I don’t know about you, but I’m not particularly keen on being replaced by a robot at work, or being reduced to a virtual avatar. Technology is an incredible enabler across our development as humans as a whole – opening up new and exciting opportunities across personal and professional playing fields. But it can also create uncertainty, and fear, if not packaged with the right information.
So here I am to distill some of the biggest drivers in our digital transformation today, and help take a real look at how technology will positively impact the employees of the future (and yes, I mean human employees!)
The robot renaissance
Ok, I already mentioned the idea of robots taking over our jobs, and while that may be a little extreme, the rise of AI and robotics shows no sign of slowing down. Robots can be our eyes and ears to places we can’t physically access – and we should celebrate this. More help – great! Doing something we can’t do ourselves – outstanding!
Yes, more of our traditionally automated tasks may also shift to cognitive systems and/or bots as interconnectivity, data aggregation and analytics move forward in the next decade. But look at robots as an asset. If they can do the time-consuming, admin-intensive work for you, think about what that could free you up to do instead.
Don’t believe me? Japan’s Fukoku Mutual Life Insurance expects a 30% productivity increase thanks to an AI system based on IBM’s Watson Explorer. The system ‘thinks like a human’ to calculate medical insurance pay-outs, and is capable of the same output expected from 34 employees.
Its official, the corporate ladder’s days (and rungs) are numbered. With millennials making up close to 50% of the workforce, and Generation Z now entering it as well, it’s becoming increasingly apparent that in the 21st-century workplace the traditional hierarchy of multiple layers of management doesn’t work.
More diverse workforces demand increasingly collaborative and flexible work environments, which means the old ladder is becoming more of a grid-like structure. Cathy Benko, Vice-Chairman of Deloitte in San Francisco and co-author of ‘The Corporate Lattice’, explained how tomorrow’s workforce will be expecting a structure where ideas and employees can move along horizontal, vertical and diagonal paths.
These new networks are not only opening doors to more opportunities, but to a more agile kind of employee with multi-dimensional skills and strengths. And it’s technology that is creating these interconnected paths, enabling employees to have the freedom they need to progress their careers.
Uber, Airbnb, Postmates – the increasing desire for mobility and flexibility, coupled with millennials’ thirst for more blended work and personal time is helping to drive a new kind of workforce. Say hello to the skilled freelancer, happiest when moving from gig to gig. Major US freelancer marketplace Upwork estimates 34% of the US workforce now works freelance, making the question to ask these days not, ‘Where do you work?’ but, ‘What are you working on?’
However, while a world where work is measured in ‘gigs’ works well for some (surveys find around half of freelancers feel lucky and liberated) the other half report feeling more stressed and would rather find full-time work. So how will this trend benefit all employees in the future? Well, the science of getting a gig is set to become more objective.
Erik Brynjolfsson, Professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, predicts hiring algorithms will take us beyond the ‘it’s not what you know, it’s whom you know’ to a world where candidates’ skill sets are objectively matched with job opportunities. As technology and connectivity gather pace, finding the best talent will become less of a full-time job.
Back in the day, to ‘make it’ you had to be in the biggest, boldest cities. London. New York. Singapore. But city living isn’t cheap, and while it appears major urban centers will continue to grow, they also appear to be starting to exhaust their stores of opportunity, with rents outpacing salaries.
So should we all just pack our laptop and phone, armed with the latest remote working and mobility tools like Dropbox, Google Hangouts, and work from beaches, mountains, farms? While the technology is there now, and there are a group of people who call themselves ‘digital nomads’ and do exactly that, the majority of us don’t want to isolate ourselves in the world of work.
Instead, attention is now turning to the ‘secondary’ cities – smaller, cheaper to live in and do business, yet still rich in infrastructure and a sense of community. And now getting access to 5G, smart infrastructure, and IoT sensors, to ensure our future workforce can stay connected.
Augmented reality and virtual reality are just two technologies already well acknowledged for their potential to revolutionize how, and crucially where, we all work. The end of the physical workplace is a possibility, but the likelihood is that these technologies will simply help us to extend it and work more flexibly.
For example, the Meta 2 AR headset has demoed a function allowing users on a conference call to pass virtual objects between them, further collapsing distance and offering more in-person advantages like eye contact and being able to read body language. Who needs to travel if it becomes that realistic!?
Or Breakroom, an Icelandic company, is working on the problem of screen requirements outpacing desk space – by creating a VR headset allowing the user to stack, move and locate multiple screens in a virtual environment of their choice. And to circle back to where we started, DORA (Dextrous Observational Roving Automation), a robot which can be navigated around a real space, is helping workers to be in and explore actual workplaces remotely via a VR headset. All paving the way for more instant collaboration and flexibility.
The future will be less about where we work, and more about what we do.
At Konica Minolta, innovation is in our heritage. We believe in connecting people, spaces and technology to help our customers work smarter, better and faster.