How the future of work, the workforce and the workplace is changing

29 March 2021 4 min. read

Businesses, employees, governments and educational institutions need to work collaboratively to envision the future of work – according to a new Deloitte report commissioned by telecoms group Liberty Global.

Deloitte ran in-depth interviews with business leaders, policy makers and researchers across Europe – to set a clear direction for business stakeholders as they trudge through a period of unprecedented workplace disruption. 

For structure amid chaos, the researchers crystalised the dramatic overhaul last year into seven disruptors: the omnipresence of tech; the rise and affordability of AI and robotics: a “tsunami” of data; shortening career cycles; a freelancing boom; a loss of jobs to automation and a growing focus on diversity as millennials now occupy roughly half the workforce.

The seven disruptive trends shaping the future of work

These shifts have been underway for years, and Covid-19 has turbocharged the speed of change – leaving employees, businesses and other stakeholders in a tizzy to catch up. Per the Deloitte research, each of these groups has a role to play when ushering in the future of work.

Employees, for instance, need to understand the expanding demands of a modern workplace. “A university degree will no longer be enough to guarantee continued employment – people will need to develop their innately human skills, while keeping their digital acumen up-to-date,” explained Frans Dagelet, partner at Deloitte’s human capital practice in the Netherlands. 

An example is AI, which is tearing its way through the business environment as an optimisation tool. Of the adopters, nearly a quarter experience an AI skill gap in the market today. And this is just the tip of the iceberg: new skillsets are required across the landscape of emerging tech. 

Employees need to build digital skills

Nearly three-quarters of all executives believe that re-skilling the workforce is key to navigating the future, while a dismal 17% actually feel their employees are ready to make this change. So a large part of the onus rests on workers, largely to build a new tech-based skill set and partly to adapt to working structures of the future.

“For white-collar workers, a well-equipped home office with reliable, fast connectivity is now an absolute must,” said Attila Havas, Netherlands-based director at strategic outfit Monitor Deloitte. Implicit here is the assumption that remote working will persist as a permanent fixture in years to come – and there are two sides to that coin. 

Workplace of the future

2021 is all about the virtual working conundrum: do businesses persist with remote working – and all its advantages for cost and safety – or do they shift back to the office if possible. Employees are split down the middle: 33% say it is easier to work from home, while 34% say it is harder. 

Attitudes to virtual working

Many enjoy the flexibility that comes with virtual working, and the time saved by not commuting. Others have been left isolated and unable to focus after a year of working from home, with more than a third highlighting the challenge of not meeting clients and colleagues. The future will have to walk this tightrope of expectations: and here the onus lies on employers.

“To help people find a better balance between digital and in-person interaction, offices should be revamped to become collaborative spaces where staff mingle to exchange ideas and brainstorm, fueling innovation that will give the business a competitive edge,” explained Havas. 

“It is important to allow for the serendipity of interaction, while harnessing the broader benefits of distributed working, such as reduced commuting time, less congestion and a better work-life balance for staff.” Finding this golden middle is the job description for businesses in the near future.

Workers and employers aside, the government also has a part to play in enabling a fundamental workforce transformation. Not everyone can afford advanced technology – a reality that is accentuating socio-economic inequalities in a digital-first paradigm. Per Deloitte’s respondents, governments and educational institutions will have to collaborate to make the digital world more inclusive.

“Meaningfully closing the digital skills divide will be impossible without greater government investment,” concluded Marjolein Wevers, manager at Deloitte’s human capital consulting practice in the Netherlands.