IT — 6 January 2017

Dropbox looks at the future of work

What does the future of the workplace look like – and how do you make the right investments to get there? We attended Ovum’s Future of Work event and heard some great responses to that exact question from psychologist and Insight Director at the Future Work Centre, Dr. Richard A. MacKinnon.

Having spent his career casting a critical eye over future predictions and today’s technology, he’s well placed to advise companies on new approaches.

So at Drop Everything we caught up with Richard to ask him a few of our own questions about what the future of work really means, and how you can prepare for it.

Why is the ‘future of work’ something businesses should be thinking about today?

Technology can facilitate a more positive experience in the workplace.  Being contacted on mobile, connected to shared info on the move, being able to video conference from home – all these services which encourage flexible working can have huge benefits, and for many, can lighten the load.

But for others, and particularly small businesses, it’s so easy to jump onto the “next big thing”. Some organisations feel left behind by progress, so for many, new equals good – and yet introducing change in anticipation of the future can be dangerous, costly and disruptive.

Although business owners should be looking at the future of work, my advice is not to look too far into the future.  It’s not about crystal ball gazing, in the main – it’s about looking at what companies are tempted to invest in now, and being critical about whether it will benefit your business in the long run.

What should companies be doing to get the best out of new technology?

Getting the right approach is crucial to the success of any new investment and good change management can transform the success of a project. There is however no ‘one size fits all’ solution when it comes to technology, and often asking staff how they prefer to work can really help in finding a solution.

Step one is to identify the problem you’re trying to solve and whether a tech solution will help you solve it.  Consider whether it’s wiser to wait and see when it comes to technology investment, and make sure you get feedback from employees before jumping in head first.

Secondly, ensure you know exactly what you’re aiming to achieve.  Have a measurable goal and construct business cases which are really joined up and holistic.  Consider the impact on employees, the destructive nature of change, how to mitigate the risks alongside the financial.  Be the dissenting voice!

As technology eases collaboration and communication, do you think there will still be a need for a physical office space?

Companies now have the ability to function without a dedicated office space – in fact you can run an operation through the cloud without necessarily bringing people together, or ever meeting them.  But what I think is worth remembering is that when we work with companies, the feedback we get from staff is that they find workplace interaction, and workplace relationships very important.

Whether it’s the social side of work, or the accidental conversation that sparks innovation, or simply getting support from other colleagues – that’s something that doesn’t automatically happen when the workforce is distributed across the country and for many it’s something they value immensely.

What does the workplace of the future look like?

This is where I have quite strong views because generally when we talk about this with people, they have a very defined mental model: people imagine they’ll be walking around using advanced technology, free of constraints and barriers.  However, it’s important to remember that technology will change only a proportion of the workforce.

In my opinion we’ll always need key workers like doctors, emergency services, social workers etc., and we’ll still need physical workers like landscapers, builders and so on, so to think that technology will have us all working virtually is simply not realistic.

Technology can – and will – automate and take over the tasks we don’t want to do, but it’s more useful to think about the future of work by individual industry, because each industry will adopt a different model. In creative industries, technology will free up minds for more artistic endeavours but in many others, human preference dictates that many of us will still want face to face interaction – at least for some of the time!

To find out more about Richard MacKinnon’s ‘future of work’ research, you can visit his website here.

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