Willis Towers Watson’s 2017/18 Future of Work Survey busted five of the biggest myths about the digital future, with the help of current data and insights from over 900 organisations around the world. These results also revealed an essential truth, that digitalisation (also known as the ‘fourth industrial revolution’) will bring inevitable changes to all industries and all categories of work. It’s important to remember that previous industrial revolutions also brought significant upheavals to the world of work, and led to the creation of new jobs and industries. During the third industrial revolution, we saw the advent of computers where the loss of over 3 million jobs was eclipsed by the creation of over 19 million new jobs worldwide.

The fourth industrial revolution is largely being defined by ’uberization‘ – in which technology is enabling us to fragment and to democratise work among various groups or individuals anywhere in the world, and technology is also helping us to connect all of these pieces back together. This paradigm is bringing about fundamental changes to existing business models, which in turn is influencing significant redesigns to workplaces and the workforce. This is why the future of work will affect HR more than any other function.

Leaders will look to HR to help determine how people and machines can co-exist and work together. HR will be key to providing solutions for people challenges in a digitalised workplace. Performance management, leadership development, change management will all need to be prioritised and driven by the HR function.

Many businesses around the world are already experiencing some of the shifts predicted to affect workforce design and management. One of these – automation – has resulted in new combinations of work and talent requirements:

‘Premiere’ talent is in high demand, but low supply

  • Critical talent are able to work creatively and imaginatively, and demonstrate lateral thinking and logical reasoning
  • Difficulty attracting and retaining high value-add talent will keep increasing due to strong demand and numerous opportunities, but limited supply
  • By deconstructing jobs, companies can focus premiere talent purely on high value-add tasks
  • Many highly-skilled talent are fulfilling critical work via contingent employment

Less skilled talent have a ‘reduced’ value, but are in large supply

  • Traditional highly skilled work can be fragmented into smaller tasks, much of which can increasingly be performed by machines and a larger pool of less specialised talent. This will transform fields such as accounting, analytics, manufacturing and assembly. .
  • There are significant opportunities to be realised by thinking beyond full-time employment, such as bringing on contingent, freelance or part-time workers, seconding from other groups, and also through reskilling or upskilling.

Another shift is in how the digital culture has modified employee perception towards compensation and rewards. The current generation is finding motivation in alternate forms of rewards and incentives that are far different from what previous generations are used to. HR will need to be extra aware of this, especially with critical talent.

Organisations will always need human capital in order to grow, evolve and succeed in achieving its vision and business goals. For this to be fulfilled in the digital era, HR should take a pre-emptive, opportunistic stance towards technology. This is the only way to truly understand what digitalisation means for the business and for the workforce. This will help HR to be ready for how digitalisation will reshape how we hire, engage, develop, reward, and lead employees.

HR will need to step forward as a proactive business partner and advisor, and advocate for aligning their people strategy with the digital transformation of the business. Here’s where to start:

HR will be agile, flexibility, transparency, technology, and transition to career security

Be agile and nimble in responding to changes in business strategy and talent markets

  • Ensure your organisation’s positions, levels, competencies, and compensation policies align with the digital strategy.
  • Consider what your organisation structure and job architecture should look like to enable more agility.
  • Determine the type of leadership needed in this new context.

Introduce flexibility into the design and delivery of the talent and reward plans

  • Upgrade the Employee Value Proposition (EVP) to an Individual Value Proposition (IVP)
    • Segmentation – consider what appeals to each segment of the workforce (e.g., employees vs. non-employees, baby boomers vs. millennials, permanent vs. temporary workers)
    • Individualisation and customisation – allow employees to personalise their career options and customise their rewards. Address questions like: ‘What is important to me as an individual? What motivates me?’ This approach requires a more targeted and accessible communications strategy.
    • Differentiation – the keyword is ‘purpose’. Set your organisation apart from others through fundamentals such as mission and values (e.g., social responsibility and diversity), unique cultural attributes and unconventional reward elements.
    • Work environment – while flexibility becomes an increasingly important attribute of how work gets done in an ’always-online’ environment, optimal workspace design is still desired and thus well-being emerges as a key theme for benefits.

Improve transparency in reward programmes

Leverage technology to digitally engage employees

  • Employees increasingly want – and expect – their work tools to have the same sophisticated consumer experience that their personal digital devices offer.

Transition from job security to career security

  • Identify the new positions needed and how traditional roles need to be transformed.
  • Prioritise learning and development. With work and skill requirements changing rapidly, employees are more concerned about continuous learning so that they remain competent and relevant to the workplace.

At the end of the day, technology – no matter how intelligent and powerful – is still a human invention. It exists to support humans and to augment our capacity for work and productivity. Now that we can move beyond the myths about digitalisation and the future of work, we have a clear roadmap for helping our organisations navigate the new landscape.


About the Author

Willis Towers Watson Media

Sambhav Rakyan

Willis Towers Watson


Sambhav Rakyan is the Data Services Practice Leader in Asia Pacific and Head of Talent & Rewards in India. To connect with Sam, please email wtwapdata@willistowerswatson.com.