Technology will be the key to attracting and retaining a strong workforce in the future, but keeping that workforce engaged will be a huge challenge for management.
A new study by Adobe, “The Future of Work: APAC Study”, revealed technology will be critical to build positive employee experiences, as more than 50% of office workers across Asia Pacific rate access to cutting-edge technology in the workplace, above perks like food and slick office design.
However, it won’t be as easy as giving people new model smartphones, as the study also found many companies and leaders aren’t prepared for the change that will accompany the roles of people as machines transform workplaces.
Mark Henley, Director of Transformation and Digital Strategy for Adobe Asia Pacific, believes strongly in the work of Daniel Pink which outlines the three factors of motivation for engaged employees — autonomy, mastery, and purpose.
Henley said that some companies don’t consider all three factors when implementing new technologies, so some of the productivity benefits can actually be lost as the workforce disengages.
“If you take away somebody’s autonomy, or you take away their understanding of why [they do their role], or you take away the tools or the capabilities or the teams or environment that’s allowed them to be successful in the past, even if that’s done in the spirit of a better outcome, what you are actually doing inadvertently is removing their ability to have one of those three things,” Henley told Business Insider.
“During that period people are very disrupted – they’re very resentful often, and there might even be a grieving process that they have to go through.”
Henley said understanding this impact will be critical for successful companies — and successful leaders — when introducing new technologies and processes like artificial intelligence (AI) into the workforce.
The study also revealed that while some workers across APAC were concerned about the impact of AI on jobs, 94% of respondents expressed an interest in using AI to automate mundane work-related tasks.
There will be two very important ways AI will impact the workforce, according to Henley, and both will require new thinking from managers.
Engaging the passionate employee
The first is that by removing low value work, many employees will be able to focus more time on the areas of their job that they are more passionate about, or can expand their careers into areas that they didn’t previously have time for.
“A lot of people are not given the opportunity to discover what their passions actually are,” Henley said.
“We’re institutionalised pretty much from the day we enter preschool. And one of the hopes of our future of work is that it gives people a bit more cognitive space to decide what matters to them.”
Health beyond just balance
The second way new technologies will impact the future workforce is by allowing them to work from anywhere, on any device.
The survey found that 62% of office workers surveyed believed that technology was critical to enabling work-life balance, and picked 24×7 availability and the ability to work across all their devices, as the most important ways by which technology can accelerate their productivity.
However, how this is managed was a matter of debate at the Adobe Future of Work Think Tank.
“The most engaged employees are the ones who are given freedom and latitude to be remote on their terms and when they choose,” Henley said.
“And the engagement data terrifyingly low, the number of people who are actively engaged in your workforce is less than 30% [according to The State of the American Workplace report].
“Most people, most of the time are actively disengaged from the work that they’re doing. And one of the arguments for that is that the environment in which they’re required to that work is dehumanising.
“Sitting in an office without daylight, without access to fresh air, without good nutrition, and sitting down all the time, these are all clear indicators of poor health and stress.”
Henley said understanding how to bring these elements together to help your employees engage with their passions, while also staying healthy and motivated, should be the main focus of future leaders.
“Employees need to be treated more as actual assets or resources,” said Henley.
“The future of the way we are going to behave as a species is dependent on this decision that we make to treat humans better.
“Leadership needs to think in a more human way about the people that they lead, but also about themselves.”
The key to this will be in teaching more than just STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Maths) to children in schools, but in also teaching problem solving, social skills and adaptability.
“I do a lot of work directly with universities as part of my role in Adobe and I think it’s clear they are absolutely having these conversations.
“Some of the things I think we should be looking to teach are compassion, self-awareness, and interaction, which are so valued and prized by employers, but aren’t actively taught as part of curriculum either in secondary or tertiary education.
“So how can we explicitly teach problem solving techniques and tools to young people and to existing adults as well?”
This debate continued in the Adobe Future of Work Think Tank, featuring Janine Perrett (Sky News), Shiao-Yin Kuik (The Thought Collective), Dr Jordan Nguyen (Psykinetic), Harlina Sodhi (IDFC Bank), Abhijit Bhaduri (Abhijit Bhaduri & Associates), Dr Fiona Kerr (Adelaide University), Sarah Kaine (UTS Business School), Su-Yen Wong (Nera Telecommunications) and Dr Joseph Sweeney (IBRS). You can watch the full Think Tank here.