Workplace leaders must adapt to a new technological reality

workplaceI speak with senior workplace leaders daily and those conversations, coupled with our research and that of other people, offer us a striking perspective on the trends and changing nature of the workplace and in particular the impact of technology. Some themes are cropping up time and time again in these conversations and research and point to a new technology-led reality that we must all address.

This is not merely about the pervasive use of technology in our lives and the adoption of new technologies, but also the implications for the most talked about business themes of the new decade such as employee experience, the so-called war for talent and the effects of AI. Many are already upon us and it is while these are emerging that workplace professionals have the greatest opportunity to harness them.

Understanding what lies ahead can help workplace professionals remain at the forefront of their organisations, which is critically important given that talent is the ultimate competitive advantage and differentiator. With this in mind, these are just some of the developments to keep an eye on in the near future.


The ethics of AI

 Companies have substantially increased their use of AI in a variety of talent management processes, moving beyond recruiting to using AI in everything from compensation and promotions to reduction in staff decisions. Unfortunately, many of these technologies are still relatively poorly understood and as use of them increases, so too will risk that the decision outputs of these technologies create ethical challenges.

For example, companies have started to use AI to make compensation decisions based on how much other people in the marketplace are paid. However, given the pre-existing bias that already exists against women from a compensation perspective, these AI technologies are likely to only worsen existing gender pay gaps by recommending disproportionate increases in compensation for men compared to women.


The changing role of managers

Technologies have already been introduced into the role of managers to free them up from administrative tasks like expense report approval. The next wave of managerial associated technologies will start to replace the more social/emotive/relationship-based tasks of managers – things like providing feedback to employees. In fact, Gartner research shows that nearly 70 percent of what a manager currently does will be automated by 2024. These changes will cause organisations to decrease the number of managers they have and increase the span of the typical manager.


The politics of productivity

Political events at home and abroad will continue to cast uncertainty over the U.K. economy in the coming year. The ongoing uncertainty over Brexit, including the status of any withdrawal deal and negotiations on the future relationship with the EU, will continue to dominate the national narrative for some time to come.

Gartner research has found U.K. employees spend around 30 minutes each day preoccupied by Brexit. The December 2019 election and its outcome will provide another source of distraction and concern to the U.K. workforce. In the U.S., there is a similar story given the upcoming and potentially contentious U.S. presidential election campaign that will unfold during the second half of 2020.  It’s predicted the drop in employee productivity will equate to a loss equivalent of 30 million USD for a firm with 5,000 employees over the coming year.


Climate activism becomes employee activism

Organisations have responded to the demands of interests of employees along a variety of activist issues, e.g. #MeToo. The next wave of employee activism will focus on the impact of organisations on the climate. While this already has a strong foothold within manufacturing, transportation and other industries that have a relatively large environmental footprint, it will expand beyond those industries as companies rethink their supplier relationships, employee travel, and office footprints.


Tech talent isn’t just for tech firms

While the tech sector has gobbled up most of the tech talent across the last decade, this trend is about to change. Many of the largest employers of tech talent are not in a financially sustainable position to maintain the number of tech employees they currently have.  As financial losses continue to pile up for these companies, they will need to reduce their headcount to move to a more sustainable financial position.

Another factor is the increasing average age of tech employees. In 2010, the average age of an employee working at a tech company was 35; now it is just under 40. As these employees age, their value proposition for where they work will also change. Entering life stages that include children and a mortgage will cause millennials to become more interested in working for companies that are more stable and less risky.


Repeating the same old mistakes

Only 35 percent of leaders at the average company today were in place during the 2008-2009 global recession. This lack of experience leaves the majority of companies unprepared for potential economic volatility. The companies that have the least experienced leadership benches will make the most mistakes if the economy slows.


Most people will enjoy flexible working

As technology continues to improve and employees continue to demand more flexibility, companies will respond by offering more opportunities for employees to work remotely. In fact, in 2020, for the first time ever, we will see more than 50 percent of employees at least occasionally work remotely in a typical week.

As major social, generational and technological shifts change our working lives, the organisations that can anticipate and leverage these opportunities for the workplace will be the most successful.

Image: a postcard from the World’s Fair 1964. Isaac Asimov made a remarkable series of predictions about life and work at the Fair.