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What will ‘human capital’ mean for business leaders in the future workforce?

With technological augmentation of the workforce gathering pace, business leaders need to prepare now for new ways of working

Human Capital

CEOs must be ready for the big changes brought about by technology, while also maintaining a human connection in an increasingly digital world


While AI and other technologies are driving changes in the workplace, demographic changes and social expectations are also major forces in shaping the future of work. A transformation of what it means to ‘work’ is beginning to reshape the employee experience, impacting our relationships with colleagues, our employers and even ourselves. Looking at emerging workforce trends, we can predict five key changes that will influence how chief executives and leadership teams run their organisations.

1. Teams of people and machines

CEOs will manage a workforce that consists of both people and machines. In the future, when we are working alongside robots, machine management is likely to take up a considerable amount of our time. While we are already seeing how robots can relieve us of our most mundane tasks and enable workers to dedicate their time and skills to higher-value tasks, people will need to take responsibility for the ethical implications of using new technologies as they grow in sophistication. The C-suite will inevitably have the greatest level of responsibility when it comes to putting the right controls and governance in place to ensure that the AI and other types of technology are carrying out tasks without bias in decision making or without compromising privacy, safety or security. They will also need to set clear parameters around how people interact with machines: where does technological intelligence end and human judgment begin?  

2. More and more gig workers

Today we are already transitioning to a gig economy, according to the World Bank’s latest World Development Report. More people are becoming entrepreneurs and earning their living from working on a series of short-term projects for different organisations rather than from a full-time role with a single employer. As this trend intensifies, it will massively impact the way that the C-suite communicates its vision and sense of purpose, attracts and retains people, provides development opportunities and engages with workers on an ongoing basis. It also presents great opportunities to diversify in terms of competencies, as well as presenting logistical challenges in terms of how workers are quickly and effectively onboarded onto projects. Platforms will play a key role. Already, gig workers are increasingly finding projects through online platforms, such as GigNow, the global talent marketplace created by EY.  

3. Work will become synonymous with education

The reskilling and upskilling of people needs to be top of CEOs’ agendas. The world is changing so fast that any organisation that lacks a strategy for continually developing the skills of its people has an uncertain future. If companies are to prosper, STEM needs to become even more deeply embedded in our education systems than it is today. Leadership teams need to not only nurture technical skills but also our human capabilities, such as critical thinking, the ability to collaborate, a commitment to ethics, and resilience to ambiguity and change. 

4. The days in the office will disappear

Business leaders must envision how they will create a productive workplace that people conjure up by simply putting on a headset
Business leaders must envision how they will create a productive workplace that people conjure up by simply putting on a headset

Will we even need to work in physical offices when we can effectively reconstruct the office environment using virtual and augmented reality? Business leaders must consider how they will create a workplace that people conjure up by simply putting on a headset, rather than actually having to travel anywhere. Will we build convincing virtual workplace experiences that allow people to duck in and out of meetings, talk to colleagues at the next desk, and eat their lunch in the communal environment of the canteen as though we were actually there? How will we maintain our human connection in an increasingly digital world? What should we preserve in terms of physical meetings to foster those personal connections?

5. Wearable technology - and even implant technology - will become prevalent

With wearable technology such as smart watches already ubiquitous, perhaps one of the most radical developments in recent years in the emergence of implant technology. It’s an ethical minefield, but this technology is already being trialled. Setting aside the Big Brother connotations, microchips could be hugely convenient for workers, removing the need for them to carry ID passes, keys, credit cards and train tickets. They may also allow us to log into our work computer systems without having to remember a password.

While the prospect of getting such an implant for work might sound unappealing today, we will probably be far more accepting of the concept once we start to see the benefits. For example, when we’re using the chips to monitor our health, or even as replacements for our smartphones. For CEOs, however, the microchipping of people presents significant ethical issues. They will need to ensure that chipping is not used as a way to abuse or exploit staff, treated as a means of enforcing ‘ownership’, or employed for purposes for which it was not originally intended. They will also need to consider how workers’ privacy will be protected – who will be able to access the information on the chips and why? 

With the so-called 'workforce of the future' no longer a distant prospect, business leaders must ensure their organisations are prepared for the changes brought about by technology and societal shifts. They must simultaneously balance the responsibility of making effective, ethical use of machines with creating a new workplace paradigm that enables humans to continue to thrive.

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