What does the term “the future of work” mean? While there is no universally accepted definition of what exactly the “future of work” entails and what its most critical drivers are, it is a term that refers to identifying what forces business should consider, which could cause organisations, work and jobs to shift and evolve. As the pandemic has had an enormous impact on working environments, it is apparent that the future of work is upon us and employees need to shift and evolve to keep pace.

What does the future of work look like?

The future of work is expected to continue to be highly impacted by technology, automation and artificial intelligence. It has also transitioned organisations into needing to be employee orientated. This has led to changes in the way work is done and to job roles and the skill sets required by employees. Here are four key facets of change:

  • A rapidly expanding global workplace – South African employees will be required to work with colleagues and customers around the world – expected to use first-world virtual meeting and communication tools.
  • Large scale automation of employee tasks – automation will continue to influence jobs and the workplace, eventually either replacing some humans or requiring a whole new set of skills. According to a McKinsey Report1, The future of work in South Africa, while digitisation and automation will disrupt the world of work, overall, it will create more new jobs than those it destroys – resulting in a net gain of up to 1.2 million jobs in South Africa by 2030.
  • Desirable employees choosing to work remotely – more South Africans, particularly young professionals in the 25-34 age group, will make their livelihoods while travelling around the world – or living abroad whilst working for South African businesses – at least on a temporary basis. Others may work remotely for international companies without physically leaving South Africa, thus leaving the South African workforce.
  • Growth in the number of highly skilled jobs – highly skilled employees will possess knowledge and skills to perform complicated tasks along with the ability to adapt quickly to technology changes and provide creative application of their knowledge and skills – maintained through ongoing training in their work.

What are the top skills required of employees in the future world of work?

If they are not already preparing their employees, employers are already behind the curve in developing the workforce of the future. Some of the most notable high-demand skills required to stay ahead of technology include:

  • Digital literacy: As more businesses move online and remote work becomes increasingly common, digital literacy has become a fundamental skill. This requires more than just competence in basic computer skills, it also entails more advanced knowledge of software, data analytics and cybersecurity.
  • Project and resource management: No matter how automated a business is, it will always need humans to oversee projects and protect resources from wasteful practices. This includes planning projects, assessing risks and opportunities, creating budgets, communicating with stakeholders and troubleshooting problems.
  • Creativity and innovation: Creativity keeps a business moving forward with fresh new ideas and innovation. This encompasses more than creating new products or services, it includes streamlining efficiency and productiveness. Having a right-brained approach is also effective for solving problems and helping other analytically minded employees to explore new possibilities.
  • Emotional intelligence: People with high emotional intelligence can identify how they are feeling and what these feelings mean, as well as how these emotions may impact their behaviour, which will affect other people.  Well-developed emotional intelligence, also known as EQ, helps employees at all levels communicate effectively, manage stress and build strong relationships.
  • Cultural competence: Cultural competency means being aware of your own cultural beliefs and values and how these may be different from other cultures. It includes being open to learning about and honouring the diverse cultures one works with. Understanding different cultural norms and values and being able to work effectively with people from diverse backgrounds is crucial in South Africa.
  • Data analysis: Businesses use data to make informed decisions, such as whether to launch a new product or how to increase profit margins. With digital technology enabling data collection and manipulation, there is an increasing demand for professionals who can analyze and interpret large volumes of data to assist in making sound business decisions.
  • Communication skills: It is growing increasingly important for employees to be able to present their ideas in multiple communication formats to multiple audiences. This includes written and verbal communication and the ability to listen actively and work collaboratively with others.
  • Critical thinking and problem-solving: Problem-solving is a complex skill. It involves critical thinking, decision-making, creativity, and information processing.

Steps in preparing employees for the future

From a leadership perspective, the challenge is how to develop employees whose skills remain up-to-date and who can embrace change while also navigating complex business environments as they motivate teams and drive innovation. Here are three steps to developing and equipping employees for the future of work:

  • Evaluate employee skills and lack of skills
    Businesses stand or fall on the quality of their people. To succeed in a competitive marketplace there needs to be a strong alignment between current employee skills and business goals. It is important to take an inventory of employee skills, and determine where there are skills gaps, to understand how well the organisation is equipped to meet the company’s goals.
  • Revamp and institute appropriate learning opportunities
    Once skills gaps have been identified it is essential to provide skills training. As the rate of change in workplaces continues to accelerate, employees have less time to dedicate to traditional learning opportunities. Most teams cannot dedicate days or weeks to long, formal training sessions. Companies need to shift their focus to less “traditional” learning opportunities and integrate learning into the flow of everyday work. Employee training and development can come in several different forms, including onboarding, on-the-job training, classroom and online training, shadowing, coaching, mentoring, experiencing other departments in the organisation, industry conferences and networking, and cross-training.
  • Re-skill and upskill employees
    Upskilling strategies involve building skills that help employees advance in their same roles while reskilling involves teaching new skills to current employees, perhaps instead of hiring new employees. Not only does upskilling give your team the chance to build skills and help them advance their personal and professional growth, it can also support employee engagement and performance. In addition, doing this gets businesses ready to handle fast-approaching developments, which may require more agility —a factor that is critical to the future success of the business.

The future of work has been a topic of conversation for many years but remained just that—the future—until the advent of COVID-19 brought it to our doorstep. The changes wrought by the pandemic forced business owners’ hand, forcing change and innovation. Companies will need to decide which changes they will implement, which shifts they will make for the social needs of their employees and how they will prepare their people for changes the future of work will bring for them today.


Over to you for sharing your comments and experiences.

About the Author: Kerstin Jatho

Kerstin is the senior transformational coach and team development facilitator for 4Seeds Consulting. She is also the author of Growing Butterfly Wings, a book on applying positive psychology principles during a lengthy recovery. Her passion is to develop people-centred organisations where people thrive and achieve their potential in the workplace. You can find Kerstin on LinkedIn, Soundcloud, YouTube and Facebook.

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