THE FUTURE OF WORK STARTS NOW
Workplace evolution is all around us. From delivery drones to hologram meetings, the workplace of the not-too-distant future could look very different than it does today. The advances are accelerating to the point where there is even a new name for the phenomenon — Industry 4.0 — predicted to be every bit as seismic as the moves to steam power, assembly lines and the Internet.
Business owners and executives have an opportunity to shape their own companies’ future by taking steps now to reinvent their workplaces. Here are a few factors to consider:
WHEN WE DO OUR WORK
Speed, convenience and ease of use are the defining attributes to be considered. Much of the most immediate transformation will focus on bringing the same anywhere, anytime functionality to the workplace that employees are used to in their consumer lives.
Think about how you transact with your bank now. You can pay your bills using online bill pay while watching your kids play soccer. You can use your mobile token to authenticate payments for your business while on vacation, and even sign bank documents you need for personal or work purposes using electronic signatures on the go, even the ability to approve payroll. We will be able to leverage biometrics for added security and enable information needed to be consolidated all in one place and available from any device.
WHO (OR WHAT) DOES THE WORK
Industry 4.0 is a modern spin on the idea that we are in the midst of a fourth industrial revolution — one that trends towards rapid, widespread automation in white collar professions, manufacturing, distribution and service industries to name a few. A 2019 report by the Brookings Institution forecasts that more than half of all U.S. employment will face significant exposure to automation by 2030.
Robots are coming with new jobs: Automation is sure to replace jobs, but it will also create them. Consider a manufacturing firm with 100 employees currently making 1,000 parts. An evaluation finds the company can eliminate about 20 of those jobs through automation. In reality, though, those are often the jobs that were either injuring people or hard to fill because they were tedious or too demanding.
As a result of the automation, the company has become more productive, making 1,500 parts, and those 20 employees and their knowledge can be utilized in other ways — perhaps focused on customer service. The firm will also need to hire a robot programmer, robot technician and other new roles. So, the head count is actually up to 110 or 120, business is better, and employees have higher-value work.
The new human-machine frontier: Perhaps the biggest shift over the next few years will be in how many jobs we will share with the new technologies. In 2018, the World Economic Forum released a study on the topic. Of the 12 industries covered in that report, none of the jobs was predominately performed by a machine or robot. However, by 2022 that balance is expected to flip, with machines and algorithms increasing their contribution by more than half. These new tools can harness your information to help you make better decisions.
For example, in manufacturing, technology will be able to manage repetitive or tedious parts of the job, from monitoring environmental conditions to equipment metrics reporting providing valuable and accurate information faster to employees who are responsible for safety and quality control. These changes signal a huge transition in human skills that must be addressed sooner rather than later. No less than half of all workers are expected to require significant re- or upskilling over the next three years.
HOW WE FIND THE PEOPLE TO DO IT
Accompanying today’s technological trends are demographic shifts that will create labor shortages in many parts of the economy. To attract the right people, workplaces will need to be in areas of the country where people actually want to spend time.
Bot resources: Software applications designed to automate remedial or repetitive tasks that eat up human work hours should not be overlooked. This technology has made even things like searching for job candidates easier by pre-screening applicants and handling scheduling, so recruiters can focus on the parts they enjoy — and that are most crucial to their firms’ success.
Skills required: So what skills do companies most want to see as we move to a more automated workplace? Highly technical skills are obviously in great demand. However, in an environment with so many technologists (if not actual robots), it’s equally important to find people who embody things like empathy, the ability to listen and a high comfort level with change.
We also see companies investing in local custom job training to fill the void while building strong communities at the same time. These programs are not only focusing on the current labor force but educating and preparing students for an evolved workplace. Educational programs are coming from a wide variety of sources — from the firms manufacturing the robots to not-for-profits encouraging STEM skills in children at an early age.
The speed of digital transformation today is such that even a slight hesitation to evolve might come at a cost to your future bottom line. Automation and innovation are key drivers in the workplace of the future and the new generation of workers will desire the best work conditions. As Boomers continue to exit the workforce in large numbers, and Millennials and Gen Xers fill the void, it is vitally important for the workplace of the future to equip employees with the resources needed to keep up with the momentum of today’s industrial revolution.
- Advancing technology in the workplace, known as Industry 4.0, is quickly overtaking companies
- Widespread automation will replace jobs but also create a sharp demand for skilled workers
- Business owners and senior managers who embrace Industry 4.0 stand to increase efficiency, productivity and competitiveness