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What the Future of Work Means for HR Leaders

Less hierarchy. More flexibility. Unconventional career paths. Technology and changing employee expectations are redefining how work is done — and how organizations think about talent. Spencer Stuart and WeWork recently hosted a panel discussion to explore what these trends mean for human resources (HR) leaders and the future of work. Here are some key takeaways:

Flexibility will be the new norm. More than one-third of HR leaders believe increased flexibility — for example, remote working, role-sharing and freelancing — will be the biggest factor shaping work in the future. Organizations that take a holistic view of their people and dedicate time and resources to enhancing their wellness and work/life balance will be best positioned to attract and retain top talent.

Organizations are becoming more fluid. Less hierarchical organizational structures will be the primary way work will change, according to one-third of HR leaders we surveyed. As other functions gain greater influence over strategic issues, this convergence could present an opportunity — or a threat — for HR leaders, said John Reid-Dodick, chief people officer of WeWork. “The best HR leaders always align the business strategy with the HR strategy,” said Stephen Patscot, consultant in Spencer Stuart’s Human Resources Practice. “Going forward, HR’s ability to innovate and enhance collaboration at all levels of the organization will be key to adding value.”

HR leaders were asked: What is the most significant way work will change?

38%: Increased flexibility (e.g., remote working options, role-sharing, etc.)

31%: Less hierarchical organizational structures

23%: Technology will create new roles

8%: Rising employee expectations

Organizations have to walk the talk. “Companies typically view real estate as a cost center, but we see it as a culture center,” said Julia Davis, head of referrals and partnerships at WeWork. “The space builds energy, collaboration and innovation, which are the future of work.” Organizational culture has the power to encourage innovation, creativity and growth, but these qualities need to be more than just words. A disconnect between the stated culture and actual culture can have a significant impact on an organization’s long-term success. Research has shown that lack of culture fit is responsible for 68 percent of executive hire failures.

Urbanization is a force that cannot be ignored. Sixty-six percent of the world’s population will live in urban areas by 2050, according to a United Nations study. This shift is well underway, according Reid-Dodick. “The trend of families moving from cities to suburbs is declining,” he observed. “This greatly impacts talent attraction.” In response, a growing number of organizations based in non-urban areas have been opening satellite offices or renting space in cities to attract talent, especially millennials.

New career paths are being forged. With a growing “gig economy” and changing talent motivations (e.g., the prioritization of purpose over prestige), organizations will need to look past non-traditional career trajectories when evaluating candidates. “Twenty years ago, you didn’t think of startups as a career path,” said Reid-Dodick. This evolution also means that some roles need to be designed to accommodate a desire for entrepreneurship and innovation.

HR leaders will need to become disrupters. Often, HR leaders focus almost solely on building capabilities in other areas of the organization. To succeed in a rapidly changing talent landscape — and position themselves for broader roles in the future — HR leaders need to challenge the status quo and create new roles within the function, e.g., a chief risk officer.

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