The Workforce of the Future

Exploring the space, skills, and goals that will define the next phase of employee engagement.
Employee Engagement

Because customer experience initiatives continue to dominate the executive agenda, businesses often fail to nurture internal resources in pursuit of external gain. However, as consumer expectations evolve, so must company culture, for future employees will rely upon collaboration, adaptability, and purpose to further personal and enterprisewide success.

With rapid innovation comes a new era of employee engagement. Just as consumers want more for their money, employees long for more than just compensation. As time progresses, these individuals wish to break free from the traditional workspace more and more, for not all have the capacity to thrive under the same conditions. Modern employees also desire continuous learning in their pursuit of meaning, for money no longer serves as their primary motivation.

Here, we explore how organizations are already shaking things up and how these alterations will evolve to impact the workforce of the future:

The Space

In recent years, many modern offices have undergone deconstruction, breaking down cubicle walls in an effort to turn these spaces into collaborative common areas that promote conversation. "The traditional, sprawling 'cube farm' office layout is fading fast in its role as the centerpiece for corporate life and productivity thanks to tremendous advances in mobile technology and 24/7 Internet accessibility," says Mark Gambill, chief marketing officer at MicroStrategy Inc. Instead, companies have started to erase the concept of walls entirely, expanding beyond the confines of the office itself and enabling employees to pursue their own individual working styles.

However, as Emily He, chief marketing officer of Saba Software, notes, this fixation on open office layouts will likely face backlash in the near future, for these conversational, often loud, spaces will increase the competition for meeting rooms and private spaces, as open environments can also reduce productivity or output. Employees may spend more time collaborating than ever before, but this constant discussion will inevitably delay the end result. Such environments have already chased some employees back to their home offices in an effort to complete high-focus tasks, thereby reducing engagement and collaboration-the exact opposite of the open office's intent.

Susan Cain, author of "Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking," highlights that not all personalities are suited for the open office environment, as many crave privacy and require time without the "always on" sensory overload in order to think and create better. Therefore, organizations will need to understand how their employees work as they aim to develop the right private, collaborative, and open space balance to accommodate different jobs and working styles.

Jim Haudan, chief executive officer at Root Inc., notes that, to embrace the spirit of flexibility, brands also need to look at home work models. Such options facilitate mobility, allowing employees to be productive no matter their location, as cloud technologies enable access to secure information wherever there's an Internet connection. However, the tremendous need to re-humanize the workplace remains, as effective teams require human interaction to reach their full potential. Thus, successful companies must learn to determine when employees need to be together, and ensure that teams make the most of their time by encouraging and enabling daily communication and socialization no matter the medium.

The Skills

No matter how diligent current and prospective employees may be, it's nearly impossible to keep pace with the evolution of technology. Thus, while employers will continue to look for basic competencies and skills, organizations will inevitably look to hire workers that exhibit the willingness to learn. In the future, learning will trump knowing, as companies seek engaged individuals who can quickly adapt to change.

Education has the power to engage, as the workforce of the future will consist of younger generations that desire continuous learning. These emerging employees understand and admit that they cannot know everything about everything. By capitalizing on this yearning for continuous learning, employers have the power to constantly refresh their employees' skills via training courses. Therefore, by developing their workforce from the inside out, organizations ultimately avoid the need to hire specialized workers who can satisfy these changing needs.

Chris Tratar, vice president of product marketing at SAVO, emphasizes that the new workforce will need to consist of problem solvers who can think on their feet, as they should be fast at diagnosing problems and presenting solutions. These employees must also have an amazing capacity to learn just the right information at the right time. "Gone are the days of trying to learn everything about everything, as that's now impossible due to the sheer volume of information, data, and knowledge everyone is exposed to," he adds, highlighting the increasing importance of analytical skills, as well.

However, according to one recent study conducted by Oxford Economics and SAP, only 42 percent of employees currently know how to extract meaningful insights from the data available to them, while only 47 percent of respondents say their company has an established culture of continuous learning. Thus, organizations are moving toward concise, informative training formats that provide content in the form of 2-3 minute video tutorials to impart the necessary skills, such as data analysis. These easily accessible, digestible platforms rely on visual learning as employers attempt to bring extracurricular behaviors into the office to engage workers. Ann Ruckstuhl, chief marketing officer and senior vice president at LiveOps, also notes that simulation technology will continue to gain popularity, as such tools provide workers with firsthand experience and insight into how to handle issues when interacting with customer directly.

The Goals

While companies are already working to break down departmental silos, leaders will need to eliminate these barriers entirely in order to increase productivity. Organizations will seek to pool resources across the enterprise and touchpoints to fully leverage existing skillsets and meet consumer demand without the need for additional people. Leaders will focus internally, allowing this erosion of boundaries to bring forth their companywide concentration on the customer journey.

"For example, bank branch tellers are often idle for several hours, especially during the middle days of the week," says Rajeev Venkat, senior director, solutions marketing at Verint. "They possess similar customer interaction skills [as compared to contact center agents]. Therefore, instead of having to add more people in the contact center, calls can be routed to available workers in the branch. The technology to accomplish this exists today, but most organizations operate within departmental silos with little to no visibility into the manageability of the work, people, and processes in different departments of the enterprise."

Companies will also look to align organizational and individual purpose, for money no longer serves as the primary motivation behind employee performance. "The future workforce will look for more than just a paycheck-they will want evidence of how they will grow and gain purpose from their work," He emphasizes. "Companies will shift their focus from trying to create or measure employee engagement, to building a culture that encourages and enables growth and meaning."

Fostering purpose, however, will require an internal culture change. Employee engagement sets the tone for whether or not workers feel they have room to experiment and grow their skills with support from the company. For such relationships to continue and thrive, organizations must refocus their emphasis on accomplishments, not metrics, in order to create engagement naturally. Businesses must also recognize that, though future employees may not stay with one single company as long as their predecessors, each worker will likely have a greater impact on the organization in a shorter period of time, resulting in a win-win for the employee and the employer. Thus, engagement driven by purpose will prove profitable for everyone involved.