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James McQuivey, PhD


VP, Principal Analyst

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Four shocks will define this decade: is your organisation prepared?

When it comes to organisational development how do you sustain your values in the face of an ever-changing business landscape?

You have defined your workforce priorities, identified which are most important and set forth with a plan that will reinforce your organisational values, and engage, motivate and develop your workforce. The question now is, how do you sustain it in the face of challenges ahead?

To be prepared, Forrester has identified four “shocks” that are defining work in this decade. These are issues that our research is tracking, and each will impact how businesses handle their workforce priorities. They can knock organisations off balance in the short run while also shifting the landscape in which you operate in the long run. Our advice is to prepare for them, now.

Beyond the pandemic, there are other trends that will spread around the globe

Shock 1: Every company is exposed to global systematic risk

This is obviously about COVID-19 but it’s also about everything else happening at a systemwide level, most of it outside of your control. Beyond the pandemic, there are other trends that will spread around the globe such as the business impact of human health and wellness, global environmental pressures, the trend towards value-seeking tribalism and political fluctuations.

You know you are living in an age of accumulating systemic risk when Microsoft commits to being carbon negative by 2030, Australian wildfires cost that country’s economy AU$1.2 billion, and 20 per cent of Google’s workforce can stage a protest walkout

But it’s not just the global organisations that are impacted by global risk. Some effects are caused by changing consumer expectations bleeding into work expectations. Others are fomented by industry movements that you can’t shape but must respond to. For example, consumers are increasingly choosing to do business with companies that align with their values so how your executives travel, and the composition of your supply chain matters to them.

Furthermore, with technology providing a platform that can motivate and mobilise mass groups in hours, even minutes, businesses need to keep their eye on everything that is happening in the world around them and develop processes, tools, and cultural norms that allow rapid, effective responses.

Shock 2: Robots and automation have barely begun

AI, automation, and related technologies have been over-hyped as a threat to general job security. True, some job categories will suffer losses: By 2030, we expect software to replace two-thirds of cubicle worker jobs — those that include repetitive, manual tasks like accounts payable and data entry. But most of us will see our jobs transformed, not lost. Intelligent software, AI, robotic process automation (RPA) bots, or physical robots will take predictable tasks off our plates. 

Learning to think of automation tools as a new type of collaborator is just one adjustment required by this shift

Amid these changes, every organisation will have to deal with a new division of labour between humans and machines, dramatic shifts in human skill sets and customer experience delivered by humans and machines in collaboration. Learning to think of automation tools as a new type of collaborator is just one adjustment required by this shift.

Our research has found cases where 60-70 per cent of skills needed in the workplace will change. Companies have the opportunity now to retrain and upskill, rather than hiring reactively further down the line. This assessment should also look at where people are freed up by bots to do other work – perhaps spending more time on human interaction with customers.

Shock 3: An employee data downpour could drown you

The impact of workforce data on IT, HR, and the broader organisation has been building for decades. Having faced record low unemployment rates pre-pandemic, followed swiftly by the pressure of managing talent during COVID-19, companies are trying to better understand how they can improve talent acquisition and retention while achieving overall organisational goals. 

While these efforts require data, they also produce data, creating continual surges of sensitive workforce data. At the same time, complex regulations are increasing, making it more difficult to determine what employee and workforce information you can collect and how you can use it. Leading organisations and vendors have started to manage these surges with ways to prevent data misuse while also ensuring positive, insightful workforce analytics to improve their workforce and business results.

Shock 4: Like customer power before it, employee power will demand your attention

In 2015, we hailed the ‘age of the consumer,’ driven by devices and digital tools giving consumers’ access to more purchase options, sources of information, and avenues for communication. These tools enabled consumers to assert power over the companies they do business with. 

Employees have better information, more options, and many avenues for communication

A similar effect is now happening within the enterprise. Employees have better information, more options, and many avenues for communication. It is leading them to have higher expectations of their employer than before. Is this the ‘age of the employee?’ 

We anticipate that companies that obsess about engaging their employees will understand the value of employee engagement and its drivers, using increasingly scientific approaches to better grasp what drives or inhibits it. Companies preparing for this shock will apply human-centred CX techniques to employee experiences and provide empathetic responses to social media activism raising the public voice on values and freedoms.

Shock-proof your organisation, then prepare to flourish

These four shocks are already large and will only grow. Plus, as the pandemic is showing in real time, the reverberations of these shocks can set off ‘mini-shocks’ in related areas, all of which can distract you for years to come. Don’t let your organisation passively suffer these shocks. Instead, insulate against some; capture the energy from others; and use that energy to propel your organisation forward. 

This article is based on a Forrester research report, ‘The Future Of Work Starts Now,’ by James McQuivey, PhD, J.P. Gownder and David Johnson.

Interested in this topic? Read Four ways to shape a future of work that’s right for your people.

Author Profile Picture
James McQuivey, PhD

VP, Principal Analyst

Read more from James McQuivey, PhD

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