Over the past two years, the way that we work has absolutely transformed, mainly due to significant increases in hybrid and part-time work and skill shortages. Workers are seeking out flexibility and more fulfilment from their jobs and highly demanded profiles are in short supply. These trends are predicted to continue, as the future of work evolves.
What is the Future of Work and How will Jobs Change?
When we talk about the future of work, the concept of work and an employee's role within the company are constantly evolving.
Recently, we had the chance to speak with Arjen van Hooydonk, HRIS (Human Resource Information System) Solution Architect at SD Worx SAP solutions, about the future of work and how he thinks that jobs will change in the future. The future of work explains how work will evolve over the next decade because of technical, generational and societal transformations.
Arjen has worked as an HRIS consultant and Solution Architect for over 15 years. He now focuses on advising how to improve the value customers get their HRIS by understanding the context and pain points surrounding them. We were excited to get the chance to discuss his thoughts on the future of work. Read on for his take on this interesting topic.
What comes to mind when you think of the topic the future of work?
When I look at the future of work, it is mostly about how jobs are presented and defined going forward. So, we are coming from a situation where a lot of the jobs are predefined and basically come top down. You first define what you want to do as a company and then you divide that work between different departments or business units in your organisation and within those organisational units, you create positions to do that work.
Due to the war for talent and just a general tightness everywhere in the job market, we see a lot more companies assessing the people they have and what they are doing. Are managers in discussion with recruiting and how can they fit in what they need to deliver? So, you still have your definition, what do I want to do as a company? But instead of predefining that into separate jobs, you start looking at each employee. What are their skills and competencies? What can I have this person do?
If you create a job around that, this grants much more flexibility for the employees to decide what they are good at and what they like to do. In this case, companies would need to constantly redefine how they divide the work within the organisation. One employee in a department could do what would usually be managed somewhere else in the organisation, but because it makes sense to join those assignments, they combine that into his or her job. This would also cascade over to HR processes. So, it is not just your definition of what is a job, because if you change the definition of what is a job, that also impacts performance management.
In this future of work, there is no predefined job description to assess how good the person is doing compared to peers that do the same exact job. Organisations would need to evaluate each person and position on an individual basis and consider the work that they are taking on and how they deal with those tasks.
How is the future of work changing? What do you think are the main factors causing this change?
The main driver is the lack of qualified employees, which is due to the baby boomer generation coming to retirement age. As they are leaving the marketplace, there are fewer people in the younger generations. In most countries, you can see that the working population is decreasing year over year.
In the Netherlands, between 5 and 10% fewer people will be able to enter the labour force in the next ten years. And on top of that, people are choosing part-time jobs instead of full-time jobs more frequently, which further decreases the pool of available workers.
This of course means that everyone is hunting for the same people in the market and trying to get similar talent. So, as an organisation, you need to be smarter about how you deal with your employees that work for you. You must determine if you can continue to demand the same of recruits as when there was a more plentiful amount of people in the job market.
So, if you were an HR director, how would you address this challenge? What would you say to the people are choosing part-time over full-time and how would you deal with this difficult situation?
There are a couple of things that you need to do. One, you must make sure that you remain focused on recruiting because you must take in everyone that you can, to make sure that you have sufficient people. But I think it is equally, if not more important, to focus on retention of employees. Everything you are doing should be concerned with making the people that work for you happy, ensuring they have the opportunities that they are looking for, and that you are making them as efficient as possible.
You should evaluate and if something is non-priority work, just get rid of it. Right now, all organisations are losing people. So, try to scrap everything from your workload that is not high priority. Try to cut out any additional administration that does not add value and focus on the core business that you want your employees to work on.
So, reduce all the tasks that do not enable people to focus on their jobs. Internally, you should simplify the time off requests and processes so they can focus on the job.
Yes, if you are going to implement systems, make sure they do not take any additional time from your employees and managers. Ensure that everyone can do their work in the systems in a couple of minutes, and they do not need to go over a lot of data or information.
If you are looking at your HR Systems, everything should be easily accessible from a logical place that people do not have to search for. For example, if an employee wants to book a holiday, which portal do they need to go to? What do they need to understand before they can book their holiday? Make sure that it is perfectly clear and guide them to do this as quickly as possible so that there is no lost time. Also, if you have any vacation approvals, ensure there are as few as possible and at the right level immediately, so that you do not need to get five people involved to have someone’s holiday approved.
Yes, that makes sense. Before, a lot of people talked about how to improve the employee experience and that mainly meant offering fruit in the kitchen and these fun things. But what really burns out people are these daily admin tasks that can be easily si
Yes, it is not an either-or question, but both. Especially because we are seeing all over with our customers that there is just more work than they can handle. As an organisation, the only thing that you can do is focus on how to reduce the amount of work. And of course, you do not want to cut into your core business because that is where you make money.
It is critical to understand the core business, your needs, the tasks that are essential, and what is not a priority. Many employees spend a significant portion of their days on tasks that are not important. The more you can reduce this, employees will find it easier, especially when they are already running on empty from their workload. Otherwise, they will suffer, become irritated with the business, and begin looking elsewhere because they need to enter data into 17 different systems to complete simple tasks. The truth is that employees prefer to work for a company that has this under control.
Yes, that is a very good point. So, in terms of the future, how do you see the workplace in the next 5 to 10 years? What is your forecast?
I predict a lot more hybrid work. Therefore, a lot more work will be done remotely, which means that you are cutting down on travel time, unless you work in a factory or somewhere else where you must be in a certain place to do the work. People who work from home are usually more efficient, at least in terms of completing tasks, and then they can spend the time in the office to really focus on meeting with people to get things done. Then they can go back to their own workplace, to their home or wherever they like to work, and do the bulk of the work there.
I also envision more international work because hybrid work pushes that forward. International work becomes easier because if you do not need to be in a specific location, you can be in another country if you live within a reasonable amount of distance to come into physical meetings every now and then. So, especially if the team is local, you can come to the office more frequently, but in international teams, it is still possible to meet once quarterly or monthly to ensure that everyone gathers in person and the personal connection remains, because companies are people-based. Every business is a people business. So, you always need that personal attachment. You cannot just say, I am never going to see my employees ever again. There are, of course, exceptions, but I think that most employees want to be able to sit in the same room with their colleagues occasionally.
Also, as I said in my introduction, what I foresee is a lot less focus on a predefined job. Work will be tailored to the employee in the company and the recruit with whom they are speaking. So, rather than saying, "I'm going to define 15 jobs that I have in my company, and I'm going to assign one of those 15 jobs to every employee," I predict that companies will say, "Okay, I have these people in my company, and how am I going to fit the work that needs to be done to their specific skill sets and capabilities?"
Instead of that, there are currently a lot of gaps where you might force someone to work below their potential because there is room to spare and this person is walking on their toes to complete it or possibly not complete it at all, burdening the rest of the organisation. Simply allowing it to happen naturally will increase your productivity overall, which will then affect all the processes that revolve around it. If you do not have a clear definition of each job, you should rethink your performance management and succession planning strategies because, in essence, an employee is no longer the designated successor for a given position.
As an organisation, you have 15 tasks to fill somehow. If an employee leaves, will you hire a single person to fill the job? Or can you ask someone to take on a few of the tasks and then recruit for the others, or how will you to handle that?
Yes, that is very difficult because everyone is different. So, it is not like you can replace an employee with the same person, because they will probably not have the same skills. And from a company perspective, it is a hard exercise because you need to
Yes, that is where I think that you need to be careful because you do not want to put everything in systems and quantify everything, because that is how a lot of the current way of working also died. There are very few companies who have all their jobs properly described to a level that you can measure them and evaluate how people are performing.
By the time you have defined everything, the world has changed and basically what you have done is obsolete, because it is a 2-to-3-year process to get to that point. So, what you see is that you have a basis that is described and everything else just lives around there and you fill it in naturally anyway.
What I see happening is that rather than describing 75% of your work, that percentage will be lowered to perhaps 50% or even a little lower. Following that, the portion you are redistributing based on what people are doing will grow and become more significant to what is happening.
That is an interesting perspective. What do you think will be the main important skills to perform a job in the future?
Flexibility. I think that everybody needs to be able to fill gaps and take on different tasks and be flexible to switch gears for something that needs additional work. As a result, some people's work packages will be modified to move them more in that direction. With that flexibility comes the ability to adopt new skills, new work with new knowledge, new data points faster, and less reliance on, say, what you have done as a worker over the last 50 years. People will be less dependent on knowing exactly what to do and doing it in their sleep. Many more people will say, "I need to know my priorities for the next week maybe a week in advance." So that is moving towards agile teams and a more agile way of working to react to what is happening in the market.
As I spoke about earlier, I believe some people's work packages will be modified to move them more in that direction. With that flexibility comes the ability to adopt new skills, new work with new knowledge, new data points faster, and rely less on, say, what you have done as a worker over the last 50 years. People will be less reliant on knowing exactly what to do and doing it in their sleep. Many more people will say, "I need to know my priorities for the next week maybe a week in advance." As a result, there is a shift toward agile teams and a more agile way of working to respond to market changes.
How do you see specialised jobs that are deep in technology, for example in an environment of SAP ABAP developers with a lot of knowledge of on premise?
Jobs like that will become increasingly scarce, in my opinion. There will always be times when you require a couple of super specialists for a deep understanding to truly resolve issues that no one else can. However, if you look at what technology vendors are doing, you will notice that they are moving away from the need for specialists and toward generalists who can set up and run your system.
So that means that no code/low code solutions will become more and more prevalent because that is where you can have the flexibility as a company. That is where you can say, okay, now I can have a person working with HR Processes, but now I am going to move him over to finance processes and he can reuse the skills and knowledge that he built up in that area as well. Whereas if you would have somebody that spent all their time just learning the deep skills needed for one specific job, that would not be possible. And especially, for instance, if then for ABAP what you also see is the trend that companies are pushing more and more towards standardisation. Also, because it is becoming more difficult, there are not thousands of ABAP developers available.
So, you cannot become completely reliant on the technical skills of those few people, as you will run into real problems because everybody wants those workers. For example, if two of them leave within your company, there is basically no way of replacing them because there is no one in the market. You cannot train them because that would take years. If you build your company and processes with a real necessity for specialised workers, you will cut yourself in the fingers.
Another approach is to outsource the systems/processes that require the specialists. If they do not support your core business, there is no need to perform the tasks in house. Outsourcing partners will have a larger pool of specialists available reducing the risk of not having anyone available.