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How tech is changing the way we work and play

People office
Research shows we're working and playing 'smarter'

The presence of digital technologies is opening up new areas of work and creating new industries.The UK now employs 850,000 information technology and telecommunications professionals[1] and throughout this paper we have offered examples of digital technologies driving increasing value across other industries.

In the past, the technological limit for computerisation appeared to be the ability of machines to handle highly variable, non-routine and cognitively complex tasks. There is no simple set of rules for how to manage a legal practice, for example. However, it appears that digital technologies are entering a new era of complexity.

Massive data sets, machine learning and other advances mean it is increasingly possible to break down large problems, such as driving a car into manageable challenges which can be modelled by computers. Dr Carl Benedikt Frey argues that this is already and will increasingly place a premium on three types of work in our society:[2]

  • Perception-rich activity – our ability to rapidly discern between objects and ideas in highly complex environments.
  • Creative Intelligence – computers and digital networks struggle to discern between and value creative ideas. Eric Schmidt put it that "There's something about humans that technologists always forget. Humans are creative and unpredictable".[3]
  • Social intelligence – our ability to understand people and the subtlety of their messages means that we can add the greatest value to computers when roles focus on understanding people.

These are the activities where human activity and digital technologies show the greatest complementaries. The significance of perception, creativity and communication-based work is important. It implies that training in arts and humanities, our ability to understand people, to think imaginatively, could be just as much of an enabler for the smart society as a good grasp of science, technology, engineering and maths.

Smarter coordination at work

Digital technologies are allowing us to re-think how we manage our workplaces. A trend identified by panellists was the increased use of digital to augment and improve people management practices.

Recruitment appears to be changing most quickly. It appears that using automated systems for applications and even algorithms to scan CVs is changing the role of the human resources department from delivering a recruitment process towards managing a process.

This is freeing up resources to invest when recruiting for a non-standard position, to invest in more in each face-to-face meeting with candidates or to look for the truly creative or distinctive individual.

Panellists suggested that this change on the side of employers is being matched by applicants embracing new technology. It was suggested that together this shift is improving the functioning of our labour market and delivering better matching between roles and employees.

The importance of metrics

Panellists suggested that data driven metrics are also becoming more significant performance management tools. Metrics reach far beyond estimates of the value of productive capacity and span indicators as diverse as company/ sector networks, locational information, as well as health and well-being measures.

Termed human capital metrics, over the next five to ten years we can expect the digital information which some managers have and use to support decisions will become the organisational norm.

Panellists also identified a second trend. Many organisations report a new generation are entering work is seeing new opportunities to introduce digital technologies.

Often termed 'Millennials', many are keen to use these to work more flexibly than before. There also appears to be a very high willingness among younger workers to either use their own devices (a trend known as Bring Your Own Devices, BYOD) or to invest their own money on technology to improve how they work.

'An incredible opportunity'

This trend was identified as an incredible opportunity for many organisations to unlock user-led solutions and to improve productivity. It appears that unlocking the next level of gains from this agenda will require major reconfiguration both of IT support infrastructures, but also in line management support. Survey evidence indicates that high users of technology are also likely to be caused the greatest stress by it.13

A vision of a future smart world of work has often been articulated. A combination of connected work devices, smart joined-up reporting systems and intelligent sensors can usher in a truly post-bureaucratic workplace, where, instead of hierarchical supervision and overly intrusive monitoring being the norm, everyone takes responsibility for the success of the whole and trust replaces suspicion as the default behaviour.[5]