Robots, episodic employees and gig leadership

Visions of hybrid workforces, episodic employees, gig leadership and acceptable failure have been unearthed in a new Henley Business School study

‘Work 2028: trends, dilemmas and choices’, has revealed business and society leaders’ projections for the fourth industrial revolution. The project was led by Professor Bernd Vogel at Henley Business School and run in collaboration with Deutsche Telekom and Detecon Consulting, who commissioned Henley to carry out the survey. The research involved interviews with over 50 influential leaders from across a variety of sectors and countries including senior figures from Amazon and Unilever.

The study identified 16 key projections that companies need to address now to remain successful in the future, including:

Leading a hybrid workforce is inevitable
Business leaders spoke about the inevitability of a hybrid workforce of humans and AI and the complexities of leading in this new environment. A key finding was that businesses need to take action now to consider who will be accountable for the decisions of technological forms and explore ways to inspire and motivate them, whilst building foundations for collaboration and setting boundaries for who leads whom in an AI-human ecosystem.

Episodic working will become common practice
The study explored the prevailing theme of alternative and gig-working, with leaders foreseeing an increase in episodic workers with flexible loyalties to institutions, where employees move in and out of roles or organisations. With reduced touchpoints between employees and employers, firms need to establish a strong pull and career development and learning paths for their workers, treating them as ‘alumni’ to keep them engaged and returning when their skills are needed or when workers revive their connection to the firm.

Organisations who embrace the study findings on work and AI can start today to revolutionise their understanding and practice of leadership

Gig leadership will be translucent, collective and rotating
Study participants expect episodic working and technology to act as a catalyst for a shakeup of leadership, creating more translucent, collective and rotating leadership, known as gig leadership. Leadership in digital environments will also be characterised by radical transparency and immediacy amongst employees and managers. One of the main predictions from the study is that in 2028, leadership cannot, and will no longer, be a privilege for the top and this change requires action to enhance organisation-wide leadership development and create more agile leadership structures.

Successful firms will be those who embrace a culture of failure
Business leaders are also encouraging organisations to redefine attitudes to learning, experimenting and failure. With the constantly changing political, economic, social and technological environment, they suggest the most successful firms will be those who understand how to allow employees to experiment and learn from their mistakes, which will ultimately help firms to have long-term societal meaning and become human-centric organisations.

Professor Bernd Vogel, Founding Director of the Henley Centre for Leadership at Henley Business School, commented: “Organisations who embrace the study findings on work and AI can start today to revolutionise their understanding and practice of leadership. They should consider now what processes, training and development and policies need to be put in place and use this understanding to grow into an ever more purpose-rich player not only for business, but more importantly for their role in society.”

Christian Illek, Chief Human Resources Officer at Deutsche Telekom, added: “There is plenty of room for argument about the likely effects of digitalisation and AI in how people will live and work. However, the will to actively shape the future for the better has to be at the heart of this debate. Discussing the various perspectives expressed in the study will help sharpen our vision on how the digital revolution is likely to change our lives.”

Marc Wagner, Head of New Work and Company Re-building at Detecon, continued: “Company size alone will provide no advantage in the process of building our new digital working worlds in 2028. Instead, the experts tell us, it will be those businesses whose employees can respond with agility and flexibility in ad hoc networks to respond to a wide variety of situations that will successfully survive the change.”

The full study ‘Work 2028 – trends, dilemmas & choices’ is available online.