Opinion article

The future of work: Tips for better work design and collaboration

As most jobs are being reinvented to adapt to new technology, people will remain organisations' critical assets. Julie Harrison and Lauryn Girgenti of Deloitte write this requires better and different ways of working. 

The future of work is driving unprecedented change across the domains of work, worker and workplace. Leading companies are rethinking their future workforces, with almost every job being reinvented through automation, artificial intelligence and digital.

In turn this is driving new business and talent models, increased agility and flexibility in workplaces. It has also led to a realignment of expectations around skills, collaboration and problem solving approaches.  

History has shown the emergence of a new industrial premise has the effect of reducing some jobs, while significantly boosting the number of new roles, which had previously not been imagined. These require new skills and new ways of working. The total number of jobs has generally increased. These new roles offer great opportunity for organisations and individuals alike. Sound familiar? 

Amid the rapid change, a constant remains – people are and will continue to be one of the most critical assets of an organisation. At the core, how we work in the future will be more networked, more devolved, more mobile, more team- based, more project-based, more collaborative, more real-time and more fluid. 

The challenge will be to make sure it is not more complicated, confusing, or overwhelming. 

This will require:
  • better and different ways of working – collaborating, communicating, and networking across organisations. 
  • different talent strategies suitable for leveraging the benefits of talent from across the different talent areas (Permanent employees through to internet-based ideas workers).
  • increased use of enabling digital technologies to support more fluid, outcome focused networks of teams who rely increasingly on new pathways for information to be exchanged and shared lessons learned.

This transformation requires organisations to reconsider how they hire and reskill workers, and develop new operational strategies for a more mobile and autonomous workforce.

While organisations are increasingly using these technologies to automate existing processes, the true pioneers are those who are radically rethinking work architecture to maximise the value of both humans and automated technologies and machines working together. 

Leading companies recognise advanced emerging technologies are most effective when they complement humans, not replace them. These forward looking companies are embracing technologies to create new opportunities to reorganise work and to redefine the skills and careers of human workforces.

Deloitte’s Forces of Change (2017) piece describes, “…the advent of artificial intelligence (AI) makes it possible—indeed, desirable—to re-conceptualise work, not as a set of discrete tasks laid end-to-end in a predefined process but as a collaborative problem-solving effort where humans define the problems, machines help find the solutions, and humans verify the acceptability of those solutions.”

While work may be redefined, it is critical leaders increasingly act as ‘network architects’ and role models for new ways of working. Executed well, the future of work offers the opportunity to provide a truly engaging, motivating environment. After decades of aspiration, companies have an opportunity to become true learning organisations, as the future of work is people – empowered to do what we do best.

Tips for work design and collaboration

To successfully adapt to the future of work, it is essential employees invest in their own learning. Leaders will need to invest in educating, training, recruiting and retaining a new cadre of highly adaptable workers, while also supporting the reskilling of the existing workforce generations, so they can flourish.
  1. Consider the impact of the Future of Work on the way work can be designed and delivered differently within your organisation – take the time to predict the impacts now, and start on reskilling your employees so they are future ready. 
  2. Don’t be constrained by current hierarchical organisation structures, think outside the box to enable greater agility and responsiveness to this change. Protect the core and innovate at the edge.
  3. Foster a truly diverse and inclusive culture so outcome-based project teams, made up of people with diverse experiences develop innovative solutions to your greatest problems or opportunities. Be deliberate in structuring cross-functional teams. 
  4. Use social tools to improve communication, collaboration and connectivity across your organisation.
  5. Align competency frameworks to allow for new robotics, cognitive and AI requirements.

What next?

  1. Anticipate how the future of work will impact you in your current role.
  2. Understand how it will impact your industry. Anticipate how the advances in technology and data, coupled with workforce trends will play out in your particular industry, and when some of these changes could begin to take effect.
  3. Take time to understand what skills you and your team will require in the future – skills likely to become more relevant include creativity, flexibility, empathy and critical thinking. 
  4. Make a plan for building the right leadership, technical and team dynamics – your own as well as within your team and organisation.
  5. Grow your talent pipeline with a balanced scorecard of “human-like” skills including cognitive, social, process, content and problem-solving skills and abilities.
  6. Consider recruiting talent or building skills internally that delivers the required “STEMpathetic” workforce to your organisation — one that co-mingles technical knowledge and cognitive social skills, such as connecting with other people and communicating effectively. 
About the authors

Lauryn Girgenti

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Lauryn is an analyst in the HC Team in Western Australia. Her background is in Human Resource Management and Organisational Psychology. Lauryn is passionate about delivering human centred strategic change and transformation, organisation design, talent and workforce management.

Julie Harrison

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Julie is the lead Partner for the Human Capital (HC) Team in Western Australia, and is the National HC Energy and Resources Leader for Australia. Her areas of expertise include organisation design, strategic change, technology adoption and leadership and culture change.