The top five drivers of workforce transformation

The possibility of being replaced by a robot, ‘being’ there without stepping onto a plane and the ‘Corporate Lattice’ are all beginning to become realities for the workplace. Below, we take a look at how the effects of technology and emerging ways of working will affect the employees of the future.

1. Radically shifted by robots

The rise of artificial intelligence and robotics shows no sign of slowing down. In fact, Janna Quitney Anderson, a professor at Elon University predicts more and more of our work and personal tasks will be taken over in the next decade by cognitive systems, autonomous vehicles, bots and drones, as interconnectivity, data aggregation and analytics move forward.

Japan’s Fukoku Mutual Life Insurance expects a 30% productivity increase thanks to an AI system based on IBM’s Watson Explorer. The system ‘thinks like a human’ to calculate medical insurance payouts and is set to replace 34 employees. According to a 2015 report by the Nomura Research Institute, nearly half of Japanese jobs could be performed by robots by 2035.

It might sound sinister, but that frees up a lot more human resource to help developed economies diversify even further.

2. Flatter but with more fizz

Its official, the corporate ladder’s days, and rungs, are numbered. It's becoming increasingly apparent that in the 21st century workplace, hierarchies are ‘flattening’ with less need for multiple layers of management. As we continue to move from an industrial age to digital, and become a more diverse workforce demanding increasingly collaborative and flexible work environments, the old ladder is becoming more of a grid-like structure. Cathy Benko, Vice-Chairman of Deloitte in San Francisco and co-author of ‘The Corporate Lattice’, explains how the days of standardization and strict hierarchies are over, in favor of a structure where ideas and employees can move along horizontal, vertical and diagonal paths. These new networks are not only opening doors to more opportunities, but to a more agile kind of employee with multi-dimensional skills and strengths. It's time to climb the ‘Corporate Lattice’.

3. Rocked by the gig economy

The appetite of employers for mobility and flexibility, coupled with millennials’ thirst for more blended work and personal time is helping to drive a new kind of workforce. Enter the skilled freelancer, happiest when moving from gig to gig. Major US freelancer marketplace Upwork estimates 34% of the US workforce now works freelance, making the question to ask these days not, ‘Where do you work?’ but, ‘What are you working on?’ A world where work is measured in ‘gigs’ works well for some, with surveys finding around half of freelancers feel lucky and liberated, however the other half report feeling more stressed and would rather find full-time work. But there is hope: the science of getting a ‘gig’ or full-time work is set to become more objective. Erik Brynjolfsson, Professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology predicts hiring algorithms will take us beyond the ‘it's not what you know, it's whom you know’ to a world where candidates’ skillsets are objectively matched with job opportunities. As technology and connectivity gather pace, so finding the best talent will become less of a full-time job.

4. Moving to the second-tier city

London. New York. Seoul. All hotspots attracting the best talent, but also generating the highest living costs. Whilst it appears these major urban centers will continue to grow, they also appear to be starting to exhaust their stores of opportunity, with rents outpacing salaries. And yet, predictions that remote working and more advanced tools like Dropbox, Google Hangouts, and Skype would see us all setting up shop on the beach or the nearest mountain, have not materialized. It seems we’re not quite ready to isolate ourselves in the world of work – as we do still like human contact!

Just another reason that the fastest growing places to live in the last decade have been the so-called ‘second-tier’ cities. Cheaper to live and do business, yet still rich in infrastructure and a sense of community.

So for now, you’re more likely to find the well-educated millennial in Boston than on the beach.  

5. Being at work anywhere

Augmented reality and virtual reality are just two technologies set to revolutionize how, and crucially where, we all work. The end of the workplace is a possibility, but the likelihood is that emerging technologies will simply help us to extend it and work more flexibly.

The Meta 2 AR headset has recently demoed a function allowing users on a conference call to pass virtual objects between them, further collapsing distance and offering more in-person advantages like eye contact and being able to read body language. Icelandic company Breakroom are working on the problem of screen requirements outpacing desk space with a VR headset allowing the user to stack, move and locate multiple screens in a virtual environment of their choice. And DORA (Dextrous Observational Roving Automation), a robot which can be navigated around a real space, is helping workers to be in and explore actual workplaces remotely via a VR headset. All paving the way for more instant collaboration and flexibility.

The future will be less about where we work, and more about what we do.