4 HR Predictions About The Future of Work

I attended the annual BYU Marriott School OBHR Conference which is a one-day event loaded with presentations from OB and HR experts on the latest trends that will impact the future of work. It was fun to be back in the business building at my old alma mater and to sit in some of the same cramped seats I used in my MBA classes. I was also finally able to buy a caffeinated Coke on campus (yeah, that was a thing at BYU). Since the title of the conference was “Focus on the Future”, I thought I would share some of the insights I gleaned, as well as propose a few of my own less-insightful predictions. Here are my take-aways from four of the presentations.

1. There Are Teams and Then There Are Flash Teams

Melissa Valentine, assistant professor at Stanford University, presented cutting-edge research on the effectiveness of outsourced teams. With a grant, she created “Flash Teams” using an online application to assemble various contract workers from freelance sites, such as Upwork, to complete complex projects. One project was the development of a healthcare mobile app that would communicate detailed patient information to an emergency room while first responders were still en route to the hospital. The application bid out over 30 jobs to project managers, developers, and testers. Average hiring time was 14 minutes. The project was completed in a few months, with multiple workers from around the world, and cost about $43,000. Her research showed that complex projects can be accomplished by specialized freelance workers faster and at a lower cost than trying to accomplish the same with internal resources.

My Prediction:

Valentine predicted, and I agree, that the utilization of specialized freelance work will increase as more workers participate in the “gig economy”. Workers will bid on and choose their own “gigs” instead of, or in addition to, a regular job. Companies will contract with more external specialists and will begin to “bid” projects for their internal workers, similar to how jobs are bid on Upwork. We may even see fully outsourced organizations who use networked platforms to develop, manufacture, market, sell, and deliver their products or services.

2. Employment Law Is Getting More Complicated

As a breakout session, employment law was not my first choice, but I was pleasantly surprised by what I learned. Jonathan Driggs, Attorney at Law, provided some predictions on employment law that will have major implications on HR and business in general. He expects that employment law will become more complex, intrusive, restrictive, and punitive. The Fair Pay Act, signed by Obama in 2009, is a prime example. This law makes it much more difficult to prove that pay disparity is not based on sex. Eventually, he sees a class-action lawsuit occurring because lawyers will see that businesses cannot meet the expectations of the law, even if there are other legitimate reasons for pay disparity.

My Prediction:

Additional regulations are being added at the federal level that require more documentation and processes. This will lead to new software programs and platforms to help businesses manage these processes and reporting requirements. It will also require businesses to hire or contract with employment law specialists to comply with the new complexities and regulations, or suffer expensive litigation.

3. PwC: Are You Ready for 2030?

A joint presentation by PwC partner, John Karren, and global impact leader, Shiloh Roan, explained the challenges organizations will face in 2030 and the bets they are making to be successful. Here are their five global challenges that will change workplace practices:

  • Technology: Everyone wants to “go digital”, but most organizations don’t know that that means for them.
  • Resource Scarcity/Climate Change: Organizations are underestimating the impact that climate change and a lack of resources (minerals, water, energy) will have on their businesses.
  • Shifts in Global Economic Power: Who will be the next players in the global economy, and are we prepared to capitalize and respond?
  • Demographic Shifts: Africa promises to bet the next India or China in terms of untapped labor with a large under-employed young workforce.
  • Urbanization: Cities are growing at faster rate than ever before. How does that impact consumer wants, job training, and political change?

To respond to these global changes, PwC sees companies placing bets in five strategic areas:

  • Technology Augmented Workforce: Workers won’t be replaced by robots. Rather, people will become more productive with the assistance of technology.
  • Speed of Learning: Organizations will invest heavily in workforce training so employees become more proficient in their jobs. Workers will need to “re-skill” to learn entirely new jobs to remain in the workforce.
  • Gig Economy: More organizations will utilize specialized freelance workers from Upwork, Fiverr, and Gigster.
  • Talent Mobility: Not only will more employees work remotely from different offices or their homes, but they will also change jobs more frequently.
  • Enterprise Collaboration: Organizations will utilize technology to create greater internal collaboration. The possibility of “getting everyone on the same page” quickly and efficiently is now available.

My Prediction

With 2030 being 12 years away, it made me think of the changes in the past 12 years. Mobile technology has made a huge impact during that time period and will continue to transform the way we do business. I think the Gig Economy will have a significant impact going forward. More workers will freelance to augment their incomes or opt-out of regular employment. Companies will realize they can get work done more efficiently and for less money by utilizing gig workers.

4. How Not to Get Blindsided by The Future

Executive director of the MIT Leadership Center and author of “The innovator’s DNA”, Hal Gregersen shared insight from his latest HBR article, “Bursting the CEO Bubble”. His research shows that CEOs are inherently insulated from information they need to lead their companies. His advice for CEOs is to take deliberate steps to gather feedback from their employees and the environment in order to stay competitive and spot trends. Technology is constantly disrupting industries like transportation (taxis vs. Uber) and navigation (paper maps vs. Garmin vs. mobile apps).
Gregersen interviewed several CEOs who shared their secrets for staying in touch. One CEO of an international package delivery company always has one of his company drivers take him from the airport to his hotel when he travels. He gained so many insights about his company by talking with these drivers that he now requires all of his leaders to do the same when they travel.

My Prediction:

Even with the latest advances in technology, the greatest insights and ideas will come from conversations. Those companies that effectively use technology to gather feedback from employees and act on it will have a competitive advantage

Do you have any more predictions to add? Do you disagree with any of mine? Drop your predictions into the comments section and we’ll see who is right in 2030. If you can predict the future better than me, I’ll buy you a caffeinated Coke.
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