What the technology revolution means for the way you work
Technology and employee demands are changing the nature of how we work forever. So what does that mean for you?
We are experiencing what’s being described as the Fourth Industrial Revolution, or Industry 4.0.
To get here, we’ve travelled from steam to electricity, through digitisation to arrive at a new era of connectivity, where the lines between physical, biological and digital are being erased.
The result: different expectations and limitations around how and where we work.
Automation and artificial intelligence (AI) are replacing some jobs and considerably altering others. Globally connected companies are facing pressures to compete with automated challengers and changing the way they do business.
Flexible working and workers
Workers, too, are driving change. According to a study by international recruitment company Hays, 73% of Australian workers want their employers to offer flexible work practices.
Advances in the reach and speed of connectivity means workers no longer need to be in an office – or even at home – to be productive.
At least one in three Australians now regularly work from home. This allows workers to cut down on their commute, better juggle parental responsibilities or have the option to add to their incomes through short-term work.
The virtual office ‘water cooler’
To facilitate this change, businesses are increasingly relying on services that connect their staff wherever they may be, creating a virtual office that can be global in reach.
Rather than relying on a good old group email to communicate among teams, workplaces are now using new technologies to connect: Slack, WhatsApp, Google Drive and newer app entrants like Trello and Airtable.
Staff communication, however, is not just for project management or task completion.
US-based product design app InVision – with 800 staff who work from home across 27 countries – encourages staff to use messaging services like Slack to share their personal lives with colleagues. The idea is to recreate the traditional office ‘water cooler’ within an online space that allows colleagues to freely chat and mingle.
More engaged employees mean a better performing business
According to a recent study by workplace management technology company Condeco, 55% of Australian workers are placing greater importance on the look and feel of their workplaces. And 68% of Australian businesses have embraced activity-based working, which gives employees a range of dedicated facilities for specific workplace activities.
Tech giant DropBox wanted the design of its new Australian headquarters to bring the home and office closer together. The Sydney office aims to be “an extension of employees’ lives” featuring draperies, rugs, bookshelves, plants and wood to give the space a more comfortable feel.
It features an in-house barista and chef, a bar and giant TV screens. The open-plan office itself features a variety of tech-packed communal spaces and private rooms.
At graphic design-based software company Canva, employees are offered flexible hours, overseas trips, meditation sessions, free yoga and gym memberships, a bar and a pet-friendly workplace.
All this leads to more engaged employees. And that leads to a high-performing business.
Almost three in five employees would take a 50% pay cut for a job they love.
A survey by Gallup found that companies that move to actively engage their employees enjoy increased customer engagement, increased productivity, greater staff retention, fewer accidents and a 21% higher profitability.
Job satisfaction has become so important that, according to a study by Lexington Law, almost three in five employees would take a 50% pay cut for a job they loved.
The small business advantage with the fourth industrial revolution
Industry 4.0 is an advantage for small- and medium-sized firms that lack the recruitment and training resources of large corporates.
Previously, these firms would spend serious time and money on hiring staff they would then spend more time (and money) training, only to see them move on to a larger firm offering a higher salary for their new skills. Now, smaller firms are directly engaging hyper-specialised staff on-demand using services such as freelancer.com.
Larger firms are benefiting by hiring specialised staff on a case-by-case basis, improving productivity and accountability. Rather than stretching generalist staffers across a range of skills and tasks, they are hiring specialists for the project. It also means staff can be brought in for peak demand periods and won’t be expensively cooling their heels during downtimes.
It does, however, create challenges, particularly for managers who need to engage, motivate and reward workers who may no longer be physically in front of them. This will be an increasingly common aspect of managerial expertise.
Work will increasingly be short-term and focused, with a specialised skill-set that will need to be updated constantly to keep pace with the requirements of businesses. As a result, companies need to adapt, to manage workloads and hiring, which means better strategic thinking and project management.
It might seem like a time of flux and confusion, but to best harness the benefits, getting familiar with technological advances in the workplace is a good place to start, for workers and companies alike, to be well-placed to fully grasp all that Industry 4.0 can offer.