The future of work is global!

We’re in this together

When I talk about demographic developments, I always remind my audiences that the trend is east and south: in the 2030s, the world’s megacities will be in Asia, Africa and South America. And my trips to Kuala Lumpur and Dubai served as a stark reminder of that fact: everywhere you look new buildings are going up. These really are cities that never sleep and grow larger day by day. I was struck by the dynamic and fast-paced atmosphere in both countries, as well as the diversity of the people I met.

EP Thinktank

It’s not often that I have six speaking engagements in such a short time. Usually, they are a bit further apart. Because they were so close together, my trip became an immersive experience, allowing me to compare the conversations that I had with the audience members in the various locations. As I mentioned in the introduction, I was struck by the similar concerns that came up: we are really in HR together.

I thought it would be interesting for you to read about the trending topics I distilled. It shows that the similarities in the HR profession are so much larger than our differences. And it might be reassuring to know that you’re not the only struggling to resolve these issues. So when you are looking for inspiration, reach out to someone you haven’t met before. Read articles in an HR magazine outside your geography. I am sure you’ll get some fresh ideas.

My keynotes were focused on two topics: I spoke about the Future of Work & Pay, and I talked about applying new technologies in HR, especially the importance of data and artificial intelligence (yes, that last one is obvious). I always like to throw in a couple of questions, where audience members respond by raising their hands, and we usually have a Q&A session at the end. During the breaks, people came up to me to ask some additional questions, or just to share their take on my presentation. A big thank you to everyone who shared their thoughts with me! So, what did I learn?

Attracting qualified talent is a universal challenge

One of the main concerns (maybe even thé concern) for HR professionals worldwide is finding enough skilled employees to meet the demands of the business. The future of work requires new skills, and bridging the gap between the open jobs and the available talent pool is a top priority for organizations everywhere. It’s not that there aren’t enough people – it’s that they don’t have the right skills, they are not in the right location, they work for a competitor, or you don’t know how to convince them to join your company.

And even though some audience members shared innovative hiring practices, it was clear that those only worked occasionally, but they will not solve the talent crunch. It was also interesting to learn how everyone regards the current tech layoffs as an opportunity to finally hire some much-needed technical skills, that were out of reach for a long time. Still, HR professionals were concerned about the attractiveness of their offers, and realize that they can’t match those of tech companies.

Impressions of my trips

Upskilling: preparing for the digital world of work

It’s not only about attracting qualified people: HR professionals discussed how the rapid evolution of technology is turning upskilling into a vital component of the employee journey. On the one hand side, they are trying to instill in employees the need to embrace the concept of lifelong learning to ensure they remain relevant and employable.

On the other side, employees are making lifelong learning a condition of employment: before they even join your company, they want to know exactly what you will do to train them while they work for you. Talking about your learning environment is not enough: this is about a continuous, personal upskilling plan, that allows them to leave your company better educated than when they joined. Would you be able to answer that question?

We discussed all kinds of solutions, from learning management systems to coaching and just-in-time learning. It was obvious that the trend is towards short snippets of learning: the attention span of people is short (the social media effect) and learning has to be delivering right when it’s needed. That means that learning should be available on mobile, or even as text messages. I am involved in a research study about the future of learning, and will share the outcomes with you in the coming months.

Pay and compensation are back

But let’s not overlook the importance of pay and compensation: all workers have been affected by inflation last year. HR teams have had to be very creative in finding ways to increase compensation without overspending. And yes, some companies announced record profits, but most of the HR professionals I talked to don’t work for these companies and try everything they can to keep wages competitive, while working within set budgets. It’s a constant struggle and one that will go on for a while.

Companies are also starting to understand the link between mental and financial health. While there is no clear cause-effect relationship, if you have ongoing financial worries, you won’t be able to bring your best self to work. Not everyone is able to handle their money wisely. I often mention that a payslip is just the beginning. Companies are starting to offer financial health support as a benefit: they recognize that employees need more help in managing their finances.

Pay transparency, and equal pay for equal jobs, were topics that came up often. And not only because it’s becoming a legal obligation in the United States and Europe. HR professionals across the globe recognize the importance of fair and equal pay – simply because (young) people are making it a condition before they join your company. They expect to see a salary range in the job ad and treat that as a selection criteria. And once you put a salary range in the ad, you can be sure your current workers take note of that.

Improving the employee experience is key to retention

We often talk about the employee experience without being precise on what it means and improving it was a key theme at all the conferences. But we’re not talking about offering pre-pandemic perks like flashy offices, onsite gyms and free snacks and lunches to enhance employee well-being.

The conversation has turned to a more fundamental employee experience: how do people spend their workday, are they supported by modern work environments, and what is the quality of leadership? When you have to work hard to attract the right people, you want to be absolutely sure they remain with your company for a long time. And that means offering them challenging assignments and helping them learn new skills. Allowing them to work when and where they want. Ensuring that leaders are equipped to set challenging but attainable goals and can coach employees in a supportive way to achieve results.

I learned that the key concern of HR professionals everywhere are: within the boundaries of our company, can we make the employee experience attractive enough, and can we upskill our leaders? The quality of leadership is one the main concerns, and also one that doesn’t show a clear path forward.

Companies are busy defining the qualities leaders should have -it’s very early days. On top of that, the debate between working remote and/or in the office rages on and this is tied up in the leadership conversation as well. Not many leaders know (yet) how to lead remote teams, or are skilled and confident in doing so. Add the four-day work week topic to the mix and the challenge to redefine leadership is very real.

Innovative HR Technologies: The Future of HR?

When we talk about the employee experience, technology plays a big role. I regularly share updates on the HR Tech industry, and I did so at these conferences too. I showed the regional investment charts, and we discussed new technologies like artificial intelligence. The one thing that stood out to me: no one is really happy with the HR solutions they use, and they see that as a big concern in achieving a seamless employee experience. The words I heard most often were “too complex”, both to set up the solution and to use it. HR professionals work hard to improve the overall employee experience, but don’t feel that their systems support them well enough. They feel that these solutions hold them back, rather than help them.

Vendors need to take a hard look at their solutions with the word “simple” in mind. Instead of adding new features, maybe you can remove some and make using it easier? What if your next update was a simpler, but fully functional version? Give it some thought because it’s the one thing your customers are looking for.

The last couple of years, we’ve seen many innovative HR technologies come to market. We are starting to use AI-powered platforms in recruitment, talent management, learning and analytics. In general, HR professionals feel that they don’t know enough about these technologies: they don’t understand what is going on, and so they are hesitant to buy these systems. Some even told me that it was too early to talk about artificial intelligence, and that they would not use it in HR for a few more years.

I believe you should learn everything you can about AI, starting today, but I also think vendors should be much more precise in explaining exactly what goes on under the hood. After all, when mistakes are made, their customers will bear the consequences. It’s in everyone’s interest that new technologies are adopted, and that we also understand that application in HR, affecting personnel decisions, must proceed with extreme care and openness.

The global HR community has common goals

Before the pandemic I often traveled for work. I met people all over the world, and these conversations sparked new insights. I had forgotten how stimulating it can be to spend some days in an environment that feels so different from your own. To listen to people that you otherwise would not see on stage. And discover that despite the distance and the different languages and cultures, in HR there is so much that’s the same. My trips reminded me that HR professionals worldwide share a common goal: to create thriving, inclusive, and fulfilling work environments for employees.

We share the same worries: how to attract and retain talent, how to upskill employees for the digital age, ensure fair and equal pay, enhance the employee experience, and use innovative and simple HR solutions. The answers to these questions are the keys to shaping the future of work. Let’s try to find them together!