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The future of work

The future of work: A more creative and productive culture for employees

The experience of being an employee is evolving, from how we spend our time to where we work and how we collaborate with one another.

Almost two-thirds of us can or will automate mundane tasks to spend time on more creative projects. The tools we use to share and develop ideas will increasingly allow us to work together in real-time, even if we’re thousands of miles apart. And the concept of being in or out of the office will blur as ‘place-ism’ is replaced by truly flexible workplaces.

As leaders in IT, CIOs have the opportunity to shepherd their teams into this new era of work through their choice of technology and help them contribute in ever more creative, inspiring and productive ways.

'The future of work provides a massive opportunity for mankind to resolve many of our global challenges but it demands a paradigm shift in our thinking towards leadership styles, resource allocation, urban lifestyles, business/societal collaboration, remuneration models and ultimately our society’s values structure.'

Ian Knowlson, Business Growth Coach

Offices of the future:

Portable devices,Wi-Fi and cloud services have made work possible almost anywhere. When work isn’t confined to the office, it benefits business and employees. Businesses can reap productivity boosts from employees who always have access to work. Increased workplace flexibility will also help businesses hire and retain the top talent, as more employees aspire to control how and where they work. Just under a quarter of employees in the knowledge industry say they can choose where they work,and an extra 44 percent say they expect to have this choice within three years.

Cisco’s survey of workers in the knowledge economy found that employees consider having access to work resources wherever they are as one of the most important factors influencing their productivity and job satisfaction. It also seems that employees who can work remotely are among the most satisfied, creative, and productive –whether that’s because work freedom enables them to perform better or the opportunity to work remotely pulls in the top talent.

But working remotely is only the beginning. People also like to work together and have a sense of community with colleagues. Hierarchical organisations with large central offices are being replaced with networks of agile teams in smaller offices or huddle spaces. WeWork, a company that provides shared workspaces, traditionally for startups, predicts 1 in 2 large organisations will be using shared office spaces by 2020.These can be especially useful for companies who need short-term leases, the ability to quickly scale up and down, or access to shared office services. There’s no reason flexible workspaces should mean having to miss out on leading-edge tech, either. For example, Tribes Inspiring Workspaces, a flexible workplace operator with locations in the Netherlands, Belgium, and Germany, uses Cisco’s Webex boards to connect team members and supercharge their creative experiences.

The modular, versatile team structure companies are moving towards can benefit CIOs and employees. CIOs can more easily access talent while employees are exposed to a diverse workforce and collaborative environment.

Help employees collaborate

Almost three-quarters of managers, across various industries, think meetings are unproductive and miss opportunities to foster collaboration. Employees agree –almost half of all knowledge workers believe more efficient meetings, with clearer outcomes, would boost their productivity, creativity, and job satisfaction more than almost any other change.

Technology is helping to bring change, as virtual meeting rooms connect employees wherever they are and collaboration tools enable more organic and agile interactions.

Cisco’s Webex virtual meeting room product offers several advanced features that make it easier for ideas to be shared. A virtual whiteboard space helps employees working remotely collaborate as if they were in the room and files can be shared and edited on the fly.

All-in-one collaboration tools, such as Cisco Webex, enable employees to solve problems immediately rather having to wait for the next meeting. They also give employees a space to develop personal connections, creating a more cohesive and collaborative team.

Del Brenta, an Italian heel manufacturer, has been leading the way in the fashion industry. After measuring how much time the company spent during each stage of its production process, it realised its means of communicating between teams was inefficient. Through the adoption of remote collaboration technology, Del Brenta has now been able to organise design meetings more efficiently and, crucially, teams can now work together inbetween meetings, shortening the time between a problem and its solution. In future, meetings with augmented and virtual reality technology could make sessions between remote teams even more immersive.

But before investing in enhanced meeting technologies such as augmented reality, focus on creating a workplace culture that nurtures tech savvy enthusiasm.

'Find ways to let people be curious about your new technology and solutions, listen closely to them, try to avoid falling in love with the technology or partner –focus completely on what your company needs to change how it works. Try to find solutions that can be used in every room by every person.'

Stefano Bezzon, Head of Innovation, Del Brenta

The changing role of workers after automation

third of workers surveyed by Cisco say administrative tasks that limit their time for more valuable work is one of the most challenging aspects of their job, while the same number of workers say they struggle to find time at work to develop their skills.

To combat this, almost two-thirds of employees surveyed say they are already or will soon be using basic automation tools to alleviate their own administrative drudgery. Tools that, for example, make it simpler to set up meetings or complete expense forms. More than 60% of workers surveyed by Cisco believe they would be more productive if their team had a virtual assistant to coordinate meetings, take notes and gather information that can inform discussions in meetings.

Seven in 10 CIOs have built artificial intelligence into their future investment plans while 1 in 4 are investing in the technology already. The technology exists, it’s simply a matter of time before we see widespread adoption to not only boost productivity but improve employee experience and job satisfaction. CIOs increasingly recognise the value of artificial intelligence in complementing employees rather than replacing them, as the technology frees up the employee’s time for problem-solving and creative tasks.

The same can be said for robotic automation. Robotic technology on the factory floor can enable factory workers to focus on the tasks that require human thought and checking, rather than spending time on repetitive tasks. The technology can also better inform factory workers with data from the production line, using smart sensors that feed information to decision makers in real-time.

Take pump manufacturer Fluid-o-tech, which has put automation to intelligent use using Cisco’s robotic and digital tools in a system that unifies the factory floor, the boardroom and everything in between. Fluid-o-tech needed a system to automate its factory floor and collect data on its manufacturing process, so it can troubleshoot problems and understand where improvements can be made. Its manufacturing line is equipped with robots, IoT sensors and Industrial Control Systems that automate, regulate and record the production process. Members of staff who manage the production line have wearable devices that feed them real-time data about the factory performance. Its use of Cisco systems on the factory floor is also connected to the offices, where the data recorded in the plant is used by decision makers to monitor and improve the entire workflow. Within the same system, Cisco provides a suite of Cisco Webex collaboration tools, which keep different teams in the business connected at all times and helps organise team meetings.

Almost a third of CEOs think that artificial intelligence will create more jobs than it makes obsolete and there is plenty of research to support their view. But CIOs and the rest of the C-Suite must pass their confidence onto employees, who have traditionally been anxious about the negative effect of automation, by upskilling employees to fulfil more creative, problem-solving roles.  

'The Global Talent Recruitment market is going through unprecedented change due to the fractionalisation of jobs, AI and automation. There’s an opportunity here for CIOs to review their sources of future talent, their trusted talent partners, and their own EVP, as the paradigm shift opens up opportunities to streamline and to invest in their workforce’s skillsets in order to meet the demand of future projects.'

Balancing the employee and customer experience

The cliché of the customer always being right might, with certain qualifiers, be true. But the importance of striving for exceptional employee experience is now beyond question. The benefit of infusing workplaces with technology that strengthens collaboration is that improved efficiency is one of the natural byproducts. So it doesn’t have to be a choice between putting the customer or employee first – the workplace of the future will allow both to thrive through a positive feedback loop.

New tools in the workplace will release employees from mundane and purely administrative tasks, make meetings more productive before, during and after a conference, and enable them to collaborate anywhere, anytime and on any device. The result is a more streamlined and flexible workplace, where employees have a clearer sense of achievement and more control over how and where they contribute.

Today, there’s a focus on the specific technologies being used to upgrade the workplace, but the future of work won’t be defined by advanced technology, it will be the cultural change those advancements instigate. CIOs can be change leaders by using analytics to identify the skills gaps automation will be unable to fill and by empowering their employees to fulfil their potential in more creative, social and critical-thinking roles.