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Working the Future

Our future of work blog 

10/06/2019, 11:50


 Letting workers go with grace, humility and civility is a powerful weapon in the ongoing war for talent. We’ve entered a new age of the boomerang employee...

More and more UK businesses are experiencing the twinchallenges of recruitment and retention. Finding, and then retaining, the rightpeople with the right attitude and skills to help grow a business has neverbeen more critical. We hear this every week in our C-suite conversations, and it’salso reflected in the business press. A recentIBM report on recruiting stated: 

"By 2020 the talent shortage in the US alone is projected tobe around 23M employees. This is not simply a human resource issue. It’s anissue already vexing the C-suite, as 60% of execs struggle to keep workforceskills current and relevant in the face of rapid tech advancement". 

In the UK, two key areas of increasing skills shortage are technologyand cyber security.  Even if our academicsystem was able to deliver young adults with the right technological baselineof skills tomorrow, the organisational ability to foretell which mix of skillswill be needed and for how long, will continue to confound many. 

At a foundational level, we know the future of work is digital,and we also know it’s deeply human. Figuring out the sub-text is the hard part.All too often, the prevailing narrative that surrounds the business landscapeis technology-centric, and the human opportunity is left significantlyunderstated. 

It’s likely that skills shortages in niche areas willcontinue, particularly with the emergence of ’hybrid jobs’; the pairing ofskill-sets in ways unseen previously. It’s therefore vital that employers holdonto valued top talent; the sunk cost of losing both skills and organisationalknowledge simply can’t be ignored. 

But why is the pace of staff turnover accelerating? 
Modern workforces are expressing a desire for more freedom, flexibility,and choice at work, a work environment that provides continuous development andlearning opportunity, and critically, a sense of connection and belonging.That’s a massively tall order for most organisations, who are still using 20thCentury thinking when it comes to workforce planning. 

Socio-culturally, the last decade has seen a significantshift away from a ’job for life’ mindset, towards a more short-term view of identifyingwork opportunities that can deliver meaning, development and growth. Quitesimply, the UK workforce is becoming far more individualistic in outlook, andmore comfortable with moving on as soon as the job opportunity ceases todeliver perceived ’value’. 

As it adjusts to meet the needs of the 21stCentury workforce, one of the simplest things that any modern business can doto build organisational resilience, is to accept that a permanent jobopportunity no longer necessarily correlates with long-term. 

If continuous turnover is the new normal, what can be done to avoidlosing key talent? 
One super-effective approach is to leave the door open for exitingworkers to return.

This makes perfect sense. From here on in, the opportunitiesthat entice skilled workers are far more likely to be project-based, andemployers it will find it increasingly challenging to provide continuouslyengaging assignments. Such is the increasingly fluid nature of work. 

As workforces become more flexible, we will see impermanent workteams coming together on a temporary basis to deliver value, then disbandingonce that deliverable is executed. We should extend good grace and intenttowards departing workers, irrespective of employment status. 

Keeping track of workers who’ve added value will become acritical asset for any business; keeping in touch with workers who’ve developedorganisational knowledge, and who’ve delivered good work, ensures fasterramp-up time when the next opportunity presents. 

Welcome to the world of off-boarding 
Letting workers go with grace, humility and civility is apowerful weapon in the ongoing war for talent. We’ve entered a new age of theboomerang employee. 

By creating an off-boarding strategy that is respectful and inclusive,exiting co-workers can be invited - and are far more likely to accept thatinvitation - back into the organisation to deliver value at a later date. Furthermore,when treated with respect and dignity, both throughout the ’employeeexperience’ and into the off-boarding stage, departing workers are far morelikely to act as strong advocates for an employer’s brand, and recommend abusiness to their peers and contact network.

Some organisations are already seeing the value in buildingan alumni network that transcends the social benefit of former colleaguesstaying in touch. Powerful alumni networks enable the organisation to dip inand out of talent, creating a truly fluid and flexible 21st Centurytalent-ecosystem. 

Successful and resilient organisations of the future will befluid and agile, meeting emergent customer needs as they arise. Key toorganisational fluidity is workforce flexibility. A robust off-boarding strategyis an excellent starting point. 

If you’d like to discuss an off-boarding strategy with us,please do get in touchtoday.
01/05/2019, 11:40


 ’Future’ implies somewhere further out on the horizon, and not therefore a problem for today. The here and now is already too complex, uncertain and often overwhelming to even consider something that doesn’t exist yet. Yet the future of work is now.

We’ve been analysing the convergent trends transforming theway we work for the last three years now, and we think we’ve hit a roadblock. 

We think it’s a problem of semantics. When we talk about the’future of work’, we think we give permission to defer addressing thegame-changing transformations that will alter the entire fabric of how we work toanother day and time. ’Future’ implies somewhere further out on the horizon,and not therefore a problem for today. The here and now is already too complex,uncertain and often overwhelming to even consider something that doesn’t existyet. 

And yet the future of work is now

When we have conversations with CEOs, one of the most commonchallenges business owners share with us has to do with staff recruitment and retention.  

Let’s add some context.In 2017, KPMGpublished a report showing that the average tenure for a millennial is now threeyears. Randstad, the global Human Capital consulting firm, hascalculated the average cost of replacing a ’professional’ level employeewho resigns at GBP£30,500. This figure encompasses not only recruitment andinduction costs, but also the cost of getting a new hire up to speed. Theproductivity cost of ’disengagement’ isn’t quantified and yet newlypublished research by Peakon, a platform that measures employee engagement,suggests that employees are typically disengaged for NINE months before takingthe leap and moving on. 

In spite of all the talk about millennials at work in recentyears, there’s still significant disconnect between what younger workers saythey want from their workplaces and what employers are offering up. Thisproblem is only set to exacerbate - PWChas reported that this demographic will constitute 50% of the globalworkforce by 2020, and the Centennial generation is also now hot on its heels.Unlike previous generations, younger people are far less tolerant of outdatedpractices, tools, and bluntly disconnected ways of doing and being in theworkplace. If the average tenure of a worker is currently three years, unlessthe messaging behind the wave of disruptive and transformative automationtechnologies about to hit the commercial landscape is authentic andpeople-centric, we can only imagine that the retention challenge will worsen foremployers. 

Forward-thinking CEOs, those with a long-term game plan andwho want to leave a positive mark on the world, are already working tofuture-proof their organisations by evolving towards the creation of 21stCentury talent eco-systems. They do this by clearly defining their values,vision and organisational purpose, and by placing deliberate focus on apeople-first culture. 

By taking time to listen to the individual aspirations ofeach contributor within the eco-system, people feel connected, aligned, andsafe enough to innovate in a way that wholly improves the end experience. Bydefault, these organisations also succeed in overcoming retention issues asthey’re focused on and committed to building eco-systems in which all workers,regardless of employment status, feel a sense of belonging that enables them tothink creatively when approaching complex problem-solving.  

Recruitment also becomes much easier, as youngerworkers love to share the details of the great places where they work. 

In 2017, Quartzran an article that examined the timeline of the future of work. It seemsthe future of work went mainstream as a topic in 2016, with a subjectpreviously only discussed by a minority few suddenly going viral across themediasphere. That the future of work conversation is expanding is positive; wecan’t over-discuss a topic that will inevitably impact all of us, our children,and our children’s’ children. 

The challenge, however, is that for as long as we talk aboutthe ’future’ of work, it’s always far off and intangible. But its headwinds,the increasing churn of staff, or worse, the inability to attract them in thefirst instance, are already confounding even the most seasoned CEO. The soonerwe admit the future of work is already with us, the better.
02/04/2019, 13:19


 ‘Ghosting’ and ‘airing’ are now seemingly mainstream behaviours; both terms now firmly embedded in 21st Century vernacular. According to the New York Times, ‘orbiting’ is the new kid on the block...

’Ghosting’ and ’airing’ are now seemingly mainstream behaviours; both terms now firmly embedded in 21st Century vernacular. According to the New York Times, ’orbiting’ is the new kid on the block.  (For the more curious among you, this 2016 The Independent article has opened my eyes to a whole new lexicon. Who knew??) 
Our personal relationships have been transformed by smart phones and social media, giving rise to a new and apparently commonly accepted set of behaviours that are nonetheless distressing for those on the receiving end. A 2015 article in Psychology Today revealed that approximately 50% of men and women have experienced ’ghosting’ and as many have ’ghosted’ someone else. Wow. 

Now, it seems, these behaviours are starting to permeate the workplace. 

What does this say about 21st Century society? For us, it suggests that the rise of smartphones and digital culture have created virtual landscapes where it’s much easier to hide behind screens and avoid ’hard’ conversations. "It’s not you, it’s me" was always difficult, and yet the act of providing closure is so much kinder than simply evaporating into the virtual ether. 

Our digital landscapes are rapidly changing how we interact with one another as humans. We’ve profiled the work of Sherry Turkle previously; Sherry is a Professor at MIT and her specialist area is the psychology of human relationships with technology. Her 2015 book Reclaiming Conversation argued that digital natives, those who’ve grown up post-internet and smartphone, are relinquishing face-to-face communication in favour of online interaction. Face-to-face communication is quite simply too hard, requiring emotional resilience to deal with the spontaneity of human dialogue and also to manage unedited representation - no opportunity to edit or photoshop real-time conversation.

Digital communication allows us the (unacceptable) excuse not engaging in any human interaction that is any less than baseline transactional, but faced with the proliferation of workplace automation and AI, this has never served us less.

I was recently invited to a meeting with a new client to discuss a new project. The first meeting was postponed with less than two and half hours’ notice. It was rearranged, only for the client to text, ten minutes after the allotted meeting time, saying that he was unwell. True story. While I’m sure there’s some plausible explanation for this, it felt incredibly unprofessional and tarnished our view of that organisation. The actions of one person can have a resounding impact.  

A recent Washington Post article reported workers ghosting employers - quite simply, they stop turning up to work and fail to even message in a resignation. Other research points to a growing trend among Generation Z to simply disengage from hiring processes when they feel they’re not been engaged with in the right way. Whichever way we skin it, that these behaviours are now being documented as more than one off instances, suggests our basic human capability to communicate has been massively impacted. 


Our human skills, including social-awareness, empathy and communication are key to remaining relevant in the future of work. Tech firms are already competing to develop algorithms that will reduce, or worse, eliminate, the need for humans in the workplace. Many tech evangelists argue that we’re a hair’s breadth away from technology being able to emulate human empathy and reasoning, which, while we strongly disagree with the viewpoint, means that work is already underway to eventually render humans irrelevant in the workplace of the future. 

Human skills include the ability to show up and engage in hard conversations - conversations that will inevitably challenge us with their emotional complexity; it takes huge courage to engage in communication that may cause offence if handled the wrong way. It seems now however, that our ability to have any kind of hard conversation is being undermined by an inability to demonstrate even bare-bone levels of human courtesy and respect. 

But we CAN and MUST communicate with empathy, if we are to remain relevant in the future of work. When we allow ourselves to be vulnerable in our social interaction, such conversations are not only possible, but hugely rewarding emotionally.  Brené Brown, whose work on vulnerability and courage has gained global accolade, has focused her latest book, Dare to Lead, to the idea that the ability to have hard conversations will determine leadership success or failure in the future of work.   

Human relationships have always been messy. They can be tough and immensely painful, especially when they don’t work out. But the flip side is that they provide deep joy and a sense of connection that is absolutely critical to our sense of wellbeing. Attempting to "swipe-left" on human interaction does us no service at all, neither at work, nor in our future ability to thrive as a species.  

For thousands of years, the way that humans trade with one another has been contingent on trust and robust human relationships. Workplace automation and AI will provide transactional efficiency; the huge commercial opportunity for business now is to leverage human skills to provide deeply enriching client experiences that embed loyalty in increasingly fluid landscapes. We predict that professional empathy is about to go large.  

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