How the changing world of work is shifting HR priorities

With organisations under pressure to transform, modern workforces are changing slowly before our eyes. Ongoing innovation, a continuous desire for growth and ethical expectations are all influencing the world of work.

Employees may want to be associated with a strong, successful company, but they are also aware that others can judge them based on their employer’s reputation. If someone works for a business renowned for its ethical or charitable stance, such as Innocent or Pret a Manger, this is often worn like a badge of honour – people are proud to work there.

Another major factor impacting organisations is technology. Jacob Morgan, futurist and co-founder of the Future of Work Community, claims new innovations are creating a ‘world without boundaries’ where mobility, increased collaboration and big data technology are changing the behaviour of employees.

The impact of technology has been noticeable among the millennial generation. Such is their affinity with digital tools they often have a better grasp of technology than senior professionals.

Research by PwC has revealed that 41% of this age group would now actually prefer to communicate electronically, rather than face to face at work. This kind of attitudinal shift is significant as this generation, born between 1980 and 2000, will make up about half of the global workforce by 2020 and 75% by 2025.

Different worlds of work

Such is the impact of these pressures, PwC believes that three distinct types of organisation will emerge by 2022. In its Future of Work report, the consultancy identifies three worlds of work which it labels the orange, green and blue worlds.

The orange world represents an organisation based around a small core team. These businesses will seek to remain agile by utilising their networks of specialist freelancers or online partners as and when appropriate.

The green world represents companies that are most likely to have developed a culture mindful of their employees’ conscience. They attract their employees based on a strong brand and set of values.

The blue world, meanwhile, appeals to workers more concerned with job security, status and salary. These corporate entities are more focused on growth, profit and being the market leader.

Depending on where a business lies within these three worlds, individual HR departments will need to tailor its functions to match the different demands this creates.

The impact on HR

If an organisation’s characteristics are more aligned with the orange, HR will need to develop the qualities needed to source and manage contractors. This will be crucial to negotiate contracts, monitor performance and evaluate the success of projects.

In the green world, HR will need to become the guardians of brand reputation and evaluate issues such as sustainability and supply chain risk. While in the blue world, an emphasis on performance will require HR to act as an analyst capable of spotting talent and identifying retention issues.

According to Robert Bolton, partner at KPMG’s Global HR Centre of Excellence, if HR departments are going to align with the business they should resist the temptation to ‘seek refuge in benchmarks and generic best practices’. He adds, “HR is at its best when it reflects your organisation’s unique characteristics.”

Whereas previously, HR may have been perceived as purely functional, the changing worlds of work could see HR adopt a much more prominent role in business strategy, helping organisations achieve their goals and objectives.