The ‘future’ of work is now.
Remote work has increased tremendously; in this moment, the majority of the labor force worldwide is working remotely. Simultaneously, automation is accelerating, with 50% of employees anticipating faster automation of positions within their organization, according to the World Economic Forum.
Part of the reason work is evolving so quickly can be accredited to pandemic ushering in changes without much delay or warning. COVID-19 has disrupted work and the employee experience in many ways. This is only the beginning as the evolution of work will continue to force industries around the world to confront and adapt to new workplaces, workforces and digital solutions.
Technological innovation, shaping the future of work now and in years to come, will only be as productive and inclusive as the management principles that guide its design and implementation. The first step to being successful in the future workforce is understanding what is happening now and what is on the horizon.
While there are many trends shaping the future of work, there are several key areas to consider and which have been hastened as a result of the pandemic.
You are almost certainly using digital technology right now as your read, whether a computer, cell phone or tablet. As digital technologies, which includes systems and tools that produce and analyze data and support communication, have become ubiquitous they are propelling a digital transformation.
Digital transformation is just that, a transformation that results in fundamental changes. Technology, new or evolved, will transform businesses, services and entire industries. Digital tools can transcend or reimagine traditional roles and work approaches.
The increased use of digital technology is, and will continue to, reshape professional and daily life. Being prepared is important. More than 90% of businesses have a digital initiative in place and 70% of businesses maintained or advanced the amount of money spent on digital transformation throughout the pandemic.
Thinking About Key Technologies
The digital transformation includes not only technological shifts, but shifts in understanding, embracing and intentionally planning for using technology in the workplace. The CIO of Media and Entertainment Customer Experience at AT&T explained that “the role of technology has evolved from automating the business to actually being the business.”
For many, digital tools became more important than ever as work experiences adjusted during 2020. The pandemic and beyond is an opportunity to reframe technology, which can be better understood in the current and future context as not a tool that is secondary to human relations and productivity but rather a tool that is primary and integral to work.
Impact of (Hyper)Automation
Artificial Intelligence (AI) and robotics are, and will continue to, impact nearly every industry, as these tools can increasingly mimic human intelligence and measures. AI involves programming and software intelligence, while robotics involves machinery. Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is the technology to interact with digital systems and replicate the work of humans.
Together, these technologies are a powerful force to disrupt, support or even replace jobs. Automation technologies include tasks which replicate repetitive, often physical, tasks and those that replicate decision-making tasks. McKinsey & Company predicts that in less than 10 years – by 2030 – up to 30% of work hours could be automated.
Hyperautomation refers to the pace, sophistication and extent that combined technologies will replace human workers. Figure 1 explains the pathway from ‘simple’ to ‘hyper’ automation, moving from individual tasks being automated to entire businesses being automated.
Figure 1: Path to Hyperautomation
Automation of work has both benefits and disadvantages. Benefits include lowering cost, increasing productivity and potentially avoiding unsafe conditions for human workers. Disadvantages include job reduction and human errors or hesitations with the technology.
Automation and technology mean that the workforce will need to adapt to stay relevant. Human workers will need to work better with technology and compliment the parts of work which cannot be automated. This requires learning skills. In fact, in the next decade, around 14% of the workforce around the world may find themselves shifting into new work positions and categories as technology and automation change the playing field. This will necessitate incredible support. According to a 2017 McKinsey survey, almost two-thirds of executives surveyed responded that skills, or the skills gap, is a main issue for their company.
Getting ahead of this challenge starts now with proactive plans for digital transformation.
Visioning the Future of Work
How would you describe your current workplace? Do you sit in traffic for a thirty-minute daily commute which leads you to a multi-story office building? Do you conduct meetings and business from your own home? Or is it a combination of on-site and remote work?
Whatever your workplace environment looks and feels like now, it is likely to be different in the future. The following sections identify key considerations shaping the future work environment.
For many, the impact of COVID-19 revealed the possibilities, and sometimes the frustrations, of working-from-home. This effect may continue for years to come, catalyzing a change that was already on the horizon. Gartner reports that 80% of companies intend to continue remote work for employees, at least partially.
The future may bring about hybrid models of on-site and virtual work. If 20% or more of workers around the world worked full or partial workweeks from home, then there could be four times the amount of working from home now and in the future than there was before COVID-19.Now is the moment for employers and employees to further embrace and design a flexible workplace. This refers to flexibility not only with physical location but with how work is done, when the work is done and even why the work is done. Technology is essential for adaptable workplaces.
Reliance on Tech
There will not be a blueprint model for the future workplace that can be applied evenly across sectors. Rather, workplace experiences will continue to differ. What will be a common thread across many work environments is the dependence upon technology to support and enhance value across businesses.
The success and comfort of the workplace experience will rely upon the ability to integrate technologies with each other and employees. This requires several pieces. First, ease of navigation for employees is essential. Then, beyond ease of use, the navigation of technologies must be deliberate with intentional action given to maximize the value of technology, given the proliferation of applications and complexity of business processes.
As physical and digital skills continue to merge, the workplace will be shaped by digital business.
Connecting technology with people and business, and building upon their combined skills, will quickly unveil new capabilities for business. However, this also requires high levels of design, engineering and organization.
Take a moment to think about your current team of coworkers. Where is each person physically located? What time zone are they in? Do you collaborate with partners around the country or around the world? If you currently do not, that might change in the future.
Distributed teams, where employees are located in different places, are an extension of increasingly flexible workplaces, which also offers benefits such as cost savings and greater diversity.
Flexibility and technology will further connect the global workforce, allowing diverse teams across cultural backgrounds and geographic coordinates. Industries, from top to bottom, must embrace technologies that support easy virtual collaboration. For greatest success, every team member must be comfortable, willing and embraced by a technology that enhances their individual and collective impact.
The Employee Experience
Why the Employee Experience Matters
How do you feel at work? At the start of the workday, what are your emotions, impressions and reflections? Are these different at the end of the workday? All of your interactions, experiences and sentiments at work make up the employee experience.
Employee experience is not just a buzzword, but rather it’s an important consideration for strategizing and growing a successful business or industry.
Positive experience of employees can relate to greater productivity. The future of work will offer increased importance to support and engage employees, particularly those operating remotely. As the pandemic shifted remote work, the majority of those surveyed by the BBC responded they did not want to return to traditional work and favored a hybrid experience of remote and office. The new employee experience is and will be different, requiring digital strategies and support.
Employee experience directly contributes to fostering a strong and successful work culture, which will become more important as the ‘human’ elements of work gain weight with increased automation.
Digital Employee Experience (DEX)
In addition to the emotional and observation employee experience, it is important to consider the digital employee experience (DEX). DEX considers the ease, ability and nature with which employees interact with technology at work and considers how well employees are able to complete their jobs and the impact that technology has on their productivity.
Currently, there is a disconnect between how executives and staff experience technology: according to PWC, more than 90% of executives consider the experience satisfactory but only 68% of staff felt the same. PWC also found a distinguished gap between C-suite executives and staff with perception of their company’s awareness of the needs of people when a new technology is brought about (Figure 2). This gap in how technology is introduced and experienced has implications now, and in the future. Framing and employing new technologies as a positive and beneficial experience for staff can ensure a more productive and dedicated workforce. Technologies are only as beneficial as the willingness and the training of those who use them.
Figure 2: Difference between Employee and Executive’s perception of technology
Digital Employees and Ability to Work ‘Smarter’
The employee experience will also be shaped by the increase of digital coworkers, or digital employees. Automated members of teams will be programmed to conduct tasks alongside human employees, which can help improve efficiency and reduce errors. This has implications for the future, particularly when contrasted with current workforce preparedness.
As tech supports or takes over certain tasks at work, there is great opportunity to allow employees to spend their time more meaningfully on other tasks. Streamlining project management, communication and scheduling with technology can save small moments throughout the day that combine to support a happier and more meaningful work experience. So, employees can work smarter and not harder.
However, the ability to fully adopt and extract the greatest value from digital tools depends on the user and the support they are or are not provided.
Challenges for Future Employees
There is a major economic cost to not having future employees that are adequately prepared to take advantage of growth from intelligent technologies: the 14 countries of the G20 may lose as much as $11.5 US trillion.
Lack of preparedness does not always relate with lack of willingness to embrace technology. PWC reports that only half of staff feel the resources available to learn how to use new technology is satisfactory.
Another challenge for the future worker, particularly as technology invites work into homes and person space, is burdensome stress. The pandemic and shift to remote work have thrust stress and mental wellbeing of employees into focus. In 2020, 85% of people reported that their stress at work negatively impacts their personal life. But a recent study found that automating tasks and reducing workload supported mental health in more than a quarter of respondents and helped to reduce stress.
Strategy and Mindset
Digital transformation requires the buy-in, participation and motivation of employees. Now is the time to foster a culture of transformation across companies, which generates collective upskilling and shared successes with technologies.
There are several actions to help team members embrace technology. These include:
- Show don’t just tell – Speaking about the benefits of technology is not enough. These benefits must be demonstrated and felt directly by users. Showing measurable benefits, such as calculating time and monetary savings, can help build incentive for use.
- Keep it Simple – The speed of hyperautomation and digital transformation can be overwhelming. But introducing technology does not have to be. Roll out new features with a pace and tone that feels practical and accessible.
- Be Inclusive – The technology being adopted should reflect the mission and needs of the organization and involve everyone. Be mindful that employees have different experiences, comfort levels, questions and approaches to technology. Bringing all voices to the table will help create a culture of openness and respect.
- Reward Enthusiasm – Some employees may demonstrate a stronger inclination or enthusiasm for technology. This can be encouraged by appointing them as team leaders, mentors or highlighting their successes.
- Training as Ongoing Process – Training is not always a one-time event; rather, opening up space and time for ongoing questions, support and retraining will help to avoid perpetuating any skills gaps.
Build strategies that are grounded yet adaptable and remember that technology will continue to change and grow, so you and your team must continue to change and grow.
Improving Employee Experience
Companies should consider how smart technologies can assist employees and what the implications for training and on-boarding will be to support this. As the pandemic restructures industries and workplaces, there is the chance to capitalize on technology to support employees.
Building on the current moment, as lockdowns and other restrictions demonstrated the critical role of tech for many jobs around the world, there is an opportunity to evaluate lessons learned of what worked and did not work during periods of transformation.
Digital Workplace Solutions
Digital technology can help you and your company to practically solve problems. There are many examples of digital solutions, including tools for collaboration, solutions for remote project management, tools for building and monitoring the performance of websites, and much more.
An important category of digital workplace solutions is digital adoption platforms. These are software platforms that help to make the experience of the user easier. When software is too burdensome, users may feel discouraged, frustrated or be unintentionally unable to achieve the intended benefits of the software.
Digital adoption platforms support employees to use a program or application without needing cumbersome in-person training and retraining.
An example of a leading digital adoption platform is OnScreen, which supports training and onboarding. OnScreen informs users of process changes and enables them to complete any task within the flow of work with in-application instructions created by power users or trainers and overlaid on top of any system or web application. These are live, detailed walkthroughs in the context of the process that adapt intelligently to guide the users to complete their work by making information and work instructions accessible, concise and relevant.
How to Get involved with OnScreen
What is OnScreen?
Do you or your team members experience cumbersome training and onboarding with business technologies? If so, OnScreen can help. OnScreen is a Digital Adoption Platform that aids business users in large organizations to successfully and easily complete any business process through step-by-step walkthroughs directly in any Enterprise application, which can be accessed whenever needed.
Each organization, and each team member, engages differently with software and can benefit from simple and applicable instructions for their business processes.
With OnScreen, you can quickly develop customized and interactive guides for SAP, Enterprise applications and web applications including Salesforce, Ariba, Dynamics, SuccessFactors or any other business application in your organization.
As a trainer or super user, you will simply execute the process once in your business application following best practices.. OnScreen will capture the process steps and allow you to add simple instructional text to help users complete a specific task. These are then published as OnScreen guides and assigned to specific users and groups who will benefit from interactive in-application walkthroughs.
Due to the clear interface, the walkthroughs are simple and fast to create and maintain by power users and trainers. Information becomes accessible in real-time to users for the purpose of the business process which results in less training time and greater user performance and process efficiency.
Benefits of OnScreen
OnScreen addresses key barriers to unsuccessful technological adoption: misalignment, frustration and low user adoption. Because OnScreen supports a more seamless end user experience, resistance to the software or process change is reduced. Benefits include:
- Improved User adoption – The key to succeeding at digital transformation is ensuring that those who will be using a technology can do so correctly and confidently.
- Instant access to information to perform any task – On average, employees can spend up to almost two hours looking for information on how to conduct their basic tasks. Freeing up this valuable time allows teams to achieve more meaningful outcomes.
- Lower training costs and resources – OnScreen takes an average of 27 minutes to create a walkthrough guide, which is much less than traditional approaches.
- Increased training effectiveness – OnScreen walkthrough guides act as a guardrail supporting the user directly in the live production environment at the time of need.
- Increased project success rates – Reductions in software misuse and data quality allows for greater project success and reduced hypercare periods.
Key Takeaways and Conclusion
The transformation of work is not just on the horizon; it has arrived. As machine learning, AI, RPA, and Digital Adoption Platforms continue to advance and mimic human intelligence, the workplace and work experience will continue to change. Building foundational knowledge, an open mind and strategic approaches to implementation for technologies can help position companies to maximize their impact.
The pandemic has cracked open space for transformation, and we are standing at the threshold of both opportunities and challenges. Stepping towards success involves embracing technology with intentionality so that it benefits employee experience, workplace environment, and your company’s bottom line.
Digital solutions, including digital adoption platforms, can help. For example, OnScreen makes daily activities easier for employees through quickly and simply generating engaging contextual walkthrough guides for any ERP, CRM, HRM whether it’s SAP S4HANA or Salesforce and more.. As a result, users gain the self confidence and reliance to perform their job more efficiently and based on the company’s best practices. They gain time efficiencies, increase productivity, build confidence and accomplish more with less support and IT reliance.
As work evolves, so must we. Across industries and companies, embracing more inclusivity, willingness to train and retrain and collaboration across work culture is critical.
What steps are you taking now to prepare for the future of your company?