IT for Work: Technology’s impact on individuals, organizations and society
In my previous post, IT for life, I considered how technology interacts with our biological needs, from how we source and manage food to reproduction. Here, I examine how IT is transforming our professional lives, in individual, organizational and societal ways.
50 years ago, most Europeans had a job for life, a secure welfare system, free education for their children and reliable care for the elderly. An individual in most professions could enjoy a stable working environment, an established career ladder and opportunities for internal re-skilling.
Nowadays, careers are less predictable, and workers need to adapt to keep pace. It’s not uncommon for Europeans to change jobs every three to five years. Permanent contracts are becoming rarer, and independent skills development is now essential for progression. Governments are also struggling to cope with ageing populations and free higher education is becoming a thing of the past. By taking on greater responsibility for career development and future care, working-age adults are having to adapt to support themselves and their families.
So, what has brought about this change? Akin to the industrial revolution of the 19th century, technology is the catalyst for this new paradigm of work. Technology has brought speed and ubiquity to our working lives, via new platforms, communication tools and greater opportunities to learn and develop. From VR in workplace training, automation to replace menial tasks and AI to complete jobs faster, these technologies have transformed our relationships with employers and the state. This has a number of repercussions for the individuals, organizations and societies:
At the individual level
In the future, workers will see the effects of the gig economy impacting more traditional roles. For example, incomes will become more adaptive, with individual’s relying on multiple employers to earn a living. There will also be greater transparency surrounding incomes and the cost of work, thanks to the rise of the gig economy and talent marketplaces.
In the future of work, freedom and individual responsibility for career paths will become more commonplace and many of these changes (described in the table above) are already starting to take shape today. For example, WeWork’s shared working spaces are growing in popularity and employees value the option to work flexibly as part of their benefits package. The rise of robotics and AI has also already begun, with McKinsey reporting that the jobs of 800 million global workers will be automates by 2030.
At the organization level
At present, most organizations invest in a permanent workforce, with a smaller section of contractual or temporary workers used to support on specialist projects or across busy periods. In years to come, work will become a variable cost, rather than a fixed cost, with funds being invested in transient workers who will be overseen by full-time and core managerial staff.
At the organizational level, IT will impact many operational aspects of the office, including security, with fingerprint or facial scanning replacing traditional I.D. badges. In the future of work, the most impactful changes will occur on a structural level, with people management, hierarchy and career management seeing radical transformation.
To make the most of staff and assets available to them, organizations will use technology platforms such as talent marketplaces to find the staff they need. To gain a realistic view of a worker’s skill set, appraisals will also be readily available in the public domain. We can already see an individual’s experience on LinkedIn, but soon, we could see a fuller picture of each worker emerge in a Trip Advisor style format.
At the society level
The effects that IT will have on the future of work will also impact society. In this new world of work, many will benefit from the new opportunities and the speed of change that technology will bring. However, those who can’t adapt as quickly run the risk of being left behind. In the future, there will also be less government support to bridge this gap and fix societal divides. For example, welfare, and provisions for health and retirement could be replaced by alternatives such as universal basic income.
To make the future of work accessible for all, organizations and society will need to be mindful and consider ways to address the challenges of technological change. Governments are already making steps to prepare for the future, for example, the UK government recently committed to a National Retraining Partnership in the Autumn budget. However, in years to come, more will need to be done to ensure the most vulnerable in society have their basic needs protected.