The Future of Work - It’s work, but not as we know it.

Posted on: October 29, 2015 by Marianne Hewlett

The nature of work is changing rapidly. Digital technologies such as social media, cloud computing, the Internet of Things and mobile are enabling us to work anytime, anywhere on any device. We are “always-on” and hyper-connected to our work, at a time when the office is no longer the sole workplace and working hours are increasingly flexible. Furthermore, social networking tools such as LinkedIn enable us to connect easily with colleagues, partners and clients, while information on companies and job opportunities can be found at the touch of a button.

Do you realise that we now spend more time communicating than sleeping? Communication has always been a critical component in business but our means of communicating are continuing to evolve away from traditional forms such as e-mail, to more innovative, mobility-driven methods like FaceTime and Skype. Thanks to recent technological developments, we can now stay connected to the Internet from almost anywhere at any time, meaning our work is no longer confined to the office and is spilling into our personal lives. The boundaries between work and our personal lives are blurring to the point where the average adult today spends more time communicating than sleeping!

Different mindsets

Adding to these technological trends and developments, the growing prevalence of Millennials is impacting the world of work. Millennials are more tech-savvy, expect to see innovation in the workplace, have a lot of confidence, and tend to rise to leadership positions faster:

The balance of power has shifted

Not only have the barriers between work and personal life been eliminated, the balance of power has shifted in the employer-employee relationship, putting employees firmly in the driving seat. When considering the future workplace we need to look beyond technology and ask ourselves just what it is we want to achieve.

Workplace transformation must be driven by the desire to empower employees to aspire and achieve, to be their “best selves” at work and to actively contribute to - and share in - the sustainable success of the organization.

To support this transformation, organisational and hierarchical structures are changing, taking into account the needs of a multi-generation workforce and the business demands for increased flexibility, agility and creativity.

Diversity drives innovation

Working in diverse global teams in a 24/7 business environment requires different skill sets, management styles and support tools. The rise of more hybrid and flexible working structures – independent of organizational structures, business units or country borders - such as communities and “circles” will accelerate problem solving, product/service development and drive innovation. These will allow employees to work on projects and tasks with a clear purpose and objective, putting their talents and knowledge to best use in diverse groups of people with different backgrounds, cultures and skills.

New leadership styles need to be based on coaching, inspiring and rewarding team members to develop their talents and deliver their best. Authentic and empathic leaders will do well in the new world of work where the human side of business prevails.

The rise of the on-demand workforce

For a business or organization to be agile, responsive and innovative the right mix of skills and personalities is essential, some of which will not be available inside the organisation. The emergence of a flexible “on-demand” workforce, consisting of both own and external employees, will require organizations to rethink their sourcing strategy and their reward and talent management programs. Just like we saw a switch to “on-demand” services where you get and pay for only the services you need at any given time, no more and no less, the same will apply to workforce sourcing. Different experts will be sourced internally and externally to work together on projects and tasks, for a set time and with a clear purpose.

A flexible “on-demand” workforce will be key to meet the demands of organizations and businesses to remain competitive, cost effective and innovative.

Scarcity of talent, lack of skills and the increased speed of change will continue to drive the need for an on-demand workforce, giving your organization access to a network of specialists, experts, talents and professionals. This will require a complete overhaul of current HR approaches and processes, particularly with regard to sourcing and talent management.

Robots as co-workers

We’re facing the rise of robots and, if we are to believe the articles and posts in the media, over 50% of jobs could be automated over the next two decades. We’ve already experienced considerable automation of manual labor, especially in manufacturing and engineering. Supercomputers and intelligent software will further automate and replace cognitive work currently carried out by knowledge workers. Particularly analytical tasks, data collection and predictive analysis, but also service tasks such as customer service and healthcare support. Cognitive technologies such as speech recognition, computer vision and machine learning will enable machines that can talk, see, read, listen en learn. Welcome to the robot as co-worker and “talent”.

A well-managed transition of technology into the workforce improves productivity and creates time to add value. Whilst some jobs will be eliminated, others will change and new jobs will arise. Robots will be extremely helpful in improving efficiency and accuracy, providing more time for employees to apply their strengths, skills and talents to add value. Take the job of a translator for example. Technology has improved translation programs to such an extent that the translator’s role has largely changed to that of an editor with time to add value by transforming a good translation into great reading content.

Simplifying the complexity of work

The world is becoming increasingly data-driven.We create an estimated 2.5 quintillion bytes of data every day and of all the data held in storage worldwide 90% has been created in the past two years alone! If you consider that the Internet of Things connects currently only 6% of all possible “things”, it is predicted that by 2020 more than 26 billion devices will be connected. Did you know that in one day more than 100 billion emails are exchanged, yet only one in seven is critically important? We spend, on average, 30% of our working day reading and answering e-mails and check our mobile phones more than 150 times a day!

Technology, globalization, social tools, mobility, 24/7 access all contribute to data overload and work stress. Furthermore, the increase in security, regulatory and compliance demands add to the administrative and reporting tasks of every manager and employee. Add to that the different business processes and procedures that grow exponentially with the size of an organization and the multitude of meetings and conference calls that take up further valuable work time, it is clear that work complexity needs to be simplified for organisations to remain agile and competitive.

Simplifying work will create valuable time to focus on the task at hand (“staying in the flow”) resulting in improved productivity and better creativity. This can be achieved by improving the physical work environment with clean desk policies and quiet rooms, simplifying the work itself through better business processes and reduced administrative burdens and applying technology to support new ways of communicating and working together.

Getting prepared for the future of work

To prepare for the future of work, businesses need to start initiating action now in areas ranging from introducing new communication and collaboration tools to establishing different leadership styles, culture changes and organisational structures. Embracing technology will smooth the transition to a new world of work, and empower employees to develop their talents and deliver their best.

The future of work will be radically different - it’s work but not as we know it. The good news is that most companies are already aware that change is inevitable and many have already started forward-looking initiatives and programs. The challenge lies in engaging and empowering the entire organization to drive a successful transformation to the new world of work.

Disruptive? Yes. Rewarding? Certainly!

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About Marianne Hewlett
Senior Vice President and member of the Scientific Community
Marianne Hewlett is a Senior Vice President at Atos and a seasoned marketeer and communications expert. Passionate about connecting people, technology and business, she is a member of the Atos Scientific Community where she explores the Future of Work and the impact of technology on individuals, organizations and society. She is a strong ambassador for diversity and inclusivity – and particularly encourages female talent to pursue a career in IT – as she believes a diverse and happy workforce is a key driver for business success. As an ambassador for the company’s global transformation program Wellbeing@work, she explores new technologies and ways of working that address the needs of current and future generations of employees. A storyteller at heart, she writes about the human side of business and technology and posts include insights into the future of work, the science of happiness, and how wellbeing and diversity can drive success.

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