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What will the workplace of the future look like? Will it be ruled by technology or changing demographics? Will we have to be more cognizant about the changes in work culture? Will robots, chatbots, and artificial intelligence and virtual reality assistants work alongside the full-time, part-time, contingency, and gig workers?

What should we be prepared for, and what should we be concerned about?

Amid these questions, a certainty looms. Jobs are really not going anywhere. They are just evolving to the next levels. The question is: How high and different are those levels?

It is all about skills, not scale

Clearly, it is not about headcount any more. It is all about skills, not scale. This is the fundamental game changer of the future workplace. Revenue will be linked not to headcount, but to the right skills. The future will be “scale" for such skills. From my experience, I am convinced that clients will be willing to pay for better skills.

Get ready for skills ‘Uberization’

Millennials will rewrite both the demographics and patterns of working. Independent workers will significantly increase in number. In India, the estimated number of freelancers is more than 15 million—about 40% of the world’s freelance jobs.

Skills will be available on demand and connected to organizations by digital platforms. And if reports are to be believed, even CEO skills are set to be “Uberized".

The World Economic Forum’s prediction in its report Future of Jobs says that 65% of children who enter primary school today will take up jobs that don’t exist yet. Furthermore, by 2020, more than a third of the desired core skill sets of most occupations will be those that are not considered important today.

Technology will have a profound impact

Undoubtedly, rapidly advancing technologies are opening new windows of opportunity across business lines—robotic process automation, Big Data analytics, internet of things, augmented reality, machine learning, natural language processing, cloud and cybersecurity services. The upshot of this is that the bar on what seems “good enough" will keep constantly rising. In terms of what we call the workplace (where and when we choose to work, who will deliver the work, and how we deliver results), there will be profound changes. Digitalization will spread rapidly, as will automation.

We will continue to lose routine and repetitive jobs to machines—the ones that require no human intelligence and skills. We should be happy to let them go for the sake of increased productivity and efficiency. This is reality and we need to align strategies, business models and resources.

Most important, we should be upskilling our people.

Skill development, a critical imperative

Nasscom asserts that 60-70% of the existing workforce will need to be reskilled to meet future needs. It is heartening to note that as an industry, we are working together to create a comprehensive digital skilling platform to reskill 1.5-2 million people in the next four-five years.

Better collaboration between human resources, procurement, information technology and legal will help organizations to manage a successful blended workforce. Developing leadership skills of employees is equally critical. Organizations need leaders and managers who are ready for the demands of the future.

Work culture, the powerful glue for future workforce

Rewiring the cultural mindset in both organizations and professionals will be an imperative for tomorrow’s workplace. Holacracy (decentralized management) could well be the new operating system to redefine and redistribute control of work practices.

Employees need to be given the leeway to act more like entrepreneurs in self-directing their work. Work-life balance and “work-from-anywhere" are two realities to reckon with. Security teams need to create secure tech environs with advanced security analytics and machine learning—and without privacy conflicts.

In all, exciting times loom ahead. There is uncertainty, and there are challenges, too. But there are more than enough promise and possibilities for the industry to look ahead with confidence to the workplace and workforce of the future.

Keshav R. Murugesh is group chief executive officer of WNS Global Services, member of the Nasscom executive council, and chairman of the Western Region Education Committee of Confederation of Indian Industry.

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