As technology increasingly permeates societies, cultures and everyday activities, its integration into people’s lives is having a profound impact on what is expected of people in the workplace. Deloitte examines this evolution of today’s workforce, the contemporary workplace and methods of operating
In the long-standing ‘nature versus nurture’ debate, human traits have alternately been explained as being hard-coded by genetics, influenced primarily by environment or a mixture of both. As technology evolves, becoming an ever-present and pervasive extension of our own consciousness, humans have entered a new era best described as digital human augmentation (DHA) – aided by social media, distributed trust networks and mass collaboration – which goes beyond the mere ability to recall facts and information to bringing about deeply transformational change in societies, businesses and in ourselves. As uncertainty and ambiguity become the new normal, a new set of skills and systems is required.
Building the workforce of the future
The next generation of knowledge workers will need an active understanding of both tech and business, as silos and specialisations gradually give way to flexible teams that can respond more quickly to changing demands. The term ‘purple people’ was first used nearly a decade ago – to describe those with a blend of business acumen (red) and IT (blue) skills. In the next decade, these hybrid workers will help companies manage the risk of disruption, stay relevant and adapt successfully.
Sustainable growth in this new era is driven not by traditional top‑down directives, but bottom-up collaborative efforts on the part of agile, distributed and ‘on-demand’ talent. At the same time, jobs that are difficult, dull or dangerous will be increasingly automated, yet there will remain a need for people who understand how to set up, manage and troubleshoot complex data systems. Machine learning platforms, for example, have a ‘middle layer’ that cannot be fully explained – this requires an end-to-end view of the business, as minor changes in algorithms can significantly alter a diverse set of outcomes that are unforeseeable for someone with a narrow scope of responsibilities. Social media platforms have only recently begun to fully appreciate this – no directive, employee handbook or memo is going to be a ‘cure-all’ for the unintended consequences of increasingly powerful and ubiquitous digital technologies.
Industry 4.0 and the next generation of talent
As the next iteration of industry becomes a reality, proximity and allocation of physical resources become less important, and the need to build scalable, trusted networks will outweigh the need for fixed infrastructure. People, therefore – and their ability to trust one another – may one day become more important than even capital itself when it comes to growing and maintaining a business.
Since the early days of the industrial revolution, there has always been a need for people who know and understand which technical solutions are best suited to a viable business need, and how to identify opportunities in the world of business that can be solved with new and emerging technology. An often-used description in the field of innovation is the ‘T-shaped’ person – someone with a good general knowledge base and skill set, giving them the versatility needed to collaborate and contribute to broader team objectives, who also has an area of deep expertise to bring to the table.
Another trend for workers of the future is a gradual move in emphasis from success to significance. The social licence to operate that we grant to businesses – whether through regulation or consumer choice – is held to increasingly higher standards. At the same time, young professionals expect their work to have meaning beyond just earning a salary, and will leverage their skills and influence accordingly. This translates to a prevalence of mission-driven organisations, which measure outcomes in terms of positive and negative social and environmental impact and sustainability, as well as profitability.
Leveraging and optimising opportunities in a new landscape
The benefits of collaboration can be exponential; the digital economy has created businesses that scale quickly and maintain their position with network effects. Few could have predicted the rise and impact of crowdsourced content platforms such as YouTube and Wikipedia. GitHub, the world’s largest code repository with 31 million users, recently launched its Sponsors platform, allowing developers to donate funds to their favourite open-source contributors, with payments of up to $5,000 matched by the Microsoft-owned company.
While some of the most valuable work is already taking place outside of the traditional office environment, and that trend will continue. In terms of people, culture and more, the workplace of tomorrow is likely to be a very different place.