While the majority of businesses recognise which capabilities are important for their future success, many are failing to take the actions needed today to build or even introduce them into their organisations.

These actions include using data analytics to make workforce decisions and creating a compelling work experience for employees.

This gap will put them at risk in the future when it comes to attracting, developing and retaining the talent they need to succeed.

These are some of the key findings of PwC’s latest Future of Work report, produced in collaboration with Lynda Gratton, Professor of Management Practice at London Business School. The report is based on a survey of 1 246 business and HR leaders from 79 countries. It focuses on 45 capabilities and identifies where organisations are most ‘at risk’ by looking at the number of respondents who say a capability is important to the future of their business but indicate that they are not yet taking action. These are called ‘risk capabilities’.

Barry Vorster, partner in PwC’s people and organisation division, says: “Global megatrends such as technology, artificial intelligence (AI), digital mobility and virtual collaboration are radically changing the workplace. Opportunities are aplenty for organisations to make the working lives of their employees more productive, meaningful and fulfilling.

“Companies that understand and act on these workforce changes now will not only have the skills but also the organisational motivation, innovation and adaptability to thrive.”

The report prioritises the key actions that companies will need to bridge the gap between where they are now and where they need to be in developing the most important capabilities for the workforce of the future, today.

The untapped potential of data and analytics

The survey finds that companies are struggling to use data and advanced analytics to make better decisions about the workforce. The top three ‘at risk’ capabilities all relate to workforce analytics and their use in improving the working environment and people’s behaviours.

Although more than 60% of respondents say using data analytics in workforce decisions is important, only 27% actually use it. In addition, only 38% use data analytics to predict and monitor skills gaps in the workforce, while just 31% use sophisticated workforce planning and predictive analytics and only 28% use data analytics to help limit bias in hiring and to craft incentives tailored to individuals.

Participants in North America report stronger progress than their counterparts in other parts of the world, especially Asia and Western Europe. Almost all industries are finding it difficult to make headway with data and analytics. The exception is health, where data is used in skills identification and tackling biases in hiring and reward.

Maura Jarvis, associate director in PwC’s people and organisation, adds: “Data analytics and particularly predictive analytics can give businesses a critical edge in gauging future talent needs, understanding how to create a compelling people experience and eliminating potential biases in selection, assignment and appraisal.”

The right people experience is vital

Six of the top 10 ‘at risk’ capabilities relate to the people experience. In Africa, respondents cited virtual working, data-driven decisions and work-life balance as the top three ‘at risk’ capabilities.

One area organisations can do more around is managing workloads. While 76% of respondents globally believe this is important, only 50% say they are doing something about it – making this the number six ‘at risk’ capability globally. This is particularly an issue in the Middle East and North America where it tops the list, and Asia where is ranks number three. It is much less of a risk in Western Europe (11th).

Many people work in extremely demanding work cultures. While the corporate response in recent years has been to provide company wellness initiatives, sustainable change will only occur if work itself is redesigned so that it delivers vitality and an environment conducive to maintaining productive energy levels.

Organisations should focus on easing concerns around the future of work.

Some of the other ‘at risk’ capabilities that relate to the people experience include:

* Adaptability and agility: While 78% of respondents believe that developing adaptability and agility in their workers is important, just 52% say their talent practices are designed to nurture this. This will be increasingly important as workers will need to adapt to and thrive through change.

* Intrapreneurship: Only 56% of respondents say they have avenues present for employees to offer innovative ideas and support them in turning these ideas into action. Organisations that fail to create opportunities for their intrapreneurs risk losing innovative team members and their ideas.

* Autonomy: Providing autonomy over where and when people work is increasingly important in attracting and retaining talent. While 70% of respondents believe this is important, only 45% currently give their employees a high degree of autonomy.

The report warns organisations to be mindful of unintended consequences.

Jarvis explains: “Organisations must think carefully about the impact of initiatives, such as encouraging off-site working. In some cases, this can lead employees to feel they need to be on-call 24/7 to prove themselves. There can also be a fine line between autonomy and isolation. Getting this wrong will sap vitality and social resilience. It can also impact retention of employees.”

Missing out on good ideas and flexible talent

The way people work and their relationships with organisations are becoming more fluid. The number of contractors, freelancers, portfolio workers and ‘gig workers’ are on the rise, and more and more partnerships between large organisations and smaller start-ups are providing ready access to innovation and talent on demand.

Identifying where and how to engage this flexible talent will become increasingly important for organisations, yet few are prepared for this shift. Only 8% of respondents strongly agree their organisations are able to engage easily with this valuable resource as and when they are needed.

In addition, 58% of respondents say they have no capability to use open innovation and crowdsourced ideas and only 9% agree strongly that they can do this.

It’s clear that organisations need to do more to take advantage of the ideas and skills from the wider market – not just from their traditional employee base.

Other key findings from PwC’s Workforce of the Future report include:

* HR leaders are more comfortable about their efforts to prepare the workforce of the future compared to non-HR leaders. In 42 of the 45 capabilities, a higher percentage of business leaders than HR saw their organisation at risk.

* HR’s ability to navigate the technology landscape is a top ‘at risk’ capability for organisations. But HR and other leaders don’t see it the same way: 41% of HR leaders are confident that their HR departments are up to speed in this area, but only a quarter of business leaders agree.

* The good news is that the capabilities that respondents rate as the most important are the ones where they are taking the most action. There is no overlap between the top ten ‘at risk’ capabilities and the top ten considered extremely high in importance.