Technology: a New Work Environment
Technology is so much more prevalent in the workplace today than it was 20 years ago, even in those sectors not traditionally associated with new technology, and it will be even more so in another 10 years’ time. Employees are used to working with multiple devices, using software to support their communications, business development, internal business management, budgeting and resourcing, CRM and so much more.
Technology has enabled people to work differently and be more flexible in where, how and when they work, although some organisations haven’t yet caught up with these new opportunities and may still work in traditional ways. As well as technology supporting flexible working for employees, it has also enabled virtual customer, supplier, and employee communications and engagement (e.g. the ‘Can I help you’ pop-ups with live chat functionality when you are online shopping), innovation and delivery of business processes.
In particular, technology is seen to be driving productivity and new business models in the creative and digital sector. But, nevertheless, workplaces in all sectors are finding themselves under pressure to increase flexibility and to adapt to business volatility. Outsourcing and the increasing internationalisation of business are leading to a rise in project and teamwork with external collaborators, which cannot happen without effective technology to allow collaboration across locations and time zones. Forward-thinking organisations will operate from a slimmed-down pool of employees, backed up by colleagues from branches in other countries and external consultants for specific projects, allowing them to be more flexible and responsive to demand.
For the employee, they will need to be able to keep up with new technology, particularly that which is used in their organisation. Naturally there will be early adopters and there will be laggards. These rapid advances in technology will provide opportunities for some employees to shine, and these people will find themselves succeeding and in great demand, but will cause a great deal of stress for others. The introduction of smart phones and other technology to allow more flexible working has also created an ‘always on’ culture and higher expectations in terms of speed of response expected, both of which can create additional stress for employees. Organisations have a responsibility to continually train and support their people to use new technology and to be techno-resilient.
Employees will also find that there is increased competition for jobs as virtualisation and technology allows workers to be location- and time-independent, encouraging applicants from farther afield, even internationally, to compete for jobs. Whilst a benefit for organisations who are flexible and open to more virtual working, this creates more pressure for the job-hunter in furthering their career. There may be an increase in self-employment or people developing a portfolio career, as they work on project-based contracts with multiple employers rather than a single permanent job with one employer. There will be less loyalty from employees, and they will need to be more self-sufficient and entrepreneurial.
Organisations of all sizes should be asking:
- 1Employers will need to provide opportunities for flexible working hours to the majority of UK knowledge workers, i.e. those working with information rather than in manual production of goods (Peter Drucker). All employees with 26 week’s service will have this right to request flexible working; how will employers cope with a rush of requests from workers eager to improve their work-life balance? And what impact will this have on those not working flexibly? For example, lawyers claim an increase of law claims from workers asked to make up the work of colleagues working flexibly.
- 2Around 50% of the workforce in 2020 are expected to be Generation Y or ’millennials’ (birth years ranging from the early 1980s to the early 2000s), and these employees will be social media savvy. What must organisations do to ensure they are able to easily and effectively adapt to rapid social and technological change to meet the expectations of their Generation Y employees, whilst ensuring other generations see the benefits of these changes too?
- 3Policies to manage more mobile workers will become necessary, particularly around management, scheduling and technology guidance. Policies tend to focus on how to protect/secure devices, but need to go much further than this to set clear expectations for employee and employer. How will organisations manage the challenge to embed a new mind-set and cultural shift where managers feel they can trust employees to work out of their sight?
- 4Changes in technology will drive productivity and new business operating models (e.g. supporting flexible working, virtual customer, supplier, and employee communications and engagement, innovation and delivery of business processes); increased use of contractors, virtual teams and homeworking, portfolio career and project-based contracts with multiple employers rather than a single permanent job with one employer. These changes will require the employee to be more self-sufficient and entrepreneurial, and this raises questions around resilience. How can organisations support virtual workers so they do not suffer from psychological health issues relating to isolation and lack of connectedness?
- 5Virtualisation and communications tools (such as video conferencing, document sharing and virtual meeting systems) will increase competition for jobs as they allow workers to be location- and time-independent, increasing international competition for jobs and an increase in self-employment, and helping with inclusiveness for those who are unable to travel for health or other reasons. There will be more opportunities, but also more competition. What is the impact of a large scale self-employed workforce? Will this mean over time employees have less rights (e.g. self-employed workers do not get a redundancy payment when the work/role is no longer required)? Already there are issues with employers taking advantage of employees through zero hours contracts; will such practices have a negative impact for workers over time?
- 6With their teams working in a more flexible and virtual way, managers will have to work harder to develop effective virtual teams and provide support to those employees. Virtual teams are known to experience more conflict. How will organisations ensure that managers are able to effectively manage their people in these new environments, especially if there is an increased chance of conflict? And how will organisations ensure that managers are resilient, supported and don’t suffer work-related stress?
Organisations are responding to the opportunities and risks that technology enables in the workplace, in a variety of ways.
USING TECHNOLOGY TO ENABLE VIRTUAL CALL CENTRES
CREATING A CULTURE OF FLEXIBLE WORKING
Unsurprisingly, new businesses and those involved in the tech industries are often early adopters of flexible working, utilising technology. Here are some examples:
Some more traditional firms are also embracing these opportunities.
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