A new-world workforce using data and analytics

A new-world workforce using data and analytics
(Image credit: Pixabay)

The traditional career model first articulated in the early 1900s by Robert Owen as “eight hours labor, eight hours recreation, and eight hours rest” is still around today. Over 100 years on, the workforce is much more diverse and the needs and demands of employees have evolved. But for far too many employees, instead of “Welcome to the future of work”, it feels like “Welcome to the portal – your password was denied.”

To attract and retain this diverse workforce, organisations need to move away from rigid structure and develop a new career model that uses relevant and personalized data to individual workers and their needs.

Embedded flexibility

Instead of the age-old model of clocking in to one single desk or workspace at 9am and clocking out at 5pm, a far more relevant approach to work is to understand that we have lives outside the workplace, that do not always obey the confines of an eight-hour workday. However, up until now, this approach has been met with a resistance to change; reasonable requests for telecommuting might be rebuffed with unfounded scoffs of “tele-shirking”.

COVID-19 has forced us to find ways around such issues, and although some businesses have struggled to maintain business as usual, for example the travel industry, those who can work from home have had to do so. Yet changes made and opportunities taken as a result of the dark days of the pandemic will forever change how we behave, in both our professional and personal lives. Far from “tele-shirking”, the reality is that anywhere that offers WiFi and business apps will open the door to one of the most futuristic places where the future of work will happen.

Forward-thinking managers do not miss our physical presence – as long as we deliver the goods. The explosion of cloud computing-based functionality, used properly, makes us more productive than our in-the-office colleagues. In sickness and health, our work tools accompany us – from home office, to bedroom, to sofa.

This is not just about working parents, but anyone with needs outside the workplace that demand attention — those managing chronic illness or ageing parents, for example. Ultimately, flexible working options need to be personalized to individuals and their needs. Equally, other workers who are not impacted by such concerns may still favor this flexibility, and even see performance benefits from being able to set their own schedules, rather than being expected to function at their best on a set daily timetable in the workplace. It is essential to be fair and flexible with all employees no matter their circumstances, so not to appear to prioritize the needs of certain individuals which will only create animosity within the workforce.

One way this can be achieved is through employers encouraging open dialogue about non-traditional working arrangements with employees. This information could most easily be gained through regular surveys, allowing businesses of all sizes to analyse the data insights from their staff to ensure that work-life balance can thrive.

New ways to measure performance 

It now makes little sense to measure productivity in hours given that intelligent machines can complete repetitive and traditionally time-consuming tasks much more quickly and accurately. This is giving employees the chance to focus on added-value tasks instead, as we work with machines to augment the way jobs are done. Work is also becoming increasingly knowledge-based and variable, but this too can make it difficult to measure performance.

We also believe this will give rise to new jobs of the future, especially in human resources. Case in point: the evolution of performance management. It is likely we will start to see the advent of Human Network Analysts as an essential HR in the next several years. Why? The traditional organisation chart says little about how work actually gets done, representing a hierarchical system not fit for the future of work. Using organisational network analysis (ONA) systems, Human Network Analysts will deliver insights on a huge range of queries, including inclusivity, propensity for burnout, or how people with varying working styles or different personalities work together. With data-driven insights, companies and people can break down restrictive structures and processes and bring the right people together, fast.

While all this may sound great, privacy and ethics concerns are of paramount importance, and it will be critical for roles like these to meet the highest ethical standards during their work, as well as innovate and build upon existing privacy frameworks to continuously raise standards that – at their core – are people-centric.

Career growth in any direction 

Although not without its benefits, such as standardization of pay, businesses may look to abandon a linear hierarchy in order to instead facilitate a more fluid movement across job roles more suited to employees’ skills. Additionally, rather than viewing careers within the silo of one job function or role, employers should think of them as a collection of roles that evolve over time. Businesses – and employees – should encourage career changes, not view them as difficult and risky moves.

Shifting to a new environment of more fluid movement can lead to productivity benefits when taking on new challenges and interacting with people from different backgrounds. By facilitating such movement, organisations can ensure that innovation is the cornerstone of their business.

Businesses can promote fluid career growth and better work-life balance in the following ways:

Shift the mindset from “jobs” to “tasks.”: we need to change the language of work. Organisations should focus on reinventing this by breaking down job roles into tasks and skills. Workers could then pivot from task to task without being stuck in outdated notional confines of a job.

Shift workdays from from 8x5 to 10x4: in the midst of the grand work-from-home experiment COVID-19 unleashed, work can be everywhere and anywhere and all the time – not just one set of days. The compromise emerging – that recognizes the fluidity of work but also the need to stop it from eating us alive – is the four-day week. Ten hours a day, four days a week. Some structure, but more time unplugged. A digital Sabbath means every weekend is a long weekend.

Encourage internal mobility: fluid movement across tasks requires a much broader breakdown of the organisational structure, where internal mobility across projects, teams, and departments is facilitated. Not only does this offer individuals the chance to find work that is more meaningful and better suited for them, but it also makes better business sense as it enables employees to offer their skillsets and knowledge across the wider business, rather than being siloed to one team.

Matchmaking businesses with the right talent

Central to a fluid and inclusive career model is the democratization of opportunity. Instead of relying solely on human decision-making, organizations should also use data to align people with work that best suits their ambitions, goals, and personal purpose. This more objective approach to progression creates a superior employee experience, making it easier for organizations to attract and retain diverse talent.

To take one example, Gloat offers personalized dashboards for each employee and surfaces relevant job opportunities based on the individual’s current skills and aspirations. Users of the platform have seen a measurable increase in employees working in collaborative, empowered networks; higher employee development, engagement, and satisfaction; and increased workforce capacity and productivity.

Businesses can implement a data-driven approach to matching workers with job roles by adopting a number of processes into the business. For example, increasing transparency with employees through regular and easily accessible communication and making sure every employee has access to information regarding internal mobility opportunities.

As both life expectancy and retirement age continue to rise, people entering the workforce today may be looking at having careers that last more than 50 years. Over that time, the workforce will grow even more diverse. These inevitable trends make it more important than ever for organizations to overwrite the mismatch between old-world career models and the new-world workforce.

Data is a key tool that will ultimately help put a focus at the heart of this new world of work where it belongs: people. With a focus on creating career structures that are data-driven, fluid, less hierarchical, and objective, businesses can supercharge efforts to promote diversity, inclusion, and belonging at all levels of the organization.

  • Robert Hoyle Brown, Vice President, Cognizant’s Center for the Future of Work
Robert Hoyle Brown

Robert Hoyle Brown, Vice President, Cognizant’s Center for the Future of Work. He is a leader in the Center for the Future of Work, a global think tank with a charter from Cognizant Technology Solutions to examine how work is changing, and will change, in response to the emergence of the Age of Algorithms, Automation and AI.