If there were one word that could be used to describe the employees of the future, it would be “diverse”.
Multiple generations in the workforce will collaborate globally, not only as permanent employees, but also as project workers and freelancers, managing a portfolio of tasks and choosing how, where and when they work. And although diverse, these employees will share valuable attributes, including empathy, resilience and positivity.
To truly engage these employees of the future, organisations will need to adapt structures and ways of working to harness the strength of this diversity and these personal attributes.
In his book Alive at Work, Dan Cable, professor of organisational behaviour at London Business School (LBS), asserts that people are not built for routine and repetition, but rather for exploration and experimentation. However, the way that many organisations are run prevents people from following those innate impulses – resulting in disengagement. A culture built around employee innovation, resourcefulness and diversity of thought will be key to future success.
Employees agree. Houda Hamdouch, an investment manager at Virgin Management, sees a future-proof workforce as creative, resilient and resourceful.
“At Virgin we are encouraged to truly be ourselves and embrace people who think differently,” she says. “If an organisation or an employee wants to ‘future proof’, they must be ready to challenge and be challenged. Ultimately, I believe employees can make or change a company’s culture.”
Diversity, which extends beyond race or gender to encompass generational, age, sexual orientation, personality and even functional diversity, may bring greater potential for organisational success, but it also poses risks.
From his research into leading diverse teams, Randall Peterson, professor of organisational behaviour at LBS, has concluded that the more diverse the team, the more diverse the outcome. In effect, the best performing and worst performing teams are also the most diverse.
“If you want reliable, safe homogeneity, the way to go is little diversity,” he points out. “However, if you want to be world class, you need to be diverse, but be aware that it has to be well-managed to extract that value.”
Future working environments will need to reflect this. Denisse Zavala is a software engineering manager at Pivotal Software, which employs over 2,500 people worldwide. Her ideal workspace is one that fosters collaboration and inclusion and empowers employees to do what they do best and work together towards a common goal.
“Working in diverse teams with different perspectives often produces better outcomes, so the environment must support collaboration between different teams and ways of working,” she says. “We have an open-plan office with large desks and spaces designed for ad-hoc collaboration, where teams can get together away from their desks.”
Employers will also need to understand what will motivate their future employees. Many are already driven by purpose and values rather than financial incentives.
Claire Hibbard is an applications developer at Civica, where she began her career as an apprentice. “Every employee likes to be rewarded and it doesn’t always have to be in the form of financial benefits,” she says. “We have an internal ‘praise’ system where you share your appreciation for other people’s work. This creates a great atmosphere, strengthens bonds and boosts collaboration between team members.”
For leaders looking to ensure their leadership skills are aligned with the needs of a future workforce, LBS’s Essentials of Leadership programme offers valuable guidance in leveraging their strengths, influencing people, empowering others and enabling change.
Many future employees will have their sights set on leadership. In making that career transition, they will rely on the strength of their professional networks to provide support. Herminia Ibarra, professor of organisational behaviour at LBS, has written about leadership development and the value of maintaining a far-reaching and diverse set of professional connections.
One of the biggest misconceptions people have about networking is that relationships should form naturally. However, she points out that these networks can never deliver the breadth of input that leaders need to make good decisions or influence others to share their vision. Professional networks should be diverse and developed deliberately by identifying and cultivating relationships with relevant individuals, both inside and outside of an organisation.
The right skills are fundamental to a future-proof workforce, and while nobody knows which specific skills will be needed in five or 10 years’ time, few would argue that one of the most important will be adaptability. Tom Carver, a junior planner at creative agency St Luke’s, believes this skill will be crucial for employees’ career development.
“In our industry we have to be up to date with advances in technology, current affairs, new media, and any other developments that affect the everyday consumer, so you must be constantly willing to learn, curious and highly adaptable,” he says.
St Luke’s supports employee learning and development in a number of ways. As well as conventional training sessions, a fortnightly Clever Breakfasts initiative sees some of the UK’s top creative talent come in to give talks on a range of topics, from the future of AI to the innovations in Facebook Live.
“Our strategy team circulates weekly predictions on the impact of tech development and innovations for our industry,” adds Carver. “We are kept up to date, inspired and equipped for whatever happens.”
The future of learning and skills development could involve a collaborative effort between HR, learning and development functions, and employees themselves, with access to the tools and content they need in the future world of work.
In a climate of change, organisations must ensure that their culture is one that engages and supports employees, and helps them to adapt to change. London Business School’s Executive Education programme suite includes a number of courses, both open and custom, that enable leaders to build effective learning and development strategies that will equip their employees with the skills to flourish in the future world of work and become the leaders of tomorrow.