The Conference Board uses cookies to improve our website, enhance your experience, and deliver relevant messages and offers about our products. Detailed information on the use of cookies on this site is provided in our cookie policy. For more information on how The Conference Board collects and uses personal data, please visit our privacy policy. By continuing to use this Site or by clicking "OK", you consent to the use of cookies. 

02 Sep. 2020 | Comments (0)

A way to reframe how we deal with disruptions 

In a separate post we discussed the disruptions impacting the world of work–4Ds–demographic changes, digitization, datafication and disintermediation. In this post we provide a framework for thinking through possible options to deal with disruptions to ensure a resilient and adaptive organization.


The current work model is tumbling down and being reassembled in a new way. The binary decision-making process (in-source/outsource; automate/keep manual; nearshore/offshore etc.) is no longer sufficient to deal with the complexity of the current work environment. HR and business leaders need new ways to reimagine how the work gets designed and orchestrated. The following framework—4Ws—provides a more nuanced way of rethinking the work model.
  • Work that is being decomposed (often by sophisticated analytical algorithms) into smallest units—work blocks—in a way that can then be distributed to one or multiple combinations of workforce types through one or multiple channels. Starting with defining what is the essence of the “work” that needs to get done, enables organizations to move away from limitations imposed by traditional job descriptions and tap into a broader set of workers that can do that work.
  • Workforce with a digital identity that contains information about their capabilities, experiences, accomplishments, credentials, network connections, and communities. This digital identity paints a picture of who we are that might have value in the eye of employers. There is a broader spectrum of workers organizations can cap into: regular, contingents, teams, crowds, competition, digital labor etc.
  • Workplace that is becoming more like a digital grid, where workers can “plug-in” their skills whenever there is opportunity or interest to use them and gain access to tools and services/offerings. Instead of companies managing a huge infrastructure and overhead, organizational entities may shrink. The focus becomes the orchestration of complexity vs owning resources/relationships/space. Again, there are multiple options to consider – traditional office, remote, virtual reality, co-working space, mixed reality etc.
  • Worth of the transaction that takes place and the associated perceived value that changes “hands” in the context of doing the work. That value can be ascribed to skills, outcomes, relationships and influence level, intellectual property, and reputation of parties involved in the transaction. The attribution of worth enables the matching of work units to the most optimal workers’ mix. It also enables HR to provide a tailored set of employment values to attract different types of talent.

The ever-evolving present requires a significant amount of change at both individual and company levels. Although there is resistance to change, humans are often quite quick in adapting to changing environments. Change also impacts the organizational ability to rethink the work environment[1]. After all, leaders are humans too, and they have their own barriers for change. This might hinder their ability to make dramatically different decisions on behalf of the company on adapting to stay current and survive in the long term.

The role of HR

The traditional roles primarily played by HR within corporate boundaries will have to shift to adapt to this new order and to the complexity of the relationships between work, the workplace, workers, and worth elements. Such complexities will at first include organizational ability to manage the contractual aspects of employment, as well as to manage the considerable challenge of cross-cultural integration[2]. Organizations will also have to rethink their approach to employee experience and evolving systems of workplace motivators[3], to align with changes due to role enrichment and worker independence. Furthermore, organizations will be required to reassess their approach to leadership and skills development, to the management of workplace diversity, and rethink performance management and recognition in this context. Over time, these complexities will be addressed by using a variety of applications, platforms, and service providers.

As many of the involved processes and tasks will be automated, space will be created for the role of HR to shift to three key areas:
  • Workforce relationship management: including the orchestration of the relationships an organization has with its workforce versus being a mere administrator of processes and managing employment risks on behalf of the company; HR can adopt techniques and methods from marketing and customer relationship management on how to build and manage relationships with its workforce by treating them as past, current and future customers, how to build the employment brand image such that it appeals to and attracts the candidates with the best cultural fit and critical skills, and how to build a better understanding of its workforce through sophisticated analytics. By employing such methods, HR will have the opportunity to create the stories necessary to match the emotional connections of workers with the organizational brand.
  •  Workplace experience: which entails using human-centered design principles to design the workplace and shape the experience of the workers across both the physical and digital realms. This requires examining the interactions and touchpoints along the entire employment journey from being a prospect, candidate, new hire, all the way till the worker leaves and beyond. The goal is to minimize the hassles/barriers to performance, and to maximize the performance and outcomes, and to amplify the drivers of creativity and general wellbeing.
  • Humanizing force: being the guardian of common sense, the shaper of corporate consciousness with the responsibility to humanize the workplace and prevent inequity, bias, and extremism. With developments in AI penetrating mainstream awareness thanks to the salience of white-collar job loss[1] HR can shape the changing attitudes to AI and machine-assisted work through the monitoring of whether the introduction of AI – and indeed other technology-related changes in work processes – enhances flow, creative self-efficacy, and gratification, or produces harmful outcomes.

At the human level, our intrinsic needs for self-actualization, love and belonging, and respect and dignity will remain constant. The digital world will change the vehicles through which we develop and express ourselves, how we connect with others, and how we define and attain our purposes. The organizations that build their models to work in harmony with these intrinsic needs of their workforce will have a chance to survive in the long term. HR has the opportunity to create and evolve these models.

In light of the recent COVID19 pandemic driving everyone to work from home, we can anticipate a cultural shift and broader acceptance of remote work. What will an epoch of mass remote work look like? How much will we be inclined to invest in the daily rapport with our virtual teammates when we have good friends or family right there, in our kitchen? Should the office become a thing of the past for everyone?

The impact of such disruptions on the psychological wellbeing of individuals is not fully understood and will require much research in the years to come. One thing is clear – data and technology have a lot of power and with power comes great responsibility. It is the responsibility of all of us to innovate, design, build, and regulate in a way that minimizes the negatives and amplifies the positives of such an environment.

Be the creator of interesting times! And do no harm! 


[1] Rauch, E., Linder, C., & Dallasega, P., Anthropocentric perspective of production before and within Industry 4.0. Computers & Industrial Engineering, DOI, 2020


[2] Wilkie, D., Managing Expectations: How to Balance Gig Workers and Regular Employees, SHRM, 2020


[3] Lupushor, S., Tavis, A., Barrios Sanchez, P., & Borchardt, K., Workplace experience: A Practical Guide for Evolving Human Resource Practices, Workplace Experience, April 2020


[4] Dunkley, E., & Arnold, M., UK banks set to launch “robo-advisers”, Financial Times, 2016, January 22 2020


  • About the Author:Stela Lupushor

    Stela Lupushor

    Stela Lupushor is a Senior Fellow in Human Capital and Program Director for The Conference Board. Stela is on a mission to humanize the workplace and accomplishes that in several major ways: At the…

    Full Bio | More from Stela Lupushor


0 Comment Comment Policy

Please Sign In to post a comment.








    Support Our Work

    Support our nonpartisan, nonprofit research and insights which help leaders address societal challenges.