2016 was a year that saw a lot of change in the world. Amazon delivered a package by drone, university engineers in the US developed sensors for commercial and medical applications so small they’re the size of dust and can be implanted in the human body, and a Google artificial intelligence (AI) beat the world Go champion.
By Lauren Timmer-Somer, head of marketing and technology services at Ricoh SA
But, while all of that’s amazing, in 2017 we’ll really see the impact of those and many other technological innovations and advances, specifically in the workplace that will reshape how we work.
Ricoh commissioned independent research of 2 000 employees, including many form South Africa, that sought to answer numerous questions, including in what ways employees expect the changing landscape I outlined above to affect the businesses they work for.
For example, some tags attached to checked suitcases when travelling by air now contain radio frequency identification (RFID) chips that have helped lower the number of lost bags. Siri and Alexa are already using more powerful language AI in our everyday lives, and Ricoh’s own Watson-powered whiteboard does too, helping organisations break international business barriers. Amazon’s making smarter suggestions every year about what new products we may be interested in buying. And Uber has forever changed the way South Africans view public transport.
But it’s the people behind those companies and the many thousands of lesser-known organisations adapting to the current climate of change who see, feel, and deal with the change every day. And what are we seeing?
Nearly half (43%) see their organisations investing in new technologies. It’s probably no coincidence that 40% simultaneously see growing investment in employee development. Employees have to be trained to use the new technologies but another crucial factor is change management. It’s a well-known fact that few people actually want their work environments to change so they need to be led through changes when they occur, understanding how change impacts them and their roles in the organisation, how they fit into the bigger organisational picture, and how they too, and not just the business, stand to benefit.
However, 39% of employees surveyed also envisage a future where businesses need fewer employees as a result of change, most prominently automation. But many of the world’s leading pundits believe that the scenario won’t be widely realised for many years, even many decades, to come. That said, the responses clearly demonstrate businesses will have to deal with the anxieties employees face in order to retain productive, motivated personnel.
Unsurprisingly a full 38% of employees believe that collaboration will improve as a result of the new wave of technological innovation sweeping the world. Digital innovation typically has enormous impact on the world of communication and the example I gave above of Ricoh’s own Watson-powered whiteboard that offers immediate translation during meetings of people of several languages is already deployed.
While change envelops us at unprecedented speed and scale, employees themselves have indicated that digital disruption, in an economically uncertain, increasingly regulated world, characterised by growing skills and talent gaps, offers numerous opportunities even amidst fears and anxieties now typically associated with change.