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Technology and the future world of work

Technology and the future world of work

By the year 2025, 75% of the workforce will be millennials. Jack Ma the founder and former CEO of disrupter online retailer Alibaba predicts that we’ll all be working a 16 hour week by 2045.  Working smarter, not harder. Other studies suggest that there will be 44% fewer jobs overall by 2030.

Should we in the HR and employment law community be concerned? Are you rushing to address these impending changes? As part of our Future Chemistry campaign, we asked these questions of our network of senior HR professionals to guide us on what they saw coming down the track as the critical issues facing their organisations in order to attract and retain a future-ready workforce.

There was a clear sense from each of the debates that all employers are now ‘tech’ companies – not just the more obvious businesses engaged in digital or new media. Technology is central to all that we do in the world of commerce and work, and it is vital that HR responds to this too.

There are as many opportunities for the HR community as there are threats. For every collective downsizing of roles to make way for efficient new technology, there will be exciting new roles for which to recruit from the tech-savvy next generation of workers.

We all use tech at work in some way – and we communicate with employees and candidates differently as a result. The surge in social media use (and misuse) in the workplace is just one case in point.

While technology touched almost every aspect of the topics under discussion in our debates, it was felt that some of the answers still eluded employers. Although it was acknowledged that some jobs will not exist in the future, it was felt that the implications for the workforce of technologies such as driverless cars and robotics were not yet fully understood.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is a hot topic, but the sense was that it has not yet fully made its impact on the world of HR. However, technology – such as managers having mobile phone apps for routine HR and ER queries – was praised, while software for managing job applicants was also popular. “Chatbots” were also being used by some companies to automate HR enquiries.  Just looking at tech start ups like Human Resources Intelligence, the potential for large employers to streamline sequential and repeat HR enquiries is readily apparent.

One area in which technology has become most prevalent was in the “gig economy”, in which freelancers or contractors are paid on a per-job basis, aided by tasks being assigned to them via smart phones and apps.

We generally think of the high profile cases like Uber and Deliveroo. But the issues of employee/ worker status are not unique to these high profile tech disrupters. What was telling from the gig case law is that there is a critical mass of workers for whom working ‘gigs’ on piecemeal basis is the preference and fits with the next generation workforce which craves the elusive work/life balance. 

We can never advise on employment law in a vacuum. What still fascinates me about employment law is that it flexes and shapes in response to the changing needs of society and the world around us. Judges and legislators alike have proven prepared to do so. The pace of change of technology has just meant that the response must accelerate and adapt to the practical reality and pressures on employers and those that work for them.

Are you future-ready?

By David Morgan
Partner

Burness admin