European workers optimistic about the impact of workplace technology

Workplace technologyThe European workforce is optimistic about the impact of new and emerging workplace technology although many employers face challenges in pursuing digital business models, according to new research by Accenture. The report claims that more than four times as many workers think technology will improve their working lives than those who think it will have a negative impact. The study of over 2500 workers and 500 business leaders in the EU found that 57 percent of workers think technologies such as robots, apps, data analytics and artificial intelligence will improve their working experience versus eight percent who think it will worsen it. Fifty percent of EU workers believe that digital technology will improve their job prospects compared to 12 percent who think it will limit them.

Employees in Spain and Italy are significantly more positive about the impact of digital on their working lives than those in the UK, Germany or France.

The majority of EU business leaders acknowledge employee optimism about the digital work experience. Almost one half (48 percent) claim to have a digital strategy for talent development, but they lack the confidence to deliver it: while 45 percent think the lack of digital skills are the biggest barrier to becoming a digital business, only 34 percent feel well prepared in terms of recruiting those skills . And although nine in ten accept that is important to act now to transform their workforce for digital, only 34 percent feel well prepared to change the skills and job mix of their workforce.

Employers struggle to implement digital strategies
The lack of confidence of European business leaders reflects their broader difficulties in developing the right digital strategies. Although 77 percent expect to be a digital business within the next three years, the majority (55 percent) do not have a digital strategy to support their overall corporate strategy.  Most plan to wait and see rather than make the first digital moves in their sector: 61 percent say they do not want to be a digital leader in their industry. Instead, they intend to wait for digital concepts to develop further or adopt a ‘fast follower’ strategy.

“Europe’s future competitiveness depends on digital skills and the disconnect between business leaders and their employees is worrying,” said Bruno Berthon, managing director, Accenture Strategy.  “With employees positive about the impact of digital on their work, CEOs should begin to experiment with new digital talent strategies today as they develop longer term plans.  Companies cannot afford to wait and see, but must act now before their competitors disrupt their markets with digitally savvy workforces.”

Proactive workers
European workers are acting on their enthusiasm for digital technologies.  Sixty two percent are assessing new skills that will be required of them and 64 percent claim to be proactively learning new digital tools and skills.

Despite employee optimism, business leaders in the EU will have to be sensitive to the likely concerns about the digital working environment. Workers’ greatest worry is the pressure to keep up with new technologies to remain effective (cited by 78 percent of respondents). Seventy six percent are concerned that their employers will use the technology to track their every move and 70 percent worry that remote working will erode team spirit.

The young, better educated and those with higher level occupations are more positively disposed to digital technologies in the workplace, according to the research.  For example, 69 percent of 18 to 34 year olds think technology will improve the work experience compared to 53 percent of those over 45 years old.  A minority (44 percent) of those 45 years and older think digital will improve their job prospects, compared to 56 percent of 18 to 34 year olds.

“Digital will play to different strengths in different people,” said Céline Laurenceau, managing director, Accenture Strategy. “The millennial generation may be more tech savvy, but older workers may be better attuned to new forms of collaboration, management and the provision of training.  Employers need to ensure their digital talent strategies take these differences into account as they transform their workforces.”

Role of Government
The vast majority (72 percent) of European business leaders think governments have a role to play in helping them reach their digital business goals, compared to half of US executives. But they don’t think policy makers are doing enough today. Only 23 percent think government actions are supporting new business models and 39 percent think governments have no clear strategy at all to deal with new business models.

Accenture Strategy recommends that, in order to stay ahead of the competition, businesses leaders must act swiftly, building on the enthusiasm of employees and the digital tools already available:

  • Experiment with new workforce technologies: Given the positive attitudes of employees, have confidence to accelerate the pace of change and experimentation with new technology-driven processes and practices.  Actively engage the workforce in creating new ways of working.
  • Shift from vertical to horizontal management:  Digital will force a shift from vertical, top down hierarchies to flatter organizations. Get ahead of competitors by making changes that use digital and social media to radiate horizontally to the edge of organizations more rapidly, giving workers greater autonomy in the process.
  • Open up talent pools with digital:  Use new platforms to identify new and unconventional sources of talent.  With a more varied talent pool, companies will be better placed to drive new workforce and operational strategies that deliver greater growth and efficiencies.

The report, Being Digital, Embrace the Future of Work and Your People will Embrace it with You, was presented at the European Business Summit in Brussels.  Accenture Strategy also published Being Digital, Fast Forward to the Right Digital Strategy; and Being Digital, Seven Essential ‘No-Regret’ Capabilities. Read all of the reports here.