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Tapping into the new world of work

Thanks to technology, the way we work is undergoing a major transformation, forcing employers and workers to adapt or get left behind

“Some of the change we are seeing is about lifestyle choice and work-life balance.” Photograph: iStock

“Some of the change we are seeing is about lifestyle choice and work-life balance.” Photograph: iStock


The way in which we work is undergoing a major reformation, and you only need to look in your pocket for evidence of it. With a few taps you can summon a stranger to deliver your food or drive you to a destination, and chances are you’ll find somebody available day or night. As the shift in how we work continues, what kind of future awaits for workers and employers?

“There is a strong enough evidence base, both through practice and through academic research that tells us that the standard employment model is changing rapidly,” says Paul Healy, chief executive of Skillnet Ireland, the national agency focused on upskilling workers.

That standard model previously included regular working hours, as well as a fixed place of work, and within a set role, but all of that will change in the future, in large part due to technological advances. “But one of the negative implications of the technology is the displacement of work that is going to happen as a consequence of automation and AI,” says Healy.

Continued rapid technological advancement will mean a shift in how employers find the right person for the job, and corporations of the future may eschew traditional hiring practices and contracts, suggests Valarie Daunt, head of human capital at Deloitte. “What we are already seeing is companies moving away from traditional ways to reach out, such as newspaper advertisements,” she says. “We are certainly seeing more social media engagement from big organisations, and I suspect that will continue in the future.”

As new roles continue to quickly emerge, the idea of outsourcing or hiring in new employees may not be feasible. “I think upskilling will be a prerequisite in the future,” says Daunt.

“Change is exponential now because technology is moving so fast, and organisations will need to rely on retraining their own workforces to meet their demands.”

Upskilling and retraining

A shift in upskilling and retraining may mean the end of a traditional career path, as individual roles become far more fluid and flexible than they were in the past.

“I see a massive move from the hierarchical, job description-based organisations to much more fluid, project-based organisations that are focused more on assignments, tasks and activities, rather than occupying a rigid role,” says Daunt. “Moving to a more fluid business model is very difficult but I think that organisations that don’t go there are going to struggle because that is the way the world is going.”

It is hard to say what that might mean for the individual worker – on the one hand the future seems brighter for the variety of choice and flexibility, but as we can see now with services like Uber and Deliveroo, there is a darker side to this style of employment. “Some of the change we are seeing is about lifestyle choice and work-life balance,” suggests Healy, but other cases are “not driven by worker demand, and are leading to vulnerable employment”.

Daryl Hanberry is a partner in Deloitte’s Global Employer Solutions group, and has witnessed the rise of contingent working in recent years. “The gig economy is essentially the way that freelance journalists and other professions have been working for years, it is not necessarily a new concept, it just has a new name,” he says.

For Hanberry, the gig economy has potential to offer valuable incentives for workers. “What is coming is an increased level of flexibility, the ability to control your time, and to manage your work-life balance,” he says. “Already we are seeing traditional organisations trying to cater to let employees start a little earlier and stay a little later, or work from home certain days to avoid the commute.”

In August, PwC launched a scheme allowing new workers to set the hours they want to work, and as the gig economy mentality moves into some of the more traditionally secure workplaces, perhaps workers will see more of the benefits with less of the vulnerability.

Power dynamic

A critical mass of workers dictating how and when they would like to work will have a massive effect on the power dynamic between employer and employee. This is a trend that Valarie Daunt is already seeing the beginnings of. “Work-life balance has become hugely important for people, and rightly so. As a result, there is a constant demand for much more flexibility, and that is something that I am seeing more and more. I don’t think that’s exclusive to millennials, I think all generations are looking for that flexibility,” she says. “Going forward, I think there will be a huge demand on organisations to ensure that they have the technology in place to allow collaboration across countries and to allow employees to work from their desired location, and on the hours that suit them.”

There are also growing demands for equality and transparency from organisations, who are already attempting to shift workplaces away from being purely functional spaces. “It is far more common to see an organisation providing things like concierge services, coaching, and counselling,” says Daunt.

“And I also think that employees are looking more at the overall ethos of a prospective organisation. We live in an increasingly transparent world and with that comes a demand on organisations to have social responsibilities.

“We are moving towards a more regulated, highly transparent world and therefore if I want to work in a company I want to know exactly what that company will deliver, not just to me, but also to society. Again, I don’t think that is just millennials, I think that all generations are starting to become more concerned about how we treat the world as a whole.’