What does the digital transformation mean for the future of work and HR?

The world around us is changing quickly. Things have sped up in the last 20 years, thanks to the arrival of new technology. “These changes are referred to as a digital transformation.” Whether it’s the internet, with its unlimited capacity to give anyone the ability to communicate (wherever and whenever) or its channels: smartphones tablets, the cloud, big data, artificial intelligence, connected objects and blockchain, in the last two decades, man has seen more innovative technology than it has in the entire history of humanity. These changes have an immediate impact on the way we think about work, the relationships we have with our employers and most importantly, human resources.

Work trends of the future

We live in a “globalized” world, and that means most of the products and services we buy are designed and fabricated around the world, with few exceptions. Even the smallest of businesses has to think “globally,” today. The same goes for even the most franco-french businesses, who don’t have a choice; they must go against their competitors on an international level.

In the same vein, work is becoming more and more global. Recruiting talent abroad has never been so simple thanks to social networks like LinkedIn that facilitate the search for employees in a talent pool that has grown exponentially. Today, employees have the opportunity to work internationally when their local market isn’t doing as well, just like their companies. Prospective employees are just a click away from a job abroad.

At the same time, companies have evolved internally, in response to digital changes. The time when the control of information was a source of power is a thing of the past. We now work more collaboratively, and in fact we no longer talk about employees in the same way. They are collaborators. This semantic change in itself is a symptom of the paradigm change. And it’s happening on every level: it’s a trend that is as present for technicians as for executive directors. For example, collaboration becomes necessary to align different parties to adhere to a group’s global product campaign. Whether it’s an executive committee, or an operations team, everyone needs to consider collaborative working methods. Indeed, this new approach is considered to be one of the main catalysts of innovation in companies today.

Going further, with the arrival of mobile terminals and the cloud, working remotely has never been so easy. Remote working is a trend that has become important for companies. Mostly used in the consulting realm where workers have to constantly juggle multiple clients, it is meant to enhance collaboration and inspire workers. Flexible working also becomes a key motivator for well being at work in the most traditional companies. Being able to work from anywhere, at anytime, is in fact the best thing for a collaborative worker, who, though limited by professional obligations, is able to gain in freedom and creativity at the same time.

Automation is certainly a trend that incites anxiety for a lot of employees. As artificial intelligence is perfected and new forms of robotics like drones emerge, thankless tasks will slowly be replaced with algorithms or robots. Though the numbers are constantly being questioned, studies are showing that this trend is definitely present and will have a significant impact on a number of sectors. That being said, the real question with automation is not whether work will disappear as a result (that much is clear), but how much of that work will be automated, turning workers toward new activities with more value.

The salaried worker as we know him today is transforming. The CDI contract is a standard that’s on it’s way to extinction. Truth be told, it only exists in under the French labor code and nowhere else in the world. At the same time, independent work has increasingly developed in the last few years with 1 independent worker for every 2 traditional workers (CDI, CDD or interim). This new kind of work attracts professionals seeking more freedom, particularly in terms of managing their time each day and each week. Independent workers can dedicate their time to independent projects, and have the freedom to choose the companies or clients they want to work with.

Technology is rapidly evolving. Systems like blockchain can completely erase intermediaries and trusted third-parties like banks, lawyers and brokers. The only intermediary necessary is the company itself and that’s just the beginning. We are only just starting to see the changes that blockchain can lead to with the help of its predecessors, including greater decentralized organization no longer run by executive boards as we know them but rather democratically elected individuals chosen by professional participants from the organization themselves. There are other technologies that will upset the order or work as we know it, and being aware of those changes is now crucial.

Worrying is useless, one must call things into question instead

The most difficult part of all the changes is that it is often the source of anxiety, even though it is impossible to avoid. As the saying goes, ” You can’t stop progress!” If the trends that we’re seeing in the workplace today are symbolic of a rupture with the norm, then imagine what they could represent once they all come to be at the same time. It’s clear that fighting against the transformation in progress is counterproductive, but one must definitely come to grips with the resistance associated with change in order to face it head on.

Is there no “good way” to handle these changes? HR representatives can answer that, for the most part. It seems that the HR rep of today – largely serving a “support” function in a company and becoming a real “business partner” to the executive board – will have to add yet another task to their to-do list: accompanying employees in the digital transformation of their work and work needs. HR reps won’t become coaches per say, but it is imperative that they become key players in the changes, by accompanying employees in their new work situations. And that happens via 4 different levels of collaborative accompaniment.

1. Training

HR reps must create and adapt training programs for teams and managers to follow the rhythm of change and equip them with the best tools to welcome the changes.This of course refers to practicum style training sessions devoted to new technology and digital programs, but also covering daily tools such as Office, which are often misused. These training sessions also highlight personal development in the context of the work environment especially when it comes to new collaborative approaches or simply learning to learn. Finally, these training sessions can help demonstrate the new kinds of jobs that will emerge in the short and long term, especially those related to data and AI.

2. Individual and collective coaching

Individual coaching personalizes employee accompaniment for those who are most reticent to change or those that are having the most trouble. At the same time, collective coaching allows teams to appropriate new methods of working and learn agile and collaborative working methods. This coaching isn’t a temporary fix and should last a period of time. Sometimes it requires creating a new job at the company, that of coach. If this isn’t possible, an HR rep can start looking at how specialized companies are dealing with the changes and little by little, appropriate those skills internally and train and coach employees that can continue the work of digital transformation accompaniment without having to call on external help. It’s important to remember that coaching is a long term project. When Usain Bolt won the gold medal at the olympics, he didn’t stop training. In companies, it’s the same thing, just because the results are promising, it doesn’t mean that you can don’t always have more to learn.

3. Provisional management of jobs and skills

This might seem obvious and simple but a number of companies (and HR reps), are still incapable of being able to quantify and qualify the skills of their employes, the level of employability of their resources, and the thing that separates them from being fully operational in this brave new working world. A proactive and dedicated HR rep must keep these things in mind and develop a roadmap for the changes to come.

4. Recrutement.

HR must adapt to changes and go beyond traditional qualifiers, (whether or not they’re related to labor agreements) and market job posts and their descriptions to attract the best talent. They must both seek talent capable of embracing the new ambitions of the company and inspire loyalty from employees. And this begins with the recruitment post. If we take an example from the sector of computer sciences, one still finds the descriptor, “engineer” for certain jobs, which doesn’t make sense today. Instead, posting something like “front-end or back-end developer”, “mobile developer,” “data scientist” or even “full stack developer” will hone recruitment processes and facilitate the search.

As we’ve seen, the future of work is set to evolve and transform. We’re seeing the arrival of new technological mobility, globalization and even task automation. These changes may inspire fear at times, in particular for managers and workers afraid to see their jobs disappear when the changes impact their jobs directly. In this case, human resources plays a key role in accompanying employees through training, coaching, provisional management of jobs and skills and finally recruitment. If HR reps don’t put themselves up to the task, they’ll see their own roles disappear or become replaced by external entities.

Sébastien Bourguignon

As a Manager at consulting firm Octo, Sébastien works for companies in the banking and insurance industry. He is an expert of digital transformation, innovation and startups.

You can follow him on Twitter and LinkedIn (French accounts).


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