European companies expanding in the US  with their HR matters.

5 – Wellness

Discussing wellness – and specifically mental wellness – is no longer a societal taboo. According to the World Health Organization, an estimated 12 billion working days are lost every year worldwide to depression and anxiety at a cost of US$1 trillion per year in lost productivity.

Corporates can consider offering wellness benefits for their workers. Meditation apps, on-line therapy services, wellness stipends, or just the freedom to conduct meetings outside in the fresh air can be highly effective in supporting wellbeing.

“Leaders can encourage their teams to dedicate blocks of uninterrupted time every week during the workday to focus on their mental health and well-being. Ask your teams what their ideas are for when and how to structure this time. You’ll be rewarded by enhanced employee engagement,” adds Tim Baker.

How ZEDRA can help

Our global HR experts can support your HQ team by becoming your local HR department on the ground. Our flexible Payroll, HR and Benefits services are designed to ensure that local obligations for both the employer and employee are met.

Whether you are looking for a 360-degree HR service, support with pre-employment checks, offer letters and contracts, including healthcare plans, retirement plans, vacation accrual, legal employment registrations, travel and entertainment expenses, or simply PTO tracking, our HR experts can help you find a tailored solution that’s right for your company and your employees.

Contact Tim Baker or Alexandra Suhas to find out more about how we help employers.

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