You probably recognise that the world of work is changing. Flexible workplaces, work-life balance, smart offices, enterprise collaboration tools, and machine learning are re-inventing the rules. Needless to say, organisations that are quick to adapt to people’s expectations and the new opportunities will benefit earlier. But what does that mean in reality? What should companies do to ensure that they will not just survive but flourish in the years to come?
To dive deeper, Adobe Document Cloud researchers have embarked on a long-term research project on the future of work. They are exploring the views of thousands of office workers and thought leaders in the U.S., U.K., and Germany. They release up-to-date findings as and when they uncover new insights. Everything we know about the future of work sums up the emerging trends. It identifies the required actions companies should take to prepare for the future and edge towards their goals.
The main takeaways from Adobe’s studies so far? You have to invest heavily in people, workspaces, and technology. In particular, pay attention to emerging software such as artificial intelligence, which Adobe has explored in detail in one of their latest studies: The Future of Work: More than a Machine [SlideShare].
Latest people trends: flexible policies and workspaces
Whether employed or contracted, the ‘flex worker’ has entered the workplace. They think about work differently from their predecessors. Flex workers take roles that enable them to own their schedule and work on a variety of challenging projects. They expect to work remotely, and manage their own work-life balance. For example, the freedom to cut out in the middle of the day for an important personal appointment. Work is a part of their lifestyle, not merely a paycheck.
As other digital workplace studies point out, people want excellent collaborative technology as part of their digital workplace. But the Adobe research finds that flex workers also like a decent physical workplace, and also ‘third space’ working options, for casual or energetic conversation with others, such as city parks, cafés, co-working spaces, and other free-form gathering places.
So what kind of workplace environments should employers provide? Interviewed by Adobe, Jason Kinney, former CMO of LiquidSpace, says: “By creating spaces that feel like the local coffee shop or park, employers are enabling more natural interactions and opportunities to get out from behind the cube wall.” For some already, work is something you do, not some place you go. In the future, more work spaces will consist of different places.
As workers have begun to spread their working time between the office, home, and public third spaces, the boundaries between work and social life have blurred. This more fluid approach to work shouldn’t perturb line managers and HR professionals as it’s really a change for the better; engaged workers feel fairly treated and are primed to work and contribute as and when most needed. To be useful and used, the workplace needs to match people’s needs and habits. You need data on when people come in, where they sit, when they need to move, and who they work with. Further, you need to uncover the hidden frustrations; people tolerate a certain amount of poor design, so talk to people about what really doesn’t work well. The workplace, whether digital or physical, needs to match the company culture, but there can be different cultures in different departments and buildings.
A good example comes from Gensler, a corporate building designer and one of the largest architectural firms in the world. They are playing with the concept of anticipatory design whereby an office or conference room might open the blinds when someone enters depending on the time of the day or what the previous settings were. “The environment knows your patterns and tries to maintain congruence with your work preferences,” explains Natalie Engels, design director at Gensler.
Oblong Industries is another enterprise that is rethinking our relationship with space. They are the creators of an immersive visual collaboration solution called Mezzanine. The platform extends the physical office environment across screens, devices, and geographies, providing what they call infopresence: “The experience of being immersed as a group in your vital content and data in a room or across locations”.
Technology – provide empowering tools
“If you’re not using technology to make your employees’ lives easier, you may be falling behind,” says Adobe in the 2016 “Work in Progress” report. “Technology is the most important perk you can give your employees. To help them help you, minimize employee ‘busy work’ so they can maximize their creative output on your behalf.”
While the physical workplace is undeniably important, so are the technologies that enable work. Many knowledge workers rely on enterprise social networks, messaging, and mobile apps to communicate, and any number of productivity apps to collaborate. Document approvals and requisitions can be simplified with e-signatures and online workflows, and available-everywhere cloud systems are becoming the norm.
Artificial intelligence: More than a machine – looking at some hard data
Good news comes from the latest Adobe insights. The Future of Work: More than a Machine shows that office workers are optimistic about how AI can boost productivity and support their work. The study gathered the opinions of over 4,000 respondents in the US, UK, and Germany, on how advance technology is changing their jobs.
Office workers feel confident that they will continue to matter in the workplace despite AI. Around two-thirds of respondents think their job will require human skills that technology will never replace, although this figure was higher in the UK and a little lower in Germany.
However, only about 30 per cent of US and German office workers and 19 per cent of those in the UK feel equipped to succeed in a future dependent on AI.
“Humans don’t feel like they’re just a cog in a machine. People are open to change, but they want to be prepared for it,” says Jeff Vijungco, vice president of Global Talent at Adobe. “As long as employees adopt a learn-it-all mindset, and companies design user-centric technology that’s intuitive, technology and work should evolve hand in hand.”
Indeed, far from feeling alienated by technology in the office, workers think that their human relationships are growing stronger. Eighty-two per cent of US respondents, and 73 per cent of UK and German workers, say that technology helps them connect better with co-workers. And 80 per cent believe that the workers of the future will be even better collaborators.
Right now, companies should invest in AI software that helps people with administrative tasks. Seventy-two per cent of US respondents, 76 per cent of those in Germany, and 66 per cent in the UK are interested in using intelligent personal assistants that use voice to search the internet or make to-do lists (for example, Amazon’s Alexa or Google Home). Workers (49 per cent of respondents in the US, 46 per cent in the UK and 26 per cent in Germany) already value tools that work as reminders for tasks and appointments. So we can conclude there is greater appetite for AI powered services.
However, and perhaps not surprisingly given the complexity of the technology, people do not appreciate the full potential of AI. For example, fewer than 20 per cent of respondents are interested in AI helping with creative recommendations or inspiring content for writing or design tasks.
“This will likely change in the near future, as companies begin to stretch AI in ways we never even imagined. After all, AI is ultimately designed to make our lives easier,” points out Vijungco. “Workers should be asking themselves how AI can complete menial tasks for them so they get more free time innovating and being productive. Not to mention how AI may even be able to work for you as a consultant rather than an assistant—like charting out your career path based on your current role and aspirations.”
Invest in people, workspaces, and technology
What becomes apparent from Adobe’s research is that new, agile, and more people oriented strategies and applications are required to help workers return tangible value, and greater innovation and productivity. It shows that the flexibility that many people need and want feeds into productivity. And so creating desirable work environments through cultural policies and person-focused design motivates people and supports their individual, professional growth.
When talking about technology, we can’t simply focus on toolsets; we need to consider the many people-processes that make up a cohesive system, to support change, transformation, and flexible business. The right collaboration software can only be chosen once business and end-user needs have been properly researched. Further, platforms and systems must support the business strategy.
Artificial intelligence is already invisibly making people’s lives easier (did you know that Google Translate is partially powered by neural networks?). Within the enterprise, AI might be equally invisible to most, but already everyone can benefit. Contextual search, recommendations (for content and colleagues), task reminders that learn your habits, and the automation of repetitive tasks already free up people’s time. Beyond these everyday improvements, any company that deals with large sets of data or much unstructured information should consider the benefits of strategic use of AI.
As AI advances, we’ll all want to re-evaluate how technology serves our needs, and how people can best contribute to their companies and communities in a healthy, human-centric manner.
As Vijungco puts it: “It will be fascinating to see how our jobs and the jobs around us will change as AI comes of age”.
Learn more about Adobe’s latest findings and what it means for the future of tech and work at The Future of Work: More than a Machine. Follow @AdobeDocCloud for insights and updates.
You may also be interested in Think Tank by Adobe, which are in-person forums for sharing ideas among luminaries at the cutting edge of technology, communication, and creativity in a variety of disciplines.
This is an Adobe sponsored article, but all thoughts and opinions are MARGINALIA own.