Prediction: Organizations will use virtual work and workforce development to improve the performance and productivity of people and teams

Posted by Chris Havrilla and Matthew Shannon on December 12, 2019.

The realities of tomorrow’s workforce will require organizations to be more flexible in enabling the execution of work—wherever it needs to happen. Organizations are already working on their ability to build a distributed workforce, whether to tap into talent pools that live far from existing operations or to entice a population of nomadic workers who prefer to work with more flexibility. This need will intensify in 2020 in response to reduced budgets and geopolitical uncertainties that make it harder to move talent around the globe.

What’s more, it will not be enough to just get work done. Organizations must be able to continually reskill their workforce and build their capabilities, no matter where they work: talent and population shortages, shifting demographics, and rapidly aging skills sets place a critical emphasis on learning and development.1 Companies must also deliver a compelling experience for their workforce, regardless of location. As a result, HR organizations will turn to emerging technologies to support the development and management of their distributed workforce.

Emerging Technologies Connect a Distributed Workforce
Emerging technologies tend to fall into one of two buckets: those that demand new skills from workers, such as robotic process automation and cognitive agents, and those that support the development of new skills and ways of working. The latter can help to connect individuals across physical spaces, provide tailored coaching and development recommendations, and create virtual learning experiences—thus enabling the performance and productivity of a distributed workforce.

Virtual Collaboration.Collaboration technology that can connect the distributed workforce is essential to workforce experience and productivity.2 In 2020, the number of self-employed workers in the United States is projected to reach 42 million—nearly triple what it was in 20183—and with this rise will come a higher expectation for remote work opportunities. As such, organizations will shift their focus to fostering teamwork and collaboration—and thus productivity and engagement, especially as it becomes easier and easier to find gig work. Beyond basic email and chat systems, collaboration and work management tools help ensure accountability across different workstreams and provide visibility into related automated tasks. We expect to see a rise in virtual conferencing tools—not just the video-conferencing options we have today, but in 3-D, via virtual- and augmented-reality technologies. The potential of these tools will catapult them past face-to-face meetings that require travel to become the preferred way to collaborate on ideation, design, and even modeling or prototyping—helping lead to better outcomes and better workforce experiences.

Virtual Coaching.Virtual coaching solutions help reduce the psychological distance between the learning opportunity (i.e., coaching) and an individual’s work.4 The ability to document and share immediate feedback on performance lets coaches offer real-time perspective on their colleagues’ performance. These conversations can directly help to overcome challenges and celebrate the successes of work. As such, they provide one example of how to embed learning in the flow of work.5 Emerging coaching technologies will target specific roles (e.g., executives or managers) and provide more scalable access to coaching for the entire workforce. In the case of the former, individuals will often connect with live coaches, either inside or outside their organization. Colleagues can schedule times to connect or correspond more casually with questions and tips for development. For greater scale and reach, automated chatbots will employ exploratory questioning and machine-learning capabilities to help surface new learning and development opportunities that match an individual’s capabilities, interests, development needs, and career aspirations—even ones not originally considered.

Virtual Learning.In addition to providing new ways of connecting and coaching, virtual tools have long enabled learning experiences that would otherwise not be possible. New technologies like VR headsets will help provide empathetic learning experiences from other perspectives or provide virtual environments that might be uncommon or unsafe in person (e.g., training retail employees how to respond during a holiday rush or in an emergency situation). While earlier versions of this type of learning technology have been around for some time, 2020 will mark a year of continued growth and new capabilities as more providers enable customizable learning experiences that help deliver unique learning environments not previously possible.

Forging Connections and Action
External factors will continue to drive organizations to leverage their distributed workforce. But just because workers’ locations are different does not mean their experience has to be. Organizations will look to emerging technologies to drive new ways of working and creating value—while fostering connection and development in the process. To do so, they will need to stay up to date on those technologies that can help them identify and respond to disruptions.6 As organizations continue to explore the different ways in which new technologies can support their distributed workforce, Bersin will be working with solution providers to help provide you with an up-to-date view of the available capabilities in the market.

Chris Havrilla is a vice president and the HR technology and solution provider strategy & research leader at Bersin™, Deloitte Consulting LLP.

Matthew Shannon is a senior research analyst, Solution Provider Market, at Bersin™, Deloitte Consulting LLP.

1 2019 Global Human Capital Trends: Leading the social enterprise—Reinvent with a human focus, Deloitte Consulting LLP and Deloitte Insights, 2019.
2 Interactive Workforce Experience Framework, Bersin, Deloitte Consulting LLP / Christina Rasieleski and Matthew Deruntz, 2019.
3 “Be Your Own Boss, Be Happy,” AARP.org / Austin O’Connor, February 27, 2018, https://www.aarp.org/work/small-business/info-2018/self-employed-numbers-fd.html.
4 Placing Meaningful Tools and Information in the Flow of Work, Bersin, Deloitte Consulting LLP / Julie Hiipakka, 2019.
5 Four Practices to Embed Learning in the Flow of Work, Bersin, Deloitte Consulting LLP / Julie Hiipakka and Chelsey Taylor, 2019.
6 “Staying Ahead of Disruption with Workforce Sensing,” Workforce.com / Daniel Roddy and Chris Havrilla, 2019, http://download.workforce.com/staying-ahead-of-disruption-with-workforce-sensing.

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