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Lynda Gratton to help HR shape the world of work via Future of Work consortium

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HR has a choice: it can either sit back and watch the world of work evolving or it can help shape it, according to Lynda Gratton, professor of management practice at London Business School.Gratton, voted the Most Influential UK thinker in HR's ranking earlier this year, intends to help organisations do the latter through her new Future of Work consortium, which brings together more than 20 global corporations in a virtual community to research, debate and co-create templates for organisational practices that support the new nature of work.

"At the beginning of the recession it was clear that the world would be different post recession, but not how. Now we can see the trends that will change the future are accelerating - and accelerating at an incredible pace," Gratton says.

She identifies five major forces that will fundamentally change the way we work: technology, globalisation, demography, low carbon and society. These forces raise challenging questions about the nature of the contract between organisation and employee and the role companies will play in the lives of people in the future.

According to Gratton, the future is mobile and companies will have to locate to where the most talented people are. There is an upward trend towards cities and people want to live near people with the same skills, as already seen in Silicon Valley.

"Years ago I thought we would be sitting in crofts in the Outer Hebrides but the trend data does not support this," says Gratton. Instead, people will increasingly work more flexibly, be self-employed and live in smaller family units, but they will be in cities. By next year some five billion people will be connected through technology all the time. "How will we work then?" asks Gratton. "We have never had this before. What will it mean for transparency?"

The consortium was launched last week when more than 100 senior executives from organisations including Unilever, Tata, Nokia, Save the Children, SAP, Randstad UK, Thomson Reuters and the Sinagaporean Ministry of Manpower came together in person and via a webinar to start the conversation. These executives identified ‘societal trends' as the area of most interest but least knowledge while low carbon was of least interest and where there was little knowledge.

"We haven't integrated low carbon into the conversation," says Gratton. "We cannot see these areas as separate issues with separate expertise. How will companies operate when the oil price continually rises? How does work get done in a hotter world? What will be the impact of carbon tax on the way we work?" she asks.