• Virtual staff and flexi-working will be commonplace in 2030, UKCES predicts

  • 3 Mar 2014
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HR faces game-changing disruptions as work evolves, finds report

Employees who inhabit the office with their ‘virtual presence’ and super-flexible workforces are just two developments that HR will need to manage in 2030, a report from UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES) has said.

The numbers of older workers, aged 70 and 80, and women in the workplace are expected to increase as a result of societal changes, while the divide between people at the top and bottom of the career ladder will widen.

And as technology evolves, the report predicts, ‘smart algorithms’ could take over routine tasks, while mobile access to the internet will mean employees no longer need to physically attend the office to do their jobs, making ‘virtual work’ commonplace.

These predictions are outlined in the ‘The Future of Work’ report, published today by UKCES. Its forecasts are based on an analysis of changes that are already happening, which include increasing globalisation, the UK’s ageing workforce, and the growing use of digital technology in every aspect of life. And these predicted outcomes will have profound implications for how employers and HR will work in 2030.

For example, ‘skills activism’ could become the new front line of employee relations as technological innovations automate professional work, prompting a government-led skills programme to re-train those whose jobs are at risk.

Employers are expected to require more flexibility from their workforce as they seek greater business agility. UKCES predicts this will mean a decrease in the size of core workforces, moving to a reliance on networks of project-based workers.

The increasing skills gap between people at the top of the career ladder and those at the bottom will mean highly skilled, highly paid professionals will have the clout to demand better work life balance. But the flip side of this will be that employees further down the food chain will face mounting job insecurity.

And multi-generational working, or ‘4G’ (four-generation) workplaces, is likely to become common as people delay retirement. “It will be the first time in human history that this has happened,” said Toby Peyton-Jones, director of HR for Siemens in the UK and North-West Europe, and a commissioner at UKCES. “Will we see inter-generational stress and culture clashes or will this prove to be a positive tension that is part of a wider diversity trend that will drive innovation?”

He said: “Some things are unstoppable forces – the rise of technology, for example.  Other influences are subtle and fragile, yet potentially even more significant.  I’d count things like the attitudes and culture of people born in the digital generation amongst these.”

Commenting on the rise of flexible working in the future, Ben Willmott, head of public policy at the CIPD, said: "Many more businesses will need to embrace flexible working to meet increasing demand from different parts of a multigenerational workforce. Younger people will likely demand a greater work-life balance, and greater flexibility will be expected by both mums and dads and as well as the growing number of workers who will also be looking after ageing parents or relatives. At the same time, older workers will need and demand more flexible routes into retirement, looking to downshift and work fewer hours rather than simply seeing retirement as a full stop to their working lives.”

The CIPD’s research on flexible working found that it is still mainly restricted to part-time working or flexi-time, although managers do have a greater ability to work remotely. It showed that job shares, term time working, mobile or remote working are still the exception for most employees.

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  • I am strong advocate of more flexible working for the benefits of industry and individuals. In fact helping organisations implement effectively, for all stakeholders, modern working practices is what I do professionally. However, we do need to be aware that there is danger of producing a first and third class employee structure which will lead to institutionalising further the existing divisions within society. Young people are already finding it difficult to get out of the short term contract or internship working patterns which will be exacerbated if the skills gap discussed develops fully. The future described is already here in pockets of the country and specific sectors. Let's learn by what is happening now to avoid the traps that await us in the future.

  • As an HR profession we need to lead our Senior colleagues on embracing this positively as it is a reality that we cannot change. I have been able to see all of the issues highlighted in this report for some time, yet far too many employers seem to demand flexibility but are all too often not prepared to see this as a two way process. Luckily I am part of an HR team who embrace this postively already and hopefully will continue to do so with the tide of change.