Not that long ago, employees had a defined role at a consistent worksite for the same company for many years. The employer-employee relationship seemed stable and well-defined. But times have changed. In a recent Deloitte Insights article, "What is the Future of Work?," Deloitte highlights how "forces of change" — e.g., accelerating connectivity, new talent models, artificial intelligence, crowdsourcing, etc. — are radically redefining the who, what, and where of work.
The workforce of the future has significant implications for everyone. For employees, planning out a 50-year career is almost impossible. For employers, their traditional approach to attract, develop, and retain workers has been shaken. The focus now is accessing and establishing flexible work engagements around specific projects. Deloitte's insights, summarized below, are eye-opening and portend potentially significant societal impact.
What is work?
Deloitte notes that technological advances have long impacted the nature of work in the Western world. The chart below shows the evolution across three eras.
Source: Deloitte Insights
In today's postindustrial era, robots and automated systems are replacing some jobs. Yet workers need not fear: their relational skills and insights can't be replaced by technology — and, in fact, enhance the value offered by technology. For example, online juggernaut Amazon opened a tech hub in Houston in July 2019. As the name implies, the hub will use technology, but it will also create 150 jobs, per a recent InnovationMap article. This is just one example illustrating that work now focuses on the ability to capture value from technology, solve problems, and manage human relationships.
Who is working?
The relationship between employers and employees will likely never be the same. Per Deloitte Insights, "[o]rganizations now have a broad continuum of options for finding workers, from hiring traditional full-time employees to availing themselves of managed services and outsourcing, independent contractors, gig workers, and crowdsourcing." This means companies should be adept at recruiting, engaging, and retaining workers in new types of relationships.
Workers in Houston are wading into the new model. In a study profiled in a recent CultureMap article, "Houston ranked second statewide and 11th in the U.S. among major metro areas for the size of the skilled-freelancer workforce per revenue produced." The relationship between workers and their jobs is shifting from long-term employment to project engagement.
Where are people working?
One thing is clear: workers are spending less face time with work colleagues. More and more work is being accomplished from home or coworking spaces. Many workers appreciate the flexibility of working remotely; companies can benefit from reduced overhead.
Houston is experiencing huge growth in the number of coworking spaces. The Cannon Houston moved into its new 120,000 square foot building in July 2019, and WeWork is planning to open another location, which will be its fourth in Houston and second in downtown Houston. These spaces offer not just desks and offices, but a variety of events and programming designed to foster community.
The new frontier
Deloitte notes that the full impact of these changes may just be starting — and the future of work is not a "foregone conclusion." We can allow technology to merely "drive more efficiency and cost reduction, or we can consider more deeply the ways to harness these trends and increase value and meaning across the board — for businesses, customers, and workers." Deloitte urges organizations to "zoom out and imagine the possibilities" to create positive outcomes for work, the workforce, and the workplace. As Deloitte sums it up: "[p]urpose will bring the future into focus."
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