How remote working, automation and AI will affect the way we work
Advancements in technology are rapidly transforming the modern workplace, whether via mobile hardware such as tablets, hybrids and smartphones or software in the form of collaboration and video conferencing tools that make it possible for employees to work together as if they’re in the same room.
A key consideration when thinking about the future of the workplace is the role of automation and whether this will transform the nature of our current job roles. For example, some customer services may be replaced with AI that can identify a customer’s problem using voice and context recognition and find a solution without a human even being involved.
Will there be a physical office?
In this digital era of email, virtual meetings and collaboration tools, it is easy, convenient and often more productive to work remotely. Employees are more motivated, and managers find their workforce is more likely to come up with innovative ideas as they increasingly have the opportunity to pursue new avenues.
Last year, 64% of organisations offered a flexible working environment, 21% higher than the year before, which suggests that providing the tools to work remotely is high on the list of priorities for many businesses.
The shift towards remote working means physical workplaces are changing to accommodate this. Some companies are downsizing their office space, providing open plan desks with monitors and workstations that can be used by anyone. A “first-come, first served” policy means those who arrive first can choose where they want to work, while those who are late to the party may need to find space in alternative areas.
Using virtualisation tools, employees can access their files, folders and networked services such as the intranet either on shared devices, or their own machines they bring from home, while collaboration tools such as Slack and Skype mean workers can communicate with other team members working remotely whenever they need to.
How might automation change the future of work?
Artificial intelligence technologies are already reshaping the way tasks are performed, and more than 30% of UK jobs are at risk of automation over the next 15 years, according to PwC.
A McKinsey study found industries/job roles most likely to be affected by automation are predictable physical work, with 78% of the role’s tasks possible to automate by adapting currently demonstrated technology, data collection (69%), and data processing (64%).
Deloitte found that middle-income jobs are most at risk, with UK jobs with wages of £30,000 or under being five times more susceptible to AI automation than jobs paying upwards of £100,000.
However, automation isn’t necessarily a bad thing as people can learn to adapt, taking on new skills they may not have otherwise considered that are less easy to automate, including people-oriented roles like stakeholder interaction and managing others.
This means that the future workforce will need to be able to adapt to collaborate with intelligent machines, as well as manage and supervise tasks performed by them.
Although to make that happen, the infrastructure must be there to make reskilling possible. A Parliamentary committee last year criticised the government for a lack of leadership in digital challenges, urging it to play a more active role in helping people reskill to avoid redundancy through automation.
How will business intelligence change the way we work?
Closely related to automation, business intelligence will make companies more competitive by crunching data about their business units to find efficiencies and deploy resources more effectively. Collecting and analysing data about the way customers think, and turning this information into key insights, will also help them target customers better.
For example, business intelligence tools can analyse what consumers want and come up with ways to satisfy these expectations, guiding business strategy in a much more informed way. This, in turn, means companies can focus on innovation rather than trying to work out what their customers want, offering a much better informed and on-target plan.
Business intelligence tools will increasingly become an essential part of a company’s infrastructure because, without the insights, businesses will fall behind competitors who are acting on this information.
What are the consequences of a changing workplace?
Many of the changes currently taking place in the workplace will result in a dramatic shift in the future of work. More people will work remotely, giving them a better work/life balance. Collaboration tools will also make companies more productive, with employees able to share knowledge and work together on goals regardless of geographic obstacles.
For companies that move at a slower pace, processes and systems can quickly become outdated, and so a futureproof workplace will depend on businesses investing in new technologies, tools and skills as part of an ongoing digital transformation strategy.
The development of automation is trickier. On the one hand, it will certainly lead to more efficient processes for companies, speeding up the act of data collection and even analysis to provide more fruitful insights that humans can act on. But it will also likely result in redundancies and there need to be serious efforts to help people retrain if they are to find jobs that are less at risk from automation.