How customer demand is changing the purpose of work
In their books about possible future dystopias – Nineteen Eighty-Four and Brave New World respectively – George Orwell and Aldous Huxley painted worlds where work looked very uninspiring. For both it was the merger of technology and control that defined a miserable existence of workers. Indeed, over the last two decades digital technologies and automation have unleashed forces that will dramatically change jobs. The Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated this trend further.
However, the future of work could and should be exiting. The ultimate drivers shaping the future of work relate to changing customer demand. As business customers or consumers, we increasingly expect products, services and experiences that are customised and relevant to us individually. We expect new solutions all the time. And we increasingly want to buy from businesses that share our beliefs and values. This means that the future of work will be preoccupied with mastering mass customisation, speeding up innovation cycles and providing support at every stage of the customer lifecycle. Moreover, brands must demonstrate a clear purpose.
The future of work depends on much greater employee engagement
Value propositions are shifting from traditional product sales to providing relevant services and great experiences. More detailed customer insights are essential if you are to address more demanding customers. The ability to react quickly to changing circumstances is thus a core differentiator.
Employees play the central role in this business transformation. The need for greater employee engagement becomes critical for the future of work: great employee engagement drives great customer experiences. Unfortunately, only about a third of employees are engaged at work.
The future of work will bring a cultural transformation
Corporate culture matters as it defines how your organisation thinks about itself and how it tackles the challenges of permanent change. Your corporate culture must be open and flexible enough to adjust to continuously changing customer expectations, market landscapes and technology innovation.
A post-pandemic world will see the emergence of a hybrid workforce. This shift will undermine traditional top-down management and the presence-based office culture. Winning businesses will develop a more agile and collaborative customer-obsessed work culture.
The future of work will bring a new management style
Successful organisations depend on employees that can envisage their customers’ experiences through their customers’ perspectives – from pre-sales to after-sales experiences. Hence, employees should have strong soft skills and empathy. Moreover, managers should empower employees by allowing more independent decision-making and more flexible office and work arrangements.
In turn, this means management needs to broaden its hiring and skill-selection horizon beyond grades and digital skills. People management implies the creation of incentives for more inter-disciplinary and cross-divisional collaboration – including with digital nomads and gig workers. This form of collaboration also contributes to open innovation. Moreover, to attract and retain the best talent, managers ought to shape and support a purpose-driven operating model.
Perhaps most importantly, managers need to communicate clearly why and how transformation is affecting the future of work inside their organisation. This includes preparing employees for the impact of automation on jobs. One way to share the benefits of automation is to invest in the reskilling and upskilling of affected employees and to prepare them for closer human-machine collaboration.
To prepare your own job for the future, it is beneficial to embrace ongoing reskilling as an opportunity for personal growth, to demonstrate greater self-initiative, to strengthen your soft skills and to familiarise yourself with human-centric design practices.
By embracing a new management culture, a future of work can emerge that opens the amazing opportunities that technology can help bring to both employees and customers.
by Dan Bieler, Principal Analyst, Forrester