In today's hypercompetitive business environment, everyone's looking for an edge. Leanness and agility have become disruptors' favored weapons. Some executives are banking on A.I.'s promise, seeing automation as their best chance to cut costs and speed up operations.

It's probably a good bet: At least 30 percent of most U.S. job functions could be automated, according to 2017 McKinsey Global Institute research. But automation is just one aspect of workplace transformation; at most firms, it's unlikely that an automated workforce will entirely replace human employees.

No matter what industry you're in, you'll need the right people to navigate the changes to come. For leaders looking to hire the best people in a competitive market, here are three ways to prepare:

1. Update your physical space.

Your physical office space inevitably leaves an impression on prospective new hires, for better or worse. Without a deep understanding of your company's culture, interviewees who come to your office will see your space as a reflection of your ability to offer a good experience.

Of course, your space exerts a major influence on current employees' productivity. Everything from layout to lighting affects the way your employees feel and behave -- and ultimately work. Workplace trends like the "open office," for example, can boost productivity for some but hamper others.

"Make your space flexible so teams can experiment with different setups and encourage feedback to determine what's working," Jeff Lamb, president and COO of popular standing-desk company Varidesk, told TLNT in March. "Teams need both 'me' and 'we' spaces that accommodate both focus work and brainstorming activities." Movable walls or partitions, for instance, can quickly transform a space to suit individual or team needs.

A CEO recently told me that his team lost out on three high-quality recruits in a short period and decided to investigate. After calling the candidates personally to ask why they'd passed, he discovered they felt the loud, crowded office would lower their productivity and leave them stressed.

After designating spaces for collaborations and discussions and adding calming features -- like plants -- to the main area, the company apparently no longer received feedback on stress-inducing conditions.

2. Upskill your team.

Technology will certainly eliminate some jobs, but it will also create others that require new skills. Upskilling isn't just a new term for professional development; it's a focused effort to equip employees with the skills they'll need to do jobs that don't exist yet.

While leaders worry that an investment in growth and training opportunities will simply provide employees with the skills to find a better job, it's more likely that growth opportunities will boost retention. Research from the Consumer Technology Association backs this up: High-skills training and professional development programs were listed among the benefits necessary for employee retention.

The best employees seek challenges and opportunities to learn. If you can provide those consistently, your team will adapt. Develop in-house training to educate your team on emerging tech, pay for employees to take a coding class or have them attend a workshop on where your industry is heading.

AT&T is a good example of a company that's invested in employee education to get its team up-to-speed on emerging tech. "You can go out to the street and hire for the skills, but we all know that the supply of technical talent is limited, and everybody is going after it," Scott Smith, AT&T's senior vice president of human resources operations, told Harvard Business Review in 2016. "Or you can do your best to step up and reskill your existing workforce to fill the gap."

3. Establish new communication norms.

The option to work remotely can be a major advantage in the war for talent. Younger employees have grown up with technology and no longer view geographical distance as a barrier to collaboration. Whether or not you already employ fully remote workers, it's very likely you will in the future -- if not as full-time employees, then as freelancers.

The growing contingent workforce isn't just reflective of changing employee desires. In their quest to maximize value, more employers are finding that contractors, temps, gig workers and other non-salaried employees can provide high-quality services while reducing overhead costs. High-growth companies like Amazon, IBM and Apple all have remote teams.

Get familiar with the communication tools and platforms that top remote teams use. Establishing new communication norms for your employees is key to building an effective remote team. When should employees call or email versus using Slack or a WhatsApp group? Should all meetings be conducted over video, or can your team collaborate via phone for some tasks?

You may not know exactly what the future holds, but you have a good idea. By taking these steps, your employees will be prepared to grow and compete with the best in your industry.

Published on: Apr 26, 2019
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.