On the second day of AHRI’s Convention, futurists and experts delved into what the future of work actually means, what it looks like in practice, and how we can start preparing for the future, today.
We spend a lot of time discussing the future of work as though it’s an abstract, far-off event that has no impact on our day-to-day jobs. But according to panellists at AHRI’s Convention, that’s not quite the case. You may not realise it, but you’re grappling with the future of work every day. At least, if you decide to.
“The future of work will never arrive – it’s here in the present,” says Reanna Browne, Founder of Work Futures. “We need to shift our thinking that it’s out in the future, and that you have other things to deal with.
“It’s here now. The future of HR happens by our actions and inactions in the present.”
With that in mind, let’s take a look at some of the topics that we need to put front and centre when preparing for the workplaces of the future.
1. The HR function will evolve
We can’t assume that HR as we currently know it will continue, says Browne.
That’s not to say HR will disappear completely, but other priorities may come to the fore, while other elements of our work may be automated. For example, we can expect that issues such as sustainability and social justice will become more prominent, while manual tasks will get automated.
“When we think about our HR strategy, let’s not think about it using current day assumptions of what HR is and what HR delivers,” says Ben Hamer CPHR, AHRI board member and Chair of its Future of Work Advisory Panel, and Lead, Future of Work at PwC.
“With the pace of change that we’re seeing, HR as a function will evolve, even to the point where we call it something different in a few years time.”
Now is the time to prepare ourselves for a different future, says Browne.
“We’re no longer in a time where talking about the future of work is peripheral.
This is an opportunity to think innovatively and plan for change.
“As HR practitioners, how can we build our own foresight muscle?”
Building strategic foresight capability is one way of anticipating change and navigating complexity, says Browne. But, we always need to tie it back to how we can incorporate strategic foresight into our work today in the here and now.
2. Enabling a more fluid workforce
The pandemic accelerated what was already becoming a globalised workforce, and it’s not going to revert to the standard 9-5, five-days-per-week situation.
HR leaders need to be comfortable with this new set-up and create processes to enable their people to do their best work, wherever they are.
This also means that it’s time to stop debating the merits of hybrid work. Your employees want agency as to where and when they work. Forcing them to come into the office on certain days or to work specific hours will cost you good talent, says
“A lot of HR professionals feel like they’re banging their heads against a brick wall when they discuss hybrid work with their bosses,” says Hamer.
“They’re frustrated because they don’t have influence over these decisions, and often it’s a CEO making a captain call.”
“As HR practitioners, how can we build our own foresight muscle?” – Reanna Browne
So how can HR professionals help change these rules around where and when we work?
You need to come at it with a challenge-based approach, says Peter Williams, Partner, Innovation at Deloitte.
Start by identifying what you’re worried about when you insist people come to the office or work standard hours. For example, you could be worried about a lack of connection, productivity or a diminishing culture. (See HRM’s wrap-up of today’s sessions on culture for more on this).
“The answer to these challenges isn’t necessarily being in the office,” says Williams. “Ask yourself: what are the other ways of doing this? What can we learn? How can we experiment?”
You should also look to others, he adds.
“It’s easy to get stuck in patterns of rules and practices. Try to broaden your mind about how work can be done by conducting regular site visits to companies that function differently than yours.”
Did you miss day one of AHRI’s Convention? HR leaders in the public sector explored how to prepare for the future of work. You can read a summary of their conversation here.
3. Putting sustainability and climate responses first
We’re already starting to see how HR practitioners are responding to climate change. It’s a big force of change that will increasingly become a centre-stage function.
Employees care about what you’re doing around sustainability. Your actions now will impact talent retention and even your employer brand.
Another thing to consider is how you respond to the climate crisis on a policy level.
“For example, some of your employees may find it too hot to work from home during summer – they may not have the right kind of heating and cooling at home,” says Browne.
HR professionals will have to find solutions to these kinds of issues. For example, you could let people work later at night when it’s cooler.
Whatever needs or worries employees may have about the climate emergency, HR leaders need to be prepared to accommodate them in a human and empathetic way.
4. Our responsibilities around workspaces
The office is not dead, says Natalie Slessor, Head of Customer Futures at LendLease.
“People have got to be somewhere,” says Slessor. “The vision for society is not that we sit on our sofas online. The vision for society is that we are connected to each other.”
In the workplace, this will be enabled by social tech, but also by creating facilities for people who want to work in an office, from home or in a co-working space close to where they live. It comes down to understanding what your people need.
“We can’t do away completely with physical spaces – we know physical spaces are still working,” says Slessor.
“Instead, welcome the idea that office spaces will be reinvented. Find ways to make them stimulating places of choice for those who choose to come into the office”
Putting HR’s influence to good use
Hamer says it’s also worth considering changes around how the HR function is utilised.
“The conversation around HR has shifted,” he says. “We used to always talk about wanting a seat at the table. Now we’ve proven ourselves and we’ve got that. Now it’s about what you do with that.”
In relation to designing workplaces of the future, that new-found influence can be used to steer leaders to make informed, employee-centric decisions about matters such as when to return to the workplace, or what your hybrid culture looks like.
HR must be a part of these important conversations. In fact, they should be steering them. To Hamer’s point earlier, HR has evolved so much in recent years that we might soon need a new name for those who work in the profession. You’re the strategic business partners, the change makers, the guiding force into the future of work, and that’s not something to be taken lightly.
What key insights have you gleaned from AHRI’s Convention? There’s spirited conversation happening in the AHRI LinkedIn Lounge, exclusive to members, about all parts of convention. Join the conversation today.