Like organizations and the innovations they produce, the workforce has undergone significant change over the last 15 years. It shows every sign of continuing to evolve at this accelerated pace. Emerging developments are shifting stakeholder expectations, leaving industry leaders struggling to steer their organizations. Power is shifting from traditional executive positions to the workforce and customers with a proliferation of new ways to gather and disseminate information and collaborate on strategic tasks. As that shift happens, the gap between operations, workforce desires, customer expectations, and governing policies is widening.
This desynchronization is creating a growing amount of friction between employers, employees, customers, and society. It is also expanding the challenges and costs of competing for market share and attracting the right workforce. Organizations are beginning to see that, no matter how much technology they engage in this effort, their success demands human-to-human (H2H) connections, tailored relationships, and a unifying purpose for the members of their tribe.
Tomorrow’s Challenges in Creating a Values Based Workforce Today
Within organizations, shifting workforce paradigms present difficulties and opportunities. Leaders are finding it necessary to seek new ways to espouse purpose, values, and objectives for their teams.
Technology is complicating the effort. Artificial Intelligence (AI), machine learning, distributed and teleworking employees, all are decreasing the number of people actually working inside the traditional office environment. It's estimated that, over the course of the next one to two decades, 47% of U.S. jobs could be automated as machines replace human workers. As a consequence, large numbers of companies are rethinking their employment approaches - two in five organizations in general, and a third of employers with 100,000 employees or more expect to fill at least 30% of their workforce needs with contingent workers by 2020. 
Already, we have a more social workforce than ever before. It's everybody’s workforce, and the customer belongs to everyone. Consider WeWork – this six-year-old upstart has created a global community of creators that connect virtually through an app and physically through locations across the planet. A monthly membership “buys” you a spot at your home office or a hot spot, along with the ability to “book” conference rooms. The blended actual/virtual model has rocketed to success in part because the number of regular work-at-home, non-self-employed individuals has grown by 103% since 2005, and 49% of the massive Millennial demographic actively rely on social tools to boost workplace collaboration. 
At the same time, however, this 'progress' has elevated the potential for friction within the social contract. Without a regular community of workers in the office environment, the mutually beneficial purpose that once connected organizations with their employees and customers has become harder than ever to nurture.
Addressing Changing Expectations and the Social Contract
The good news is that addressing organizational and cultural challenges may be simpler than it seems.
Taking down the walls of the workplace has changed how collaboration can solve problems and create opportunities. While working ‘in the world’ may have reduced some of the interactions within traditional office environments, it simultaneously has broadened H2H collaboration, creativity, organic orthogonal thinking. It’s birthing connections that might not have occurred otherwise. Akin to how WeWork is creating environments where desynchronized, H2H engagement thrives, organizations like Veterati are approaching the opportunity from a structural perspective, enabling H2H relationships that might not have been possible before.
Veterati has created a virtual platform to connect seven million unemployed and underemployed Veterans and Military Spouses to the most robust employment search capability – personal relationships, where 80% of job opportunities exist. This technological answer to a lingering challenge is an excellent example of a Third Wave model. The organization has found a way to grant prosumers the access to knowledge and relationships where they need it, to elevate H2H interactions, and to benefit the workforce – simultaneously.
In the Veterati model, what we see is less of an employment contract conversation and more of a social contract conversation. Society demands that organizations contribute to the greater good, the health of the environment, and solutions to solve wicked problems. Employees want higher-value work and increased compensation in the form of financial stability, flexibility, and growth opportunities. Employers can satisfy all of these demands and achieve greater ROI by tapping into innovations that keep the human at the center of creativity.
This social contract approach to the Third Wave workforce model could reshape the next generation. Or it could cause unmanageable friction and desynchronization across stakeholders. Leaders must lean on the social contract to ensure alignment between how the organization will satisfy market and workforce demands, and what they get in return.
Getting Back to the Human Element
Translating what makes environments like WeWork or relationships like Veterati so innovative in the prosumer-based model are they provide opportunities for organic and cross-functional work to occur. As we look at organizations of the future and how each member of this ecosystem will function together, leaders need to first understand the demands and then figure out how to meet their workforce where they are. That might mean rethinking how to use existing tools and channels to harness the full capacity of their resources. Humans are the most fundamental of those resources. As opportunities for daily H2H engagement decrease, the value of these interactions goes up.
Consider new mentorship models that can be harnessed for broader scale application and are not dependent on physical presence. Think outside of the traditional profile of a member of the workforce. AI and other machine-learning capabilities show promise for helping to equip managers with new mechanisms for efficiencies and more time to engage their workforce when the opportunity arises. 
The capacity for success in a massively shifting work environment may be as simple as making sure that your human workforce feels personally connected to the group. Even as you pull down the walls around your operations, spend the time to listen and communicate shared purpose.
It’s time to align the needs of the organization and the expectations of the stakeholders by remembering the irreplaceable impact of human engagement.
Dave Baber is trusted by senior leaders for his approach to leading organizations through transformational change. He brings expertise in strategic foresight, design, and risk management. A certified Project Manager Professional, he leads multifunctional teams focused on delivering the needs of his clients in government and commercial companies. Dave is a Veteran having served two combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, and continues his service in the Army National Guard, currently assigned as a Brigade Operations Officer.
Toffler Associates is a future-focused strategic advisory firm. Our Future Proof® business consulting approach helps global leaders understand how future shifts impact current decisions so they can take advantage of opportunity, manage risk, and create future value.
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