How technology will be pivotal in the new ‘future of work’

The pandemic has significantly sped up the acceleration toward the future of work–and now, forward-thinking HR leaders need to keep focused on staying ahead of the curve. That’s a tall order, says author and futurist Ravin Jesuthasan, but one that is necessary if HR is going to embrace the potential that comes with digitalization.

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Jesuthasan, who will explore “The Great HR Reset and Reinvention” at the upcoming HR Tech Conference, recently shared with HRE what HR leaders need to be doing today to reinvent how they think about the future of work.

HRE: When talking about the “future of work” before the pandemic, where were you focused? How quickly did that pivot?

Ravin Jesuthasan

Jesuthasan: Prior to the pandemic, we were seeing a lot of work in helping organizations reinvent jobs to incorporate automation and gig workers. While the work on automation continued and even accelerated given the challenges COVID-19 provided for in-person work, the focus of many organizations on protecting their employees meant a decline in the use of non-employee talent. However, it was amazing to see how quickly organizations realized that the genie was out of the bottle as it relates to “where” and “when” work was done and what this might mean for the future of work in a post-pandemic environment. Progressive companies started thinking about this back in May of 2020 and we have not lost momentum since.

HRE: How do you think the events of the last year have permanently reshaped the relationship between employers and employees?

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Jesuthasan: (Microsoft CEO) Satya Nadella famously said that we have seen a two-year trend in digitalization get accomplished in two months. I believe that the impact on the future of work has been far more profound, as the combination of digitalization and the democratization of work compressed a five-year trend into five months. I believe there are at least two major changes to the employer-employee relationship:

  • Employers and employees are questioning every aspect of work; where, when and how work is done, who does it, what is the work to be done and why should the work be done (i.e., how does it align to my personal and our corporate purpose?).
  • How nuanced the work experience is. We were all in the same storm but we were certainly not in the same boat. HR functions are far more attuned to the need to create a truly bespoke employee experience with flexibility and the promise of continued relevance for a changing world at its very heart.

See also: How Josh Bersin believes the pandemic will reshape HR tech

HRE: What can HR leaders be doing today to remain future-focused amid the constant and ongoing disruptions?

Jesuthasan: Last year, I had the privilege of working with the World Economic Forum to write a report called HR 4.0: Shaping People Strategies in the 4th Industrial Revolution. While it was written before the pandemic, I believe the six imperatives outlined are even more important today than they were before COVID-19 and serve as a guide for HR leaders in ensuring an agile and perpetually relevant organization and workforce. They are:

  • developing new leadership capabilities for the 4th Industrial Revolution;
  • managing the integration of technology in the workforce;
  • enhancing the employee experience;
  • building an agile and personalized learning culture;
  • establishing metrics for valuing human capital; and
  • embedding diversity and inclusion.

HRE: What role will tech play in that process?

Jesuthasan: Technology is going to be pivotal to the future of work. Tech will continue to present us with new work options in the form of AI and automation, enable us to redesign work to achieve the optimal combinations of automation and talent in various work arrangements, ensure the seamless matching of skills to work, provide greater insight into how best to engage talent through a customized work experience, support the design and delivery of the optimal rewards that will provide talent with the flexibility to engage with organizations on their terms. Yes, technology will be pivotal to all aspects of the future of work.

Register here for the HR Tech Conference to hear from Ravin Jesuthasan live and in-person in Las Vegas.

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Jen Colletta
Jen Colletta is managing editor at HRE. She earned bachelor's and master's degrees in writing from La Salle University in Philadelphia and spent 10 years as a newspaper reporter and editor before joining HRE. She can be reached at [email protected].