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Future proofing your business

By Dan Teuton
18 January 2018

The world of work is changing fast – and employers must ensure they keep pace in order to ‘future proof’ their businesses, writes Danielle Kingdon, partner, Osborne Clarke.

Who will carry out your work, where and under what employment model are all important questions to consider against the background of Brexit, developments in the ‘on-demand’ economy and evolving workers’ rights.

Who is your workforce?

Traditional employment models are disappearing and the use of contingent or ‘gig’ workers is increasing with recent international surveys of large companies suggesting these workers could form 25% of the workforce by 2020.

Few can have missed the high-profile challenges to work status brought by gig economy workers seeking basic rights to paid holiday, sick leave and the minimum wage. For employers reliant on a contingent workforce, the status and rights of such workers is rightly a point of concern – particularly as current employment laws were conceived before these employment models existed, meaning the costs and liabilities associated with engaging contingent workers is often unclear.

Fostering an innovative economy that delivers flexibility but prevents poor working practices is seen as key to the country’s economic success, and this was at the heart of Matthew Taylor’s government commissioned review on modern working practices, published this summer. It was echoed in the gig economy report – ‘A Framework For Modern Employment’ and draft Bill published by select committees last month.

However, putting into practice clear tests for employment status will be challenging and, in the meantime, businesses must keep a watchful eye on emerging case law to understand the rights/liabilities of their workers. While it remains to be seen which of the report’s suggestions will be adopted by the Government, some measure of reform should be expected.

What is the impact of new technologies?

The growing use of technology and a spreading of automation raises unprecedented challenges. Technology provides flexibility and choice for some people, but can create uncertainty for others.

It remains unclear whether automation and robotics will lead to a net loss of jobs but it is clear that in some cases, automation is increasing the value of higher function work. Nevertheless, many are facing job insecurity resulting in a call for increasing job protection and statutory rights to re-training for affected people. Where jobs cannot be protected, re-training may be the focus and the Apprenticeship Levy may just be the start of far-reaching legislation designed to ensure that businesses provide people with wider skills sets.


Industry sectors particularly dependent on sourcing workers from the EU are likely to be most impacted by Brexit. For employers in the digital business sector, for example, reliance on skilled labour from the European Union could be problematic. For other sectors such as financial services, job losses resulting from the global banks relocating their European headquarters will be the key issue.

Whatever your sector, it is vital that you audit your workforce to understand who you employ and where, so you can assess the impact of Brexit on these arrangements. Consider what support you need to provide to employees impacted by Brexit and take care not to allow any concerns about immigration status to impact on recruitment and promotion decisions, as this could lead to a discrimination complaint. 

Millennials and diversity

Attracting talented millennials and post-millennials entering the labour market requires fresh thinking. Many of these workers are looking for greater flexibility in their working patterns, more variety in their roles, strong career development opportunities and the option to work remotely or in a more ‘agile’ way. How non-office based workers will be effectively managed and developed is an on-going challenge, but one that the majority of businesses must address.

Supporting and encouraging diversity should also be at the forefront of businesses’ minds. This is high on the Government’s agenda, as can be seen by the introduction of gender pay gap reporting and other recent initiatives. Diversity is not just a matter of compliance; valuing people through diversity and inclusion has clear commercial benefits and is key to attracting talent. 

This means employers must look at their policies, family leave entitlement, mentoring schemes, and recruitment and promotion practices to ensure their commitment to equal opportunities is evident at each stage of an employee’s journey through their business.

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