Authored by: Adrienne Gormley, VP of Global Customer Experience and the Head of EMEA, Dropbox
The futurist Roy Amara famously observed that “we tend to overestimate the effect of technology in the short run and underestimate the effect in the long run.” This certainly also applies to the current debate on the “future of work”.
The future of work has always been an emotional topic because work forms an important part of our identity. And while it does not seem likely that robots will make us all redundant or that we’ll enter a jobless age, technology will fundamentally change how we work and do business.
With the digital transformation, we’ll have to learn new skills as well as new behaviours. The process will be technological and cultural, so the response will have to be on many levels: individual, organizational, and political.
On an individual level, many knowledge workers today feel busy but not productive. The 24-hour-workday can lead to a decrease in wellbeing and — more severely — to burnout and stress-related diseases. We cannot expect creativity to spark in a work environment that feels like a 19th-century factory. Technology can help us to collaborate better and more effectively, but we also need to create space for contemplation and be mindful of our coworkers’ (as well as our own) work-life balance.
On an organisational level, we need to rethink the nature of business. While companies in the past were organised for efficiency — think of Henry Ford’s assembly lines — successful companies today are organised for creativity and problem-solving. This requires empowering individuals and teams to create room for experimentation. It also means a smart partnership between machines and humans, where machines are tasked to do the busywork so humans can focus on what we’re best at – innovation and collaboration. We need to combine the superpowers of the human brain and the superpowers of the silicon brain.
This shift in organisational culture is where smart workspace technologies can play an important role as they help to break down organisational silos, increase transparency and knowledge sharing, and create space for internal and external collaboration. They also provide access to enterprise-level IT security which is especially important for small and medium-sized companies.
Which leads to the challenges that we face as a society. While it’s relatively easy to predict the types of jobs that may be lost in the digital transformation, it’s harder to predict the types of new jobs that will be created. Almost half of the employment growth between 1980 and the 2008 recession happened in completely new types of work. As a society, we certainly want to guard against the potential downside of the digital transformation — thus this report’s focus on inclusion. At the same time, we want to make sure that businesses and individuals can leverage these innovations for future growth.
Companies that successfully unlock the productive potential of smart office technologies are likely to create a lot of value from this process. A large proportion of the workday of knowledge workers (up to 60% according to a McKinsey study) consists of “unproductive” work such as searching for information or responding to your emails.
That’s why Dropbox is committed to designing a more enlightened way of working to address the challenges identified in this report. Our integrations with popular office tools means that we can reduce the need to switch between different apps, freeing time for creative “deep work” while offering the security of one of the most widely used professional cloud service. And our machine learning features are designed to assist users finding the content that is relevant to them now, reducing the busywork of searching for the information they need.
We hope that this research provides you with some inspiration about what you can do to shape how we work in the future — whether you are an individual employee, a manager or a political decision maker.
For the study “Measuring Tomorrow’s Work”, Das Progressive Zentrum (Berlin) and Policy Network (London) spoke with 50 renowned experts from politics, business, academia and civil society in the UK, France, Germany and Brussels. The research provides insight into how new technologies impact the world of business and labour and aims to contribute to the current debate. Dropbox supported this study.