Workplace: Into the Future

By Pradipta Banerjee, Vice President – Human Resources, CGI

When we think ‘future’, the images that are conjured in our minds are of a digital age, replete with robots, artificial intelligence, automation and technology. Organisations and businesses have been at the helm of embracing new technology to enhance operational efficiency and to find new operating models. Technological advancements are utilised by organisations to relegate mundane and repetitive work to automated systems. The automation and digitisation of labour allow organisations more time and resources to tap into the human ingenuity and innovativeness of the workforce. However, the pervasiveness of automation and technological advancements foretell overarching changes across the fabric of the organisation.

A notable change in organisations today, brought on in part by growth towards automation, is flatter and leaner structures. This is positive in many regards as it has the potential to empower individuals and enhance responsibilities at various levels, while also enabling efficient decision making and greater alignment across the organisation. It equips organisations and their clients to achieve greater cohesiveness, marked by a spirit of collaboration. It could be argued that the trend is an effective alternative to the bureaucracy that typically exists in large organisations. At CGI, our organization model is built around values of empowerment and intrapreneurship.  The flat hierarchy allows us to get closer to our clients and employees across levels, thereby driving greater alignment and fostering a culture of ownership.

Changes in organisational structures demand relevant changes in approaches to leadership. Flatter and leaner organisations require leadership that has a broader vision of inclusivity as opposed to an inherently stymied hierarchical one. Successful leadership in this scenario would encourage a collaborative and consultative environment, and demonstrative capacity to drive decisions through influence, motivation, and inspiration. At CGI, our leadership development principles revolve largely around mentoring and coaching.  Our standard approach to management includes synergy sessions, consultations and dialogue – measures that allow all stakeholders to participate in the running of the organisation.

The positive effects of a shift in structure can only be sustained if the workforce is suitably capable of learning and adapting. The organisation’s role in supporting its employees adapt to lateral growth through re-skilling and development of ancillary skills is of significant importance. Career growth will no longer be a linear path, but an intricate one akin to a jungle gym. While cognitive learning tools may shape the next generation of learning management systems, personalised learning roadmaps will be the order of the day. Thus, it is essential for employees to develop a wide range of skills in this new ecosystem.  As organisations get more streamlined, the ability to manage scale would no longer be a yardstick for success in workplaces of the future. Personalisation, rather than industrialisation, will be the norm. Batch processing will slowly cease to exist. The zeitgeist will go from being ‘all things to all people ‘to ‘special things to specific people’.

The significance of working with clients and the spirit of collaboration would especially be useful in workplaces of the future. Streamlined structures require dynamic workplace ecosystems where the organisation, its clients, and its employees work together and are equally invested in the development of the product. This quality becomes increasingly relevant as organisations adopt Agile and DevOps methodologies. The shift from a sequential interaction between clients and organisations to a collaborative one during the development of the product results in smaller concentrated contracts for organisations and shorter assignments for the workforce.  Workers will be expected to be conversant with ‘full stack’ responsibilities and this would result in a greater preference for ‘special generalists’.

Arm-chair management will be on the decline and hands-on leadership forged by people who can ‘walk the talk’ will be on the rise. At CGI, the flat hierarchy, coupled with distinct expert and management roles, enables us to manage this trend better than most others. CGI’s Management Foundation provides the framework to run a global organisation while our federated Strategic Business Unit & Business Unit structures allow us to drive greater autonomy, stay focused and nimble, and provide more responsibilities and drive higher growth in a challenging world.

 With structural changes in organisations and general affluence in society, there comes the inevitable revaluation of ‘work’ itself. Ideas that revolve around the meaning of work are marked by several extraneous things such as shifts in power structures, organisational structures, and leadership. However, it is also significantly marked by internal aspects such as selfhood and individual perceptions of work. One could argue that the emerging trend could develop new notions of work and labour, and thus, new notions of success and gratification. Success, in the future, will be defined by the ability to achieve happiness, pride, and self-realisation. While it is true that the era of automation brings with it a plethora of dynamic shifts in organisations, the workplaces of the future would be guided by core human values as opposed to the material pursuit of selling a product or wealth accumulation.

Automation invariably means fewer jobs and decline in the number of working professionals across the world. This coupled with a new definition of work and success would perhaps make the notion of Universal Basic Income into reality. Perhaps it would be the most effective answer to the dilemma of advancing automation as robots take over, not because robots will take over all purposeful jobs, but because basic income would provide everyone with a chance to pursue work that is meaningful and worthwhile. Work will be defined by the ability to achieve happiness, pride, fulfilment and self-realisation.