Work, diverse, colleagues

The future of work

Automation, the pandemic and the great resignation wave – or the ‘big quit’ – have changed the fundamentals of how and why we work.

According to a McKinsey report, more than 100 million workers will need to find a different occupation by 2030. Teija Sarajärvi, Wärtsilä’s new EVP, Human Resources and noted author and professor Antonio Nieto-Rodriguez tell us what the future of work will look like. Read on.

Millions of people in America, the UK and several parts of the world are resigning from their well-paid jobs. Why are the people walking away? And what can employers do about it?

Teija: It's a combination of things. It relates to maybe people in their mid-careers who are considering how their life has been so far. And when COVID came, people might have had concerns about their safety, financials or the general workload (which we have always had), but it became different when it became virtual. Maybe that put people on the borderline of thinking that ‘is this what I want to do, would I like to work differently, am I happy?’

And from an employer's point of view, it puts us in a different position. We have to rethink how we keep people in mid-careers. It's extremely important, and we have to look in the mirror and find alternative ways of working together with those who are now considering their life values.

Research shows that this resignation wave has also led to more self-employment and entrepreneurship. Is this a long-term scenario or just a reaction to the pandemic?

Antonio: One of the biggest problems is that companies have exploded the number of projects they have because the world is changing much faster today than it was 20 years ago. And projects are difficult because you don't have clear priorities in organisations.

I have come across many organisations where there are more projects than employees! And on top of that, they need to do their day-to-day jobs. This is one of the reasons why people say, ‘I cannot anymore; I have to do my day-to-day job, there's a deadline every week and I'm just fed up!’

What is the future of work? What are the key characteristics that are needed going forward?

Teija: The element we tend to talk about is the physical workplace. It's going to be location-free, and people can choose work when mobile and so forth. That is one of the core elements of it. But in the future workplace is also for the emotional side. That's about wellbeing, leadership, value and purpose. People are joining employers whose purpose they believe in and want to be part of. And lastly, it's also about technology. So all the tools, such as automation, robotics and artificial intelligence will be in place. HR will be the foundation because there will be more ways of employing – be it contractual, part-time, external or entrepreneurial. We might have walked away from the permanent headcount context, and that is the biggest area where HR has to challenge itself.

Antonio: There is a need to rethink a lot of things that we've seen in organisations. If you have 100,000 employees, cancel all their job descriptions. This is a radical disruption because now what you are seeing more and more is people working in project-based or agile teams. I call it the gig economy within the organisation. It's a network of freelancers like Uber. Based on the purpose, priorities and strategic matters, work will shift the workforce very quickly from one side to another. And that's the agility that companies need.

And the last point, (organisational) purpose is great. But if you don't have a project that will say how we're going to achieve that purpose, it's useless. It will not have an impact. So, I always say to senior leaders, HR and CEOs - what's the project that makes people happy to go to work, that they're excited to go to make that purpose happen? It is not because we want to be greener in the world, it’s because we have a project to make us greener by 2025.

Teija: I couldn't agree more with Antonio. But some employees need safety. They need a description of what they're accountable and not accountable for. So, I think we also have to challenge our employees. We might need role descriptions or project KPIs and accountabilities. But I couldn't agree more - job descriptions are gone with the wind.

The workplace also needs to be more inclusive, secure, and human. What can be done to make these changes in the work culture, and still make the physical workplace more attractive?

Teija: We have to remember that it's about employees wanting to be free, having autonomy and leading their own job. But then, they can also feel more stressed and alone. The workplace should be designed so that people want to come there for collaboration, innovation and dialogue and not to do individual work. It's not easy to create a sense of belonging when we only work in hybrid. Therefore, the key criterion for workplaces is, to enable communities to meet, work together, and innovate. That's how we have to create workplaces.

Antonio: The new world encourages everybody to contribute to bigger projects. It's about working in teams and collaboration. If the team wins, we all win. It's a radical shift in the mindset, values and culture that we've been used to for 100 years, where competition was the most important thing to know. Collaboration is the future. That's how we will make a better world, be happy and have better organisations.

How can companies and business leaders change to help shape this new ecosystem to stay relevant?

Teija: We have to create a platform to work that is easy to dock in and dock out of along with the other things such as technology and the physical environment.

We are stepping into an era where business leaders have to earn employee experience and get engagement. It's not a given anymore. It's about your personal characteristics and leadership skills. You have to be humble enough to re-evaluate constantly in this new context.

What kind of relationship will employees have with their employers in the future?

Antonio: It's not about giving orders. It's about helping people to extend and be happy at work. And there's nothing more engaging than having motivated people. That drives change, value creation, financial impact and social sustainability. It's a very different approach from top-down to a coach who helps people to get their best. I do see some changes. There are some exceptional examples where the leader is a facilitator and orchestrator rather than somebody who makes all the key decisions and just makes people follow them.

This is the time of transformation for good. It is a unique opportunity. And I'm very hopeful that it will make our work-life balance and our lives better.

This conversation has been abridged. To hear the complete conversation, please listen to the podcast

In this episode
Atte Palomäki
Atte Palomäki
Executive Vice President Communications & Branding