Treating the workforce as an ecosystem: It’s time to think about the workforce as an ecosystem. Today, this includes vendors, suppliers, and gig workers. However, if employers expand their view of the ecosystem, it can be considered as an avenue to access the skills they need when they need them.

When it comes to designing the future of work, one size fits none. Discovering success isn’t about a hybrid model or offering remote work options. Individuals and organizations are looking for more freedom. The freedom to choose the work model that makes the most sense. The freedom to choose their own values. And the freedom to pursue what matters most. We reached out to successful leaders and thought leaders across all industries to glean their insights and predictions about how to create a future that works.

As a part of our interview series called “How Employers and Employees are Reworking Work Together,” we had the pleasure to interview Steve Hatfield.

Steve is a principal with Deloitte Consulting and serves as the firm’s global leader for Future of Work. He has more than 25 years of experience advising global organizations on issues of strategy, innovation, organization, people, culture, and change. Hatfield has advised business leaders on a multitude of initiatives including activating strategy, defining a preferred future, addressing workforce trends, implementing agile and resilient operating models, and transforming culture oriented to growth, innovation, and agility. He has significant experience in bringing to life the ongoing trends impacting the future of work, workforce and workplace.

He is a regular speaker and author on the future of work and is currently on the Deloitte leadership team shaping the research and marketplace dialogue on future workforce and workplace trends and issues. He has a master’s in social change and development from SAIS / Johns Hopkins and an MBA from Wharton and is based in Boston.

Thank you for making time to visit with us about the topic of our time. What do you predict will be the same about work, the workforce and the workplace 10–15 years from now? What do you predict will be different?

For the majority, work is a critical part of their lives. Beyond livelihoods, it can provide intrinsic motivation, self-esteem, important social interactions, and for some, a sense of purpose. I don’t think these parts of work will change. What will change about work is that it will likely have more meaning for more people, and it will be more integrated with your life.

When it comes to the workforce, employers will continue to look for smart, capable people who bring the right skills to the table, and they’ll continue to focus on outcomes they produce. But we’ll see a shift in how and where employers think about those skills and how they source their talent. They will adapt to using an ecosystem of workers that fluidly comes together to meet their business objectives. To curate this ecosystem, organizations will likely begin looking at populations that have previously been untapped and will focus on the experience they bring rather than their pedigree. Several recent studies have shown the substantial, positive impact this could have on millions of workers who, through this practice, could fill positions that have traditionally only sought candidates with four-year degrees.

Lastly, the workplace will continue to be a critical part of how work gets done, but it will also continue to evolve and morph into more of an input for how work happens (i.e., collaborative work, design work, production work, etc.). The nature of the physical workplace will shift and become more of a destination that offers key tools, connections, learning and certain amenities, but it won’t be part of the day-to-day experience. The digital workplace will grow in prominence for how work gets done across all sectors (think virtual reality, wearables, IoT, and better digital tools in combination). In the end, these tools will become a more integral part of the workplace –with physical and digital work environments becoming more integrated.

What advice would you offer to employers who want to future-proof their organizations?

Employers must understand that ongoing success will be dependent on their ability to merge humanity with technology together in the context of work. While this context changes from sector to sector depending on the organization, those who can maintain optimal use of technology while humanizing the work will both create a more attractive place for employees to be while increasing productivity, innovation and human performance. This will help fuel growth and the ability to incorporate new, exponential technologies into the organization. It is the organizations that can continuously and seamlessly adapt to and integrate new technologies into how humans work, that will be able to maintain a motivated and productive workforce and be more future-proofed.

Additionally, organizations that understand and foster the more enduring skills needed to create growth across their workforce (i.e., creativity, empathy, storytelling, etc.), as well as the skills that can be learned within the flow of work, will be more adaptable and resilient. This will help employers determine where they can optimize through technology and where they will need to regularly source for new skills and knowledge in their ecosystem.

We’ve all read the headlines about how the pandemic reshaped the workforce. What societal changes do you foresee as necessary to support a future of work that works for everyone?

As a whole, I believe that workforce development is fundamental and vital for a future of work that supports everyone.

The first step to addressing this shift is addressing the current talent crisis in the care economy. According to the World Economic Forum, there will be a substantial rise in the need for roles in the care economy globally (healthcare, childcare, and eldercare), and I believe as a society, we should lean into that. We’ve seen throughout the course of the pandemic how women have had to step into these roles and how it has negatively affected their well-being or their participation in the workforce altogether.

Next is addressing the digital divide. While this relates to workforce development, it also relates to general broadband access. While the pandemic brought a new level of flexibility to now work from home, many individuals forget the privilege that comes along with having access to the internet and digital tools. According to the United Nations, at the onset of the pandemic, nearly one-third of the world’s schoolchildren had no access to remote learning and digital toolkits. We have to think about access to digital toolkits the same way we now frame access to utilities such as running water and electricity.

Lastly, reimagining the way society views careers and worker longevity will provide a more equitable and accessible future of work for all. We need to shift the traditional biases we hold towards entering and leaving the workforce during different stages of life. The ability for young families to take time to focus on raising smaller children, the flexibility to allow younger workers to float across industries and careers, and the ability for older workers to continue working longer but on their own schedules from various locations will allow for a more integrated flow of work for all workers.

What is your greatest source of optimism about the future of work?

I fundamentally believe that we are in a position to create a preferred future where work is more meaningful for everyone. If you design work to be more humanized, provide technology that’s organized to support how humans work and prioritize work-life integration, work then become more meaningful, motivating and purpose-driven.

Unfortunately, right now work still has a somewhat negative connotation that was derived from Industrial Revolution ways of thinking and operating, but trends like new worker agency are quickly driving organizations to reframe our perception of work to provide more flexibility, empowerment and meaning.

Part of what will drive this is that diverse populations will have a better and more defined place in the workplace than they did in the past. This can be seen across various dimensions — for example, the extent to which neurodiverse and differently-abled populations are able to utilize their skillsets and strengths in the workforce remotely where in the past they’ve been filtered out.

Deloitte’s research finds that teams with neurodivergent professionals in some roles can be 30% more productive than those without them. The unique perspectives, skills, and experiences are often undervalued in workplaces, and out of the 8–10 million self-identified neurodiverse population, nearly 85% of people on the autism spectrum are unemployed. But with new options for where and how they can work, these populations now have more opportunities than ever to be hired and to be successful in the workplace.

It seems like there’s a new headline every day. ‘The Great Resignation’. ‘The Great Reconfiguration’. And now the ‘Great Reevaluation’. What are the most important messages leaders need to hear from these headlines? How do company cultures need to evolve?

What about the ‘Great Onboarding’ or the ‘Great Exhaustion’? I often joke about these new terms, but what I really think it all points to is the ‘Great Reimagination,’ or the opportunity to reimagine how the work is taking place within an organization. Reimagining the work helps minimize the overwork found in the ‘Great Exhaustion’ and takes advantage of the ‘Great Reshuffle’ by enabling the flexibility to allow employees to live where they choose.

I urge those struggling to find the labor and skills they need to rethink their work by leveraging new platforms to delegate more responsibility to technology while letting humans do what they do best. Reimagining the work itself will unlock greater capacity within your organization. ‘The Great Resignation’ is a skills shortage, and employers have an opportunity to widen the aperture of where they are looking for those skills by considering different talent populations for the first time. Employers who do this effectively can bring greater diversity and inclusion to their organizations and unlock the solutions to the challenges posed by these headlines.

Let’s get more specific. What are your “Top 5 Trends to Track in the Future of Work”?

  1. Treating the workforce as an ecosystem: It’s time to think about the workforce as an ecosystem. Today, this includes vendors, suppliers, and gig workers. However, if employers expand their view of the ecosystem, it can be considered as an avenue to access the skills they need when they need them.
  2. Re-architecting work to humanize it: Organizations will have to determine how to enable technology to “humanize” work, or to design it in a way that enables humans to work the way they work best. When organizations humanize work, they can provide workers with greater flexibility and trust. We’ve found this to be crucial in making outcomes, rather than outputs, key to overall performance.
  3. The “phygital” workplace: The digital and physical workplace will shift and we’ll see a creation of the “phygital” workplace, which combines technology and connectivity to allow workers to be productive regardless of location. The pre-pandemic physical workplace wasn’t designed in tandem with the digital one, and the experiences of the past two years have shone a light on its inadequacies. With the “phygital” workplace, hybrid and remote work models can take root and enable the flexibility workers desire.
  4. A focus on purpose: The extent to which an organization’s purpose connects employees to their work will be a huge factor in attracting and retaining talent. In fact, Deloitte’s recent report on the value of purpose found that 79% of leaders agree purpose adds value to their talent recruitment, retention, and engagement efforts. As organizations seek to highlight their purpose, they’ll be looking for the right people to help them bring it to life. Embedding purpose into an organization’s strategy will also be one way employers motivate and connect people to the organization, helping to create a sense of belonging.
  5. Being open and inclusive: The traditional models used to determine talent needs, such as which candidates have the right pedigree and whether they’re a cultural fit, have negatively impacted populations that don’t satisfy those criteria. They may be highly skilled and able to contribute, but organizations have to be open to thinking differently and bringing a variety of people to the table.

Additionally, for existing employees, new models that prioritize inclusivity will help pull down those barriers, whether conscious or intrinsic, that prevent people from feeling connected to an organization. this can also be a catalyst to fostering a greater sense of belonging for everyone.

What do you predict will be the biggest gaps between what employers are willing to offer and what employees expect as we move forward? And what strategies would you offer about how to reconcile those gaps?

While this question may immediately bring to mind rewards packages or office amenities, it is much more than that and I think the technology we’re seeing today will create solutions to close this gap. Organizations can now leverage the data sets they have on their workforce to tailor programs and offerings around what matters to them (i.e., education reimbursement, healthcare, flexible work policies). The gap that I fear will exist will involve how leaders lead, how teams are managed, and how the work gets done.

There’s an entire generation of leaders who have grown up with the current in-factory to in-office model. Are they able to adapt to leading in a virtual world? Are they able to lead by enabling flexibility, empowerment, and trust in the workforce? We’re already seeing this play out a bit in terms of the hybrid work model. The real gap will be in the shift that leaders need to make in order to engage the workforce and enable them to perform at their best, as opposed to sticking to the traditional way of doing things, which isn’t suited to the future that is emerging.

Thank you for sharing your insights and predictions. We appreciate the gift of your time and wish you continued success and good health.