Four future of work and workplace models most likely to emerge

26 July 2021 4 min. read

Deloitte has released the 2021 edition of its Global Human Capital Trends, examining how the future of work will look like, including worker-employer relationships and workplace strategies. Mark Maclean, a leader in Deloitte’s Human Capital consulting practice in Southeast Asia, outlines the four most likely future of work models to emerge. 

Work as fashion
Many organizations are currently experiencing this reactive employer-worker relationship, often focusing on the most fashionable topics of the moment. As they develop new policies for the future of work, organizations are responding to worker feedback, competitor actions and marketplace trends in real-time through surveys and other listening tools.

Although this allows organizations to gauge worker feedback in the moment, it can also relegate corporate purpose to the role of decorative accessory. 

Four future of work and workplace models most likely to emerge

This model will likely produce short-term satisfaction for both the employer and the worker but may inadvertently lead to questions around inclusion as less-dominant voices are overshadowed and underrepresented. To thrive, employers will need to align on a set of unwavering values and develop sustainable workforce strategies that will benefit everyone in the long-run. 

War between talent
In a future where the talent supply outpaces the availability of jobs, the employer-worker relationship is impersonal, with the employer in a power position, valuing efficient work over developing and investing in the workforce. This could fuel trends such as globalization, offshoring, automation of work and the use of the alternative workforce.

While leaning on these approaches may save on short-term workforce costs, organizations may risk losing out on potential productivity and innovation gains. Nearly three-quarters (72%) of the executives surveyed in the 2021 Global Human Capital Trends report said that the ability of their people to adapt, reskill, and assume new roles was one of the most important factors in their ability navigate future disruptions.

What’s more, 41% of executives said building workforce capability was one of the most important actions they were taking to transform work. With such a highly motivated supply of talent, it is the organizations that decide to invest in reskilling and retraining that could find themselves best able to thrive in the future. 

Work is work
This scenario centers on drawing clear lines between work and personal life and maintaining a professional employer-worker relationship. Access to benefits such as financial stability and paid time off play a crucial role in this scenario, as workers need both to be able to pursue fulfillment outside of work. It also means that the work itself becomes the dominant factor in the employer-worker relationship. 

The report revealed that 61% of leaders are reimagining work, more than double the 29% doing so pre-pandemic. Re-architecting work to focus on human capabilities and the purpose behind work can help workers build their sense of belonging beyond the day-to-day tasks that characterize the work is work scenario. Leaders focused on thriving in this scenario must shift to outcome-based performance management, prioritizing well-being, diversity, and reskilling. 

Purpose unleashed
Though some organizations have stepped back from the role of the social enterprise, many others have embraced purpose, recognizing its potential impact on their corporate reputation. These organizations have put purpose at the heart of business decision-making and have focused on uniting their workers around a common goal. 

In this communal worker-employer future, the two parties operate as co-creators of the organizational purpose and rely on each other for organizational and personal fulfillment. 

While a majority (86%) of executives believe that workers will increasingly value meaningful missions at organizations in the next five years, this approach is not without its risks. To avoid purpose being viewed as performative, organizations should regularly pull in external perspectives that represent impacted stakeholders, as well as feedback from workers. In that way, the organization can ensure that purpose is embedded into every part of the organization. 

A country-by-country assessment

In Southeast Asia, notable is that markets are currently placed at opposite ends of the spectrum. For example, Thailand is re-entering a lockdown as Singapore remains bullish on its ability to reopen fully. The question then is which of these four potential futures each country in the region will take on. 

In the region, two opposite futures in terms of the relationship between employers and workers seem to be becoming most prevalent. Work as fashion is being rapidly adopted by many larger organisations as a ‘quick fix’ to assuage the restlessness and attrition of their top talent. These are short term measures that have limited term impact, and serves only to push issues out to a later date.

Purpose unleashed is the antidote to quick fixes and will give organisations the chance to move workers from being employees to being family. By adapting their ways to align employees around the purpose of their organisation, they enable work to be truly flexible, inculcating a culture of clarity and consistency to drive succession through transparent feedback on performance.