Often, our discussions about the future of work revolve around employers and how they believe new technologies and trends will shape their industries. But what about employees? Certainly their lives and day-to-day business functions will be impacted by new advances, won't they?
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As it turns out, our overemphasis on employer voices in these discussions may have come at a price, according to "State of (Un)Readiness," a new report from employer branding experts Universum in collaboration with the INSEAD Emerging Markets Institute, the HEAD Foundation, and MIT Leadership Center.
The central finding of the report: When it comes to how the workplace should function and how technology will shape the future of work, your employees may very well expect things you aren't prepared to deliver.
Adopting New Tech Takes Time
By and large, Generations X, Y, and Z expect the technologies they use at work to behave just like the technologies they use in their everyday life. They want user-friendliness and convenience from their workplace applications, which is pushing many companies to adopt new technologies very quickly. Though early adoption is generally perceived to be a good thing, it can sometimes backfire, causing what the report calls "integration issues."
Adoption of new technologies takes time, and employers need to be prepared to fully integrate new solutions into their workflows and workforces, rather than simply jumping on board with each and every new tool that arrives.
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"Quick adoption of technology is great and also important, but to get it fully up to speed takes time as all employees need to get going with new tech," explains Jonna Sjövall, senior vice president of talent strategy and employer branding at Universum. "Also, many applications do not 'talk to each other' and share information, giving the users a headache and slowing down usage and adoption."
Another issues arises from the fact that many organizations view digital innovation as a "front of house" activity, according to the report. Employers emphasize new consumer-facing technologies over employee-facing technologies, which leaves digitally savvy employees frustrated with outdated tech tools.
Sjövall says organizations need to invest not only in consumer technology, but also in solutions that make "the whole organization move forward."
"More efficient processes and digital/cloud technologies, as well as utilizing big data [in the] back of the house, usually also improves the front house activity," Sjövall notes.
Leveraging Virtual Reality
Nowadays, a lot of HR pros and business leaders are talking about artificial intelligence, but comparatively few are talking about virtual reality (VR). It may be time for them to pay attention to VR, because one-third of the people surveyed for the report said it was "poised to revolutionize their work in the coming decade."
"We predict VR to take over in terms of recruitment: touring the office, solving potential problems/cases, etc." Sjövall says. "We also believe VR will take over business travel, as the technology will get more advanced and so-called 'social presence' will be more cutting-edge: You will be able to feel like you are with someone."
But it's not just a matter of recruiting: Sjövall predicts that both VR and augmented reality (AR) will create "dramatic upheaval" in just about every industry. For example, she sees many organizations that sell physical products like cars and real estate making use of the technology to show potential buyers what their goods are like without having to schedule in-person meetings.
AR and VR can also be major boons when it comes to training and research and development.
"For companies that can benefit from any types of simulations for training, as well as companies with complex processes when developing their products – pharma, for example – AR devices will make it possible to innovate and test new products faster," Sjövall says. "All in all in the workplace, virtual reality will increase the ease of conceptualization through visual power and lifelike realities. It will also decrease complexities of learning new skills in everything from army combat to languages."
Convincing Independent Talent to Come On Board
Our understanding of flexible work is one area in which the disconnect between employers and employees is particularly stark. Whereas many organizations see tech-enabled flexible work options as great ways to cut costs, boost engagement, and attract new talent, many professionals see flexible work as an alternative to traditional employment with an organization.
The gig economy has driven many young workers to adopt a "startup mindset." More than a quarter of Gen. Y and Gen. Z students surveyed for the report said they wanted to start their own businesses. As the report puts it: "Employers are no longer competing against other companies for talent, but are vying to attract employees who might otherwise want to work independently."
In order to convince independently minded workers to join them, organizations will have to make some big changes to their recruiting and hiring processes. Among them, Sjövall cites more flexible ATSs, mobile-first talent pools, and more agile recruitment processes that focus on the candidate experience. Internal mobility will also be key to getting employees to join up and stick around.
"Focus on internal mobility, where people work more on projects and less in departments," Sjövall says. "Break down silos into 'internal startups' within big companies, where you can build something from scratch but have the stability of a bigger firm."
Employers must also take steps to understand what flexible work means to their employees in order to ensure that they are offering the right flexible work options.
"Listening to your employees is key," Sjövall says. "How you do it and how agile you can be and are set up to be will set the marching order in terms of what to change and when. Flexibility can be very small things that eventually lead to big efficiencies. To implement flexible conditions without adding a lot of admin will be key."