The augmented workforce isn't coming – it's already here: Are you ready?

 
Anne-Marie Malley
Companies are beginning to experiment with the likes of AI in recruitment, and virtual reality in training, creating much more realistic and challenging experiences for current and potential staff. (Source: Getty)

Digital technology is moving at an unprecedented speed, raising some of the most difficult social, political and ethical questions of our time.

Along with disrupting the way we live our lives, it’s fundamentally rewriting the rules of work.

Deloitte’s human capital trends survey reveals that despite being the top priority for nine in 10 UK companies, just 13 per cent are ready to respond to digital disruption and create “the organisation of the future”. While almost half have already adopted robotics and cognitive and artificial intelligence, only 16 per cent are ready to manage a workforce where these technologies and people work side by side.

Technology has long been a creator of jobs and wealth and I am confident this will continue to be the case. But the “augmented” workforce is here to stay, and it is imperative that businesses act now in order to take advantage of these shifts.

Rethinking the workforce

To thrive in the world of augmented work, a company must expand its vision of workforce planning beyond a static of view of jobs, structured careers and function-based departments. Instead, business leaders need to consider the broadest possible options for how to accomplish critical, non-critical and supporting activities.

Leaders will need to rethink the combinations of talent, technology and workplace their business requires. This modelling work will be an important first-step in helping companies understand what their “organisation of the future” will look like in two, five and 10 years’ time.

They will also require a deeper understanding of alternative workforce models – such as the crowd and freelancers – to learn how these can augment existing workers in a helpful and responsible way. Individuals’ changing work preferences and the rise of remote working mean that there are many highly-skilled independent professionals that companies can flexibly tap into, as and when needed.

Creating the right culture

While the responsibility for embracing the augmented workforce rests with business leaders, structures are flattening and people at all levels of an organisation can influence and inspire change. Leaders should work to create a culture of innovation within their business, where responsible risk-taking and learning from mistakes is encouraged and incentivised.

Eight in 10 companies tell us they have issues engaging their employees, which suggests more needs to be done to give people the opportunity to influence their organisation’s future. Internal startup investment funds – where employees are encouraged to develop their own business ideas – are just one great example of how this can be achieved.

Investing in talent

Businesses must also re-evaluate their recruitment and training processes, to ensure they invest in the necessary human skills that will be essential to the future of work. While there is no doubt that we will continue to see increasing integration of technology into the workforce, we also expect to see increased demand for skills such as problem solving, creativity, and social and emotional intelligence, which are far harder to automate.

Here too technology can complement business processes. Companies are beginning to experiment with the likes of AI in recruitment, and virtual reality in training, creating much more realistic and challenging experiences for current and potential staff. Employees must also be offered more continuous training opportunities – both in their speciality area and more widely – so they are adaptable to multiple roles.

Anne-Marie Malley is UK human capital leader at Deloitte.

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