That Workplace Parked in Future, Now
List down everything that makes up how organizations usually hire, manage work, train, appraise, fire, retire, recycle talent and what not. Now pick up an eraser and look at 99 per cent of this list. Step up, wipe it off
“Where have you been all this time?”
They both stared in amusement at each other. It had been ten years and they both had wondered how powerful this question would sound when they meet! Here they were, cherishing that very moment and after a few pregnant seconds, he answered: “You know, just backpacking around the universe.”
A grin broke on both the sides and soon a lot of back-slapping, hugging and banter followed. Mr. Meteor was back. The star HR VP of the company, who probably took the salutation a little too literally, and applied for a space-experiment for civilians about ten years back. His dearest colleague and ardent protégé, Mr. Higgs, had learnt a lot from Mr. Meteor and it was hard for him to transplant himself in an organization where Mr. Meteor was to be strongly missed - emotionally and professionally.
Excited to listen to Mr. Meteor’s adventures, Mr. Higgs cancelled all his calls, planted his friend in a cushy bean-bag, and ran off to get a good stock of coffee and sandwiches. When he returned, he found Mr. Meteor fiddling with the screens and gadgets strewn over the table, looking at colorful dashboards in a daze.
“Hi, so how does it feel coming back to Earth?” Higgs bolted.
Mr. Meteor looked up with knitted eyebrows and confusion swimming across his face. “Where are we?”
“Where! What do you mean? Of course, you are back home? Is it some Post-trauma joke you are trying on me?” Higgs threw up his hands and unpacked the picnic.
“No, seriously Higgs, what are all these hubs flashing on your screen? I feel I am in a cockpit or a Yoda war-room and not in an HR cubicle.”
“What’s wrong Meteor, you look frazzled. This is your own cube. Our berth for years, remember?” Higgs was still not able to get it.
“No, that’s the problem. I cannot recollect anything at all from what I see here. It’s like I have skipped a memory circuit in my brain or something. Why don’t I remember all this – What is all this on your PPT? Collaborative Consumption, Gig Economy, Networked work, Just-in-time hiring? And why is your PPT on this funky screen?”
Higgs did not know what to say or where to start. For the first time, he was struck with the time gap standing between him and his mentor who had disappeared into a blue hole. “Meteor, you need to catch up on a few things. You know, stuff has changed a bit around here while you were gone.” said Mr. Higgs.
“What stuff? How can basic work ways change? Don’t tell me your world does not work 9 to 5 anymore, or you have no organization hierarchy to take care of or that machines have elbowed out employees out here?”
“As a matter of fact, yeah.” Higgs hesitated. “We don’t work on a clock. We work around the clock and from anywhere. We- meaning – everyone and anyone. Technology has changed a lot of bricks around in the last few years.”
“Do what? Not hoard information?” Meteor chuckled in agony.
“Yes. We share information. People have shifted from email-based work to things like Asana or Slack. And no, there are no hierarchies any more. People prefer wheels to ladders.” Higgs twisted the knife of surprises further.
“And Algorithms, or automation as your screens show here, are actually taking over real human-side work?” Meteor asked gob-smacked.
“Why not. If you swipe to the other side of this app here, you can see we have so many Virtual Reality Designers and 3D Printing guides hired at our own place.”
“But why all these freelancing or networking names on your stand-by?” Meteor drilled on.
“The world is all about on-demand, plug-and-play work these days Meteor. Just 29 per cent millennials expect to work regular office hours. Flexibility at workplace is not an exception to be allowed by HR anymore. It is a fundamental norm now.”
“Really? Why? I can’t get my head around it. Why at all?”
Higgs explained. “Well, what people expect and how they look at work has changed dramatically. There was this Workplacetrends, a research and HR advisory firm’s study entitled, “2015 Workplace Flexibility Study” with 1087 professionals and 116 HR professionals, that noted that even if 67 per cent HR professionals think that their employees have a balanced work-life, 45 per cent of employees and 35 per cent job seekers tend to look the other way. People won’t be ok not having enough time each week to do personal activities anymore. We experimented and worked well with breakthrough HR policies, technology quotients, performance appraisals, and use of social capital and emergence of a new, proactive and extremely agile HR”
“Wait, even performance management! Why?”
“How can the old approach work in a Gig culture and the collaborative economy where sharing information instead of hoarding is the DNA? It’s a radically networked workplace, and here, people merge, work, dissolve and re-merge in new flat, open ecosystem models constantly. Digital distance has evaporated and hence HR has to look at how it picks and nurtures in a new paradigm altogether.”
Higgs waited as Meteor scratched his head for the umpteenth time.
“Ok, even if all that you are saying is true, what it is that you do now Higgs? What makes you relevant in this new crazy, fuzzy, button-run world?” Meteor minced no words.
Higgs laughed. “It makes us all the more crucial. We get to be in the actual orbit now. Talent sits above outsourced and automated work and hence, it has to be leveraged for inimitable traits like creativity, sensitivity, leadership etc. HR has to build an organization for the future for capabilities that align with this new scenario. It has to nurture a diverse set of people genres: mentor, optimizers, visionaries and nurture people in new-economy learning contexts. It does not recruit CVs but assesses where and how would it sow disruptive explorer and risk-takers as per organisation’s strategic soils.”
Meteor blinked his eyes absently as he answered. “Just one more question Higgs. How long have I been gone?”