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Looking ahead: Report offers glimpse of workplace in 2022 and beyond

Trends shift and societal pendulums swing, but lasting change manages to take shape anyway. Futurists may have a tough time predicting what tomorrow’s workplace will look like, but that doesn’t keep them from trying. A new report from consulting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers is giving human resources thinkers a lot to consider as they plan how to capitalize on the change to come.    

The report “The Future of Work: A Journey to 2022” reflects the views of 10,000 people in China, India, Germany, the United Kingdom, and the United States who were asked for their thoughts on the future of work. Sixty-six percent reported that they see the future opening up new possibilities and that they will find success. Fifty-three percent reported that they believe technological breakthroughs will “transform the way people work over the next five to 10 years.”

Although change is expected and today’s workers have already seen drastic transformation in just a short time, at least some of what’s described in the study has a startling ring to it—companies as mini-states, change necessitated by resource scarcity and climate change, increasingly sophisticated monitoring of employees, blurred boundaries between work and personal life, etc.

New day for HR
The kind of rapid, even revolutionary, change on the way also will alter the HR role, the report maintains. For example, the report predicts “relentless pressure on performance” in large companies that decide to focus on consumer preferences, profit margins, flexibility, efficiency, and speed to market.

Getting the right talent will be a particular challenge in the large performance-driven organizations, according to the report. “People policies seek to lock in talent, but the top talent is still hard to attract and retain; many senior executives use personal agents to seek out the best deals,” the report says about such companies in 2022.

The report predicts a new emphasis on screening and monitoring, with sensors checking on workers’ location, performance, and health. “The monitoring may even stretch into their private lives in an extension of today’s drug tests,” the report says. “Periodic health screening gives way to real-time monitoring of health, with proactive health guidance and treatment to enable staff to perform more efficiently, reduce sick leave, and work for more years before needing to retire.”

Also in the largest organizations, corporate culture will be emphasized, the report says. Companies will engage in “rigorous recruitment processes to ensure new employees fit the corporate ideal.”

Why would employees consent to invasive monitoring and corporate culture indoctrination? Job security, the report says, adding that more than 30 percent of the participants in the global survey indicated they wouldn’t object to employers having access to their personal data in return for job security.

That means HR will need “ever more sophisticated measurement and management techniques” to make sure employees hit performance targets. “The HR function evolves into a people and performance unit, which is led by the Chief People Officer (CPO), who is a powerful and influential figure within the leadership team of the organization,” the report says. “Those responsible for people management increasingly need financial, analytical, marketing, and risk management skills.”

HR as corporate responsibility booster
Of course not all organizations will fit the same mold. The report predicts some companies will focus on social conscience and environmental responsibility. “As society gravitates towards more sustainable living, the HR function is forced to embrace sustainability and corporate responsibility as part of its people engagement and talent management agendas,” the report says.

In the socially conscious organization, HR will help the employer and employees collaborate to design jobs around aspirations and lifestyles, the report says. Programs to reward employees will be flexible and personalized. The survey found that the best and brightest candidates often are eager to work for an organization that shares their values, but “the overall incentive package is still going to be important.”

“Further challenges include how to ensure that strict compliance with laws and standards doesn’t inhibit flexibility and enterprise,” the report notes. These “caring” organizations face challenges keeping people employed during economic downturns.

“Working closely with employees and other stakeholders, HR will be expected to come up with innovative solutions to these challenges,” the report says.

Portfolio careers
The workplace of the future also will see an increasing number of workers embarking on “portfolio careers,” the report predicts, explaining that many people will want the “flexibility and varied challenges” they can achieve by working freelance for several organizations instead of being an employee of one.

“Big business will be outflanked by a vibrant, innovative and entrepreneurial middle market,” the report says. “A core team embodies the philosophy and values of the company. The rest come in and out on a project-by-project basis.”

The rise of freelancers means HR will need to develop networks and relationships with contingent staff and use technology that will help them bring in the right people at the right time. “People are more likely to see themselves as members of a particular skill or professional network than as an employee of a particular company,” the report predicts.

The researchers’ data show two out of five people in their global survey believe that traditional employment will give way to a contract model with workers building their own “brands” and selling their skills to organizations needing them.