Digital technology continues to profoundly shape every aspect of our work. The ability to now deliver products and services at unprecedented speeds in the never-ending race to gain competitive advantage has compelled CEOs to reassess how work gets done across all departments. This, in turn, is radically redefining what we’ve come to think of as the ‘workplace’ – a term once confined to the physical location of a business, but now extends to include an ever-changing, complex mix of technology and people as part of a “workplace profile.”
How are workplace profiles evolving as organizations plow ahead in the digital age?
Let’s take a look at some key trends:
The word “automation” alone still conjures visions of a workless future as more repetitive work becomes automated and the threat of massive layoffs looms over entire trades. McKinsey’s recent report on the topic has further fanned the paranoia after estimating that automation could eliminate up to 800 million jobs by 2030. But when we dig a bit deeper into what makes our projects and other work successful we start to uncover where automation falls short and where human intelligence shines. Machines can routinize tasks and free workers from mundane activities while providing unprecedented amounts of valuable data. However, critical business decisions still boil down to creativity, empathy, strategy, and innovation – attributes that are exclusively human.
The truth steadily revealing itself is that automation is ultimately augmenting work, rather than replacing it, and we’re beginning to see perceptions of its impact beginning to change. In a survey on Operational Excellence, more than 1000 knowledge workers were asked about the benefits they hope to realize by automating work. The top benefit was “freeing my team from low-level repetitive work,” with 48% of managers and 52% of non-managers saying so. This is a far cry from the “The robots are coming for our jobs!” sentiment that has historically dominated conversations around automation.
As we witness automation in the enterprise become more normalized, it’s easy to see how it will be a crucial component to organizations’ digital initiatives. Robots will work alongside us so that we can do more meaningful work.
‘Learnability’ is becoming essential
Traditionally, one of the greatest assets in an organization is the tenure of workers in key positions. The more experience a worker has in a specific role, the closer they are to a peak point of domain knowledge and the ability to leverage that understanding of a company or product. This type of growth is still highly valued, but because technology and the way we do business is changing so rapidly, businesses can no longer rely primarily on workers with narrow skill sets. The capacity for continuous learning and developing new skills, even if they are not obviously linked to one’s current job, is now more crucial to employability.
Work has become increasingly collaborative, especially with the rise of integrated campaigns. Marketing, for example, has become incredibly complex with all the channels and customer expectations for their journey that the lines have blurred between the various teams within marketing. So while you may need to be an expert in social media or email marketing, if those aren’t your specific roles, you still need to have a stronger degree of understanding into how it all works and comes together.
We’re already seeing this purely from a spend perspective, according to statistics on training expenditures, companies spent on average $84 billion on training from 2016 to 2018, up $16 billion from the prior three-year average. Organizations are now supplementing their acquisition of talent from the labor market by putting investment back into the organization to develop workers’ skills across different expertise. In fact, according to a Gartner survey, the biggest barriers for workers in achieving objectives in their roles was a lack of skills.
Workforces are increasingly multigenerational
As the Society for Human Resource Management noted, the workforce is now comprised of five generations – Traditionalists, Baby Boomers, Generation X, Millennials, and Generation Z – making for the most heterogeneous workforce (age-wise) at any point in history. Understanding the differences in how these groups engage and what they expect in compensation and career pathing requires very thoughtful planning and an open mindset.
Based on sheer numbers alone, Millennials are currently exerting the most influence on how organizations acquire and retain talent. According to Pew Research, Millennials are now the largest generation in the workforce and will account for half of the worker population in the U.S. by 2020. This group holds a very different set of values in the workplace than in previous generations. A recent survey showed that while compensation is the most important factor in worker happiness, ‘meaningful work’ and ‘flexibility’ were ranked second and third respectively.
Remote Work on the Rise
There’s little doubt that the trend of employees working in non-centralized locations is on the uptick. A recent study by Upwork found that 63% of companies now have remote workers. Another study revealed that 70% of people globally work away from the office at least once every week. Because of the role, it plays in better work-life balance, offering flexibility and the option to work remotely will weigh heavily in attracting and retaining talent and will force organizations to develop more formal work-from-home policies.
Despite its benefits, however, remote work is not a one-size fits all proposition. Organizations will need to take stock of business needs at the company, department, and individual level and develop a remote work strategy that incorporates processes as much as it does technology. This is often the difference between success and failure of remote work.
The Collaboration Shift
About a decade ago, the average knowledge worker would start their workday by opening their email client and a word processor or spreadsheet. As digital work increased and teams expanded, the severe limitations of these tools as facilitators for collaboration ushered the rise of a host of solutions aimed at centralizing work, and conversations around work, into a single system of record. Today, as more organizations are realizing efficiency gains of SaaS-based technologies, workers are gravitating to instant messaging tools, like Slack, or collaborative work management platforms. Proficiency in technologies like these will become a core competency for all knowledge workers over the next few years.
The pace of technological change is disrupting entire industries and it will be fascinating to watch how this change continues to unfold and manifest itself in workplace profiles. It’s now imperative for organizations to develop a workplace strategy that accounts for trends that will greatly affect their ability to compete for talent and in their categories. This means first gaining a fundamental understanding of how workers are currently perceiving their workplace through employee surveys and then analyzing how adaptability to the above trends may be enabling or hindering productivity and achieving company objectives.