Do you often wonder what work – and the workplace – will look like in the future? One thing is for certain. Big changes are underway, and there is no going back.

This shift has particular implications for defence organisations. The armed forces need – and are rapidly acquiring – new skills and capabilities in areas like cyber security and digital to help counter an ever-evolving threat landscape. However, how their personnel’s work is organised, managed, and the resulting working experience remains unchanged.

Reimagining work in a hybrid world

In the future, defence organisations will have to act with greater speed and agility, incorporate and apply new capabilities faster, collaborate with partners and allies more than ever before. To achieve this, they must reimagine work for their people, including where and how they work.

They must plot out and navigate this journey at a time of rapid change, not just in the threats they face but also in their skills needs, demographics and expectations of their workforce. It’s like a Rubik’s cube – and solving it is non-negotiable, both for defence organisations themselves and the societies.

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The future of work for defence organisations is taking shape: hybrid, technology-enabled and experience-led, it will equip them to respond with pace and certainty to evolving threats. But it’s not a future that HR should be expected to deliver alone.

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Of course, it isn’t just defence agencies that are confronted by a need to rethink work. It’s also happening across the private sector, from retail to financial services to resources. And, as Accenture research has confirmed, the rapid introduction of remote working during the height of the pandemic presented public service agencies with once-in-a-generation opportunities, to boost their workforce productivity and ability to attract talent by reimagining how their people work.

What will the working model that emerges from that rethink look like? In a word, hybrid. An overwhelming 91% of the public service leaders in our study believe their organisation is moving to truly virtualised work: a model where work processes are virtual, and people come together physically when it adds value. And it’s equally clear from our study that new technologies – including digital twins and virtual reality – will play vital roles at the heart of this new, more flexible world of work.

Leading the change

To be truly future-ready, this is where defence agencies need to take their workforces: to a place where they can operate at full capability while blending the best of physical and virtual workplaces. Whether their people or assets are deployed at headquarters, in the desert, on or under the sea, in the air, in space etc. All meaning that, what matters is getting the job done, not the location where work takes place. All embodying the consistent, seamless working experience that today’s employees expect and demand – achieved by applying a people-centred design approach mirroring that used by consumer-facing businesses when creating compelling customer experiences.

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So, who’s responsible for leading the way to this new reality? The obvious answer might seem to be the Chief Human Resources Officer (CHRO) and HR department. They’re in the best position to design and deliver the future of work, right? Wrong. The reality is that while HR has a key role to play in enabling and creating the new working environment, it can’t do it alone.

The common success factor is that the leadership team has seized the initiative by pulling together a task force of very senior leaders – and the enabling areas of HR, IT, finance, security and more – to envision and manage the change. And they’ve also appointed a specific individual to be accountable for taking it all forward.

Collective and top-down

Put simply, it’s an approach that’s collective, cohesive and led from the top. And it’s one that I believe the armed forces need to emulate. Rather than waiting for the central HR team to initiate progress, the Services – Army, Navy, Air Force – need to drive forward with their unique military requirements, by pressing for the specific changes they need and identifying what they’ll put in place themselves to help those changes happen. And bringing together leaders from across their function, including HR, to execute them precisely and to mission requirements.

This collaborative and holistic approach is all the more vital given that the Services have a far better understanding of their own needs – and those of their workforces – than HR ever could develop. It’s no coincidence that when the British Army introduced its powerful ‘This is Belonging’ campaign to transform its recruitment brand, it was built collaboratively out of the service lines.

The message? The future of work for defence organisations is taking shape: hybrid, technology-enabled and experience-led, it will equip them to respond with pace and certainty to evolving threats. But it’s not a future that HR should be expected to deliver alone. Instead, it’ll need help and cooperation from across the organisation. It’s time for everyone to get involved. Do you want to know where to start, reach out to me. Happy to discuss! 

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Read more blogs by Marni Poropat:

Marni Poropat

Director – Consulting, Public Service, Australia and New Zealand

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