Will technology prove a threat or a godsend in the new workplace?

In the past decade, the business landscape has fundamentally shifted with the emergence of companies like Uber and Netflix, in addition to the rapid growth of large technology companies such as Apple and Amazon. Underlying this shift is the constant evolution and implementation of technology into the workplace. In a recent report, the World Economic Forum stated that digitisation could add a staggering $100 trillion to businesses by 2025.

In a typical UK workplace environment, technology is already making its presence felt. Most notably, through how employers recruit new talent, automating existing operations and processes and creating new job roles.

Its impact has even reached the boardroom. In our Robert Half 2019 Salary Guide, more than half of CEOs admitted they couldn’t find candidates with the necessary skills to help them navigate an increasingly digitalised business landscape. Therefore, in order to find the right talent – those with data analysis and digital skills, as well as softer skills such as resilience, adaptability to change and critical thinking – companies are having to reshape their staffing strategy to cope with industry 4.0.

The research from also found that two in five CIOs think the Internet of Things (IoT) is having a profound effect on the way they staff their department, followed by cloud computing and automation. For CIOs, these are the key factors changing the scope of the roles and skills required for success.

Linked to the change in hiring strategies, technology is having a profound effect on business operations and processes. Artificial intelligence (AI) is beginning to run manual tasks through to tasks that require rote learning and are susceptible to human error, such as mass data input or data retrieval.

An increasingly digitised workplace also heralds the creation of brand new job roles. Several roles exist today that were not around five years ago, such as data scientist, machine learning analyst and data protection officer.

To protect increasingly digitised businesses, there has also been a boom in the number of cybersecurity roles offered by companies. These are becoming more vital if companies want to protect the data of their customers and employees from threats such as hacking and large scale computer viruses.

 

Technology’s impact is far reaching, but doesn’t necessarily threaten human roles

Technology has already had a far reaching impact on the modern workplace, forcing companies to rethink their hiring strategies, creating new job roles and automating roles previously occupied by human talent.

However, linked to automation, the impact of technology does not necessarily pose a threat. With AI running and automating manual tasks, more time is now available for strategic, innovative and customer-focussed tasks – fundamental skills that machines do not yet possess.

Our research found that skills such as strategic planning, problem-solving and interpersonal and communication skills were cited as most crucial for success by employers. While automation might advance process efficiencies, human intelligence still brings the passion, empathy and connection with customers, clients and key stakeholders.

For example, in the financial services industry, technology will benefit customers most behind-the-scenes. Automation will speed up credit checks, machine learning and AI can be trained to spot fraudulent activity faster, while a chatbot can provide answers to frequently asked questions through an online platform.

But in order for the technology to bring these benefits to customers, a human element is required to engage with that customer in the first place. For that to occur, staff on the ground and in branches will require excellent interpersonal skills, while those in the boardroom will have to do months of planning to roll out a customer acquisition strategy to the market.

In conclusion, technology has already had a far reaching impact throughout the workplace. In the coming years, its presence is likely to strengthen, but not at the expense of human talent. Human intelligence will always remain a fundamental aspect of the workplace. If anything, technology is likely to complement it. The automation of more mundane processes in the office, will leave more time to build relationships and devise strategic plans to help meet commercial objectives. The successful business of the future will be one that can unite digitisation with collaboration and innovation.

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Matt Weston is UK Managing Director at Robert Half. 

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