Harnessing Human Capabilities: The Key to Tomorrow’s Workplace

By Ruairi Kavanagh - Last update


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With automation a growing influence throughout many sectors, the questions around the future of how we work also continue to grow in number.Each technological advance generates more questions. Despite the massive thinking in automation and robotics and personalisation, it is highly likely that it will be broader human capabilities, rather than individual skills, that will shape the workplace of the future. Learning why something works will become ever more important than how something works. 

A major global car producer, a household Japanese name, puts its technicians through months of time consuming labour, putting together vehicles by hand in exactly the same way that its streamlined, automated assembly line does. Of course, due to the rapidity and precision  with which the machines assemble vehicles, the manufacturer is of course not seeking to revert to manual labour. But what the management of this firm believe is that it is very important for their technicians to appreciate the materials that they are designing and working with and how they will ultimately be used. By putting workers in a situation where they are constructing a car by hand, as part of time, they are encouraging them to delve into their capabilities of creativity, problem-solving, communication and much more. The rationale behind it all is that the working world is moving from a place governed by human skills to one that is dependent on human capabilities. In many cases a machine can be programmed to reproduce a human skill with greater speed and accuracy than a human can, but human capabilities allow us to consider alternative uses of skills, how they can be merged, how alternative solutions can be found and how these solutions can drive the next technological advance.

Workplace Capabilities Dictate Skills 

If we look at this from a digital context, so much of what we consume today is personalised just for us. This means that we are consuming technology that is programmed to know what we like, what complements what we have bought, and what we might like to buy, watch or eat next. The technology is fantastic, but the real genius is the human ingenuity behind it, driven by imagination, curiosity and creativity. All human capabilities that lie behind the skills that we learn during our working lives. Cutting edge companies at the forefront of their respective sectors are now beginning to realise that there is far less return on investment in getting a worker to repeatedly use a particular skill or skills. Due to personalisation, the demands of customers and the advance of technology, the demands of the market are increasing with such speed that it is almost impossible to constantly work to arm workers with a new range of skills.

What’s far more rewarding, and effective, is to harness a person’s capabilities that they can apply to a range of different tasks, whether that be programming a piece of technology, communicating a change in work practises or leading a team. We are all born with a range of human capabilities, that we all deploy in the course of our working life, each of us drawing on some more than others and with a different focus on some more than others. In the words of Management Consultant John Hagel, these are innate capabilities, those which we hall have, but which can be amplified, they include imagination, empathy, curiosity, resilience and creativity. But there are other capabilities that people can learn and develop throughout their working life, such as; emotional intelligence, critical thinking, teamwork and social and cultural awareness and intelligence. Harnessing and developing human capabilities create value for employers and for employees themselves, encouraging and enabling people to explore and master new skills on their own and develop a critical mindset that will allow them to ask why things are done a certain way and how they could be done better. Heide Abelli, a Senior Vice President with software giant Skillsoft says that there “is a growing urgency to address gaps in the readiness of the workforce to execute on the digital agenda. With the introduction of new roles, the elimination of outdated roles, the increased scope of responsibility- the challenge around talent readiness is enormous.

Growing Trends 

There are of course multiple other workplace and work practice trends that are taking shape and growing in popularity. Let’s take a look at some that are increasingly prevalent.

Artificial Intelligence

As we’ve said above, the human factor is still a key part in the story, but the continuing emergence and development of artificial intelligence is changing the landscape for many businesses. Data from Forbes magazine says that 37% of businesses have implemented it in some form, from chatbots to AI recruiting solutions to robotic pizza making. According to a PwC report on artificial intelligence, the adaptation of this technology will mean upskilling, adjusting organisational structures and thinking critically about how technology can change the direction of a workplace.

Employee Wellbeing

With talent still the commodity that most businesses find in shortest supply, the continuing trend of workplace wellbeing will only continue to gather pace, with more and more leaders investing in their employees health, fulfillment and happiness. Many companies now have roles devoted to ‘employee experience’, with the goal being to create an organisation where people want to show up every day, through work and personal development initiatives, work-life balance drives and dynamic working hours.

Gig Economy

With almost half of the millennial generation freelancing, or doing some freelancing in addition to their full time work, it is estimated that more than this number of the current generation will freelance to some degree by 2027. Data shows that more than 40% of Americans are employed to some extent in the ‘gig economy,’ whether that be data entry, freelancing, tech development, driving or delivering or selling things online.

It’s all About Lifestyle

For anyone, at any stage in their career, they are all likely looking for the same things to differing degrees in their workplace. These, generally speaking, are; more choice, more connectivity, more freedom and the ability to do better and more meaningful work. Using digital tools, workplace flexibility and a growing understanding from employers about how work can be delivered differently, these things are more attainable than ever before, with opportunities only set to increase.



Ruairi Kavanagh

Getting that Job - Mastering the CV and Cover Letter
Thinking Big; Elements of a Successful Strategy


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