The modern workplace is undergoing a substantial transition. Systems to foster collaboration, automation and machine learning are creating a workplace that is almost unrecognisable from the 1990s. Careers are built by moving between companies and, increasingly, we are expected to be the masters of our own training and development. Where is this leading and what will the workplace look like in another 20 years?
My father was an electrical engineer who worked on communications networks. He worked at the same organsation from the time he arrived in Australia in the 1950s until his retirement in the 1990s. He rose through the ranks to a very senior position, representing Australia at the United Nations, and, like most of his colleagues, had his own office. Contrast that with today when moving between jobs is expected, open plan offices are the norm and many of the mundane tasks of my father's era have been replaced by computers.
Dave Wright, the Chief Innovation Officer at ServiceNow, discussed the changes we're seeing during the company's Knowledge 18 event last week.
He said technology is redefining the nature of not just the work we do but the structure of our organisations.
Changing nature of work
We've seen the emergence of agents and bots as a tool to assist with customer service. When a customer connects through the phone or online, their request is interpreted and re-routed to a support service that can help them without human intervention. But Wright says we will see this happen more and more inside businesses.
The same tools will be used internally to assist personnel with their day to day jobs, removing mundane tasks so they can work on higher-value, and more satisfying, activities.
"Right now, the focus for most bots is external. But they can also use that technology to enhance someone's skill sets. For example, if I've got a bot that says 'the issue you're working on now sounds like this - here are some of the common resolutions we have'".
Wright says this is one of the misnomers of artificial intelligence and machine learning. Rather than being all about job removal, he says there will be many cases where the technology will enhance the ability of existing employees to make them more effective.
It also will assist with skill development as the technology can work alongside them and help them develop skills in areas where they lack expertise.
One of the challenges this shift brings in generational. Wright said he'd never seen his children using a smartphone as a traditional telephone. Rather, they will text or use video calls when interacting with other people. Those evolving expectations mean the way businesses interact within their walls and with external parties need to change.
"Whenever they want to talk to someone, they want to see them," he added.
That means when business interact with their staff, they will need multiple systems of engagement, just as they have for customers.
"The user owns the system of engagement. The user decides how they want to interface," said Wright.
One of the benefits of staying with one employer are things like accumulated annual, sick and long-service leave. With the gig economy, these things disappear. Which is great for employers who get to wipe those liabilities from their balance sheets but not so good for employees who can find themselves fall from relative comfort to poverty pretty quickly.
This is where companies like Sidekicker, who deliver on-demand workforce management see an opportunity. They launched a new program called Unleash that gives their causal workforce access to benefits through partner companies.
Those benefits include free membership to car-sharing service GoGet, financial planning through Wealth Enhancersm and mental health, wellbeing and performance support via The Mind Room.
The future enterprise
The career path my father took was very different to what we see today. Increasingly, people are looking for new challenges and moving between roles in different companies in order to try new things.
That's one of the factors behind the so-called "gig economy". But the cost to the companies of today is substantial. Recruitment and training costs are high and, in some cases, a new hire can arrive and depart before they costs of recruitment are fully returned.
Wright says this may give rise to a new type of company - a "gig enterprise". This is a business where traditional structures, that fit nicely on an org chart, don't exist. Instead, businesses will be designed around tasks and people will movie between tasks according to their skills.
For example, a person skilled in creating spreadsheets might move between projects or functional areas and use their skills. For tasks where their skills aren't quite ready, they'll be able to use agents and bots to support them as they hone their craft.
Whereas today, those skills are locked up inside traditional structures, the enterprise of the future will be more adept at using the skills in their workforce.
And while the idea of a 'skills register' isn't new, most companies have struggled to use them effectively. But machine learning systems will be able to use all that data and assist HR professionals and managers identify the best people to bring together for a particular task.
These tools will allow people to work on what Wright called a "task-based processes" rather than in traditional organisational silos. `
Anthony Caruana attended Knowledge 18 in Las Vegas as a guest of ServiceNow.