Three Trends Poised to Transform the Future of Work

Three Trends Poised to Transform the Future of Work

Author: Cecile Alper-Leroux

Rapid advances in technology—from natural language processing to machine learning to artificial intelligence (AI)—are combining to reshape today’s workplaces. At the same time, broad cultural trends are changing the dynamic among people, work, and communication, pushing us well beyond the automation of traditional manual tasks to rethinking the way we manage employees altogether.

With this in mind, I believe there are three pivotal trends—people-first AI; individualized leadership; and breakthrough diversity, equity, and inclusion—that must be of interest to HR and senior business leaders in 2018 and beyond, each interconnecting with the others to transform the near-term future of work.

Megatrend #1: People-First Artificial Intelligence: Machine Learning and Human Intuition Combine Forces

AI is everywhere, but it’s not without its challenges (for example, machines learning from biased data). Its newest incarnation will have to be focused on not just mastering the science of AI, but also on the art of collecting better, more accurate data. This next evolution of AIunderlines the assistive role of the technology to enhance human performance, by allowing people to scale and undertake more rather than replacing human skills and experiences.

In 2018, businesses will migrate from AI focused on automating tasks formerly performed by people to more complex technologies that augment and amplify human intelligence and capability—reinforcingthe role of human intelligence in solving problems individually and collectively. HR managers will use people-first AI and machine learning to better understand what motivates employees, how to more effectively recruit and retain talent, and how to improve on the employee experience at work by using both their own skills and knowledge combined with the near-instantaneous analytical power of AI. This type of AI supplements the work that HR and managers already do, rather than replacing them—for example, by alerting managers to increasingly negative sentiment in employee feedbackfrom one particular office that may have a morale issue, or by suggesting ways to reword a job posting to be more inclusive.

Megatrend #2: Hyper-personalization: Highly-Individualized Leadership Replaces “One-Size-Fits-All” Management

The second megatrend is hyper-personalization—the need for leaders to focus on each employee, as opposed to one-size-fits-all leadership models. Hyper-personalization—from designing your unique, one-of-a-kind Nikes, to online shoppers for clothes and groceries that remember your preferences and customize recommendations for you—is coming to employee management in 2018, and HR must help its managers lead with a higher degree of personalization and understanding of each of its direct reports.

An astonishing 95% of people want to feel whole at work—free to be their authentically unique selves. Prior corporate leadership modelsfrequently embraced a rigid, hierarchical “command and control” structure based on an employee’s perceived skills and capabilities, or encouraged managers to manage everyone on their team in the same way in order to be perceived as fair and equitable. Today’s workers prefer a culture in which leaders seek to develop the whole person, with a deep understanding that one-size-fits-all management is not an effective approach—and that different people need different styles of management to best motivate them. Some employees thrive in complete autonomy while other employees work best when they receive confirmation from a manager or co-worker on each step of a project.

To lead effectively, leaders must nurturetheir employee’s cognitive and emotional development (beyond the organization’s typical physically focused wellness offerings) to guide meaningful, purposeful, and productive work and careers. The most effective managers will be able to flex and adapt their personal management styles to the individuals they manage in order to help their employees put forth their best effort and succeed at work.

Megatrend #3: Humanizing Work: Breakthrough Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion for the Modern Age

HR will continue to take trailblazing strides in diversity, equity, and inclusion, and the fair treatment of all employees. However, DE&I initiatives will have to go beyond HR into the mainstream of every organization, aided by new tools and knowledge of neuroscience. A workforce culture in which everyone feels they belong and can be authentically themselves requires a broader consideration and mind shift from largely compliance-driven D&I models.

Many organizations recognize that human diversity generates unique perspectives that foster greater innovation, sustainability, and cultural competence. Rather than merely consider D&I as a must-do initiative or a socially responsible action to become an employer of choice, organizations will increasingly come to realize the better business performance and innovation that derives from human diversity.

Creating and maintaining an inclusive culture requires knowing a lot about people, empathizing with them, and sustaining that commitment long term. With technological advancement comes the risk of becoming removed from the “messy” human work of fostering belonging and shared purpose for our teams. Increasingly, the use of virtual technologies will allow organizations to overcome unconscious bias in the work experience (recruiting, performance management, and pay equity), creating workplaces that are broadly inclusive beyond traditional categories of diversity.

These three Megatrends intersect in powerful ways.For instance, people-first AI is an enabler to leadership that is tailored to every person individually, allowing leaders to break out of the one-size-fits-all approach to development, and ensuring employees remain engaged in their work, feel good about their place in the organization, are physically and emotionally healthy, and are able to collaborate freely, openly, and confidently. People-first AI also empowers leaders and organizations to gain an entirely new understanding of people and how their diverse perspectives come together to solve business problems.

This new technologyis poised to help organizations create more innovative and effective teams, as well as understand and respond to the needs of their diverse customers

Cecile Alper-Leroux is Ultimate Software’s vice president of human capital management innovation. An economic anthropologist, she frequently speaks and writes about people and technology in a work context, always passionate about the extraordinary transformation of the work environment and the vastly more human-centered ways of building meaningful careers. Cecile has been featured in Forbes, HuffPost, HR Magazine, and The Wall Street Journal. Cecile will be conducting a breakout session on the topic “Three Trends Poised to Transform the Future of Work” at the Annual NYC SHRM Conference on April 27. To learn more about her and other sessions and to register, please visit

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