Application leaders and business executives haven’t traditionally spent much time contemplating how work will change in years to come. That’s largely because the IT organization has focused on operational excellence and because over the past three decades, the pace of change in the workforce has been relatively slow and predictable.
Circumstances have changed. The IT charter is expanding to include a larger focus on individuals, teams and overall business performance, and accelerating technology cycles are rapidly increasing the pace of change in work patterns.
“Digital business models and platforms are fundamentally restructuring how business is conducted. Cloud services are increasing the speed of technology change at a rate unthinkable in the days of on-premises deployment,” says Matt Cain, vice president and distinguished analyst at Gartner. “At the same time, the nature of work is being transformed with new work patterns such as the gig economy and flatter organization models, while artificial intelligence (AI) is poised to transform how work is done.”
Application leaders need to anticipate the future of work to understand what IT skills are needed to support the changes and ensure that technology aligns with future work patterns.
SaaS applications will accelerate technology change for almost every worker
Cain highlights three overarching future work trends expected in developed nations in the 2022 – 2026 time frame, along with some of their key impacts.
Worker digital dexterity will become critical
No one knows exactly how this change will impact business, but one thing is certain — the digital dexterity of the workforce is the most effective mechanism to ensure that it can keep pace with and exploit vast amounts of change. Digital change will manifest itself in a number of ways, including:
- The pace of technology adoption accelerates. “The impact of technologies such as blockchain, AI, Internet of Things (IoT) and 3D printing will have a transformative impact on how work gets done. The API economy and a business platform model forces tech changes into the mainstream,” says Cain. “Along with those transformative technologies, software as a service (SaaS) applications will accelerate technology change for almost every worker through horizontal applications for cloud office and human capital management, and through targeted applications for IT service management (ITSM), finance, sales and marketing.”
- Digital dexterity is monitored and measured. The growing recognition of the importance of digital dexterity creates a demand for measurement, which aligns with analytics becoming more pervasive in the enterprise. Social science-based surveys and observations are increasingly accepted to collect relevant digital dexterity data, which can be combined with machine-generated IT, HR and business data to measure workforce digital dexterity.
AI will prevail
The conversion of rich input patterns into data that can be readily processed by conventional software is at the heart of today’s AI hype. AI will have a profound impact on how work is assigned, completed and evaluated. Cain suggests that although AI will provide a number of workplace trends in the coming years, workers are experiencing the impact of robobosses and smart workplaces right now.
- Robobosses on the rise. While employees will not report to an AI construct, the implementation of robobosses will lead to more automated management duties and more online worker activities. There is opportunity for greater tracking of worker activities and performance. This data can be run against a series of algorithms that can programmatically offer assistance in improving performance or meeting goals.
Leaders can tap into an internal talent pool, and individual employees can both seek and be sought for work opportunities
- Physical workplaces become smart. Facilities and space management disciplines have undergone substantial change. Open seating helps drive collaborative behavior, while huddle rooms create small-team intimacy. We are also on the cusp of a move to “smart workspaces” that exploit networks of beacons, sensors and actuators in the workplace. An employee, for example, might use an app to guide her to the closest parking space, and be assigned a workspace and conference room as she enters the building. At the same time, her “smart badge” can track her location for safety purposes.
The gig economy will thrive
Organizations will increasingly learn and borrow from freelance management and gig economy platforms, which dynamically match short-term work requirements directly with workers who have the relevant knowledge, experience, skills, competencies and availability. This will mean moving away from traditional structures to more fluid arrangements.
- Employees get work through employment marketplaces. Freelancer marketplaces make it easier for employers to tap into a set of contractors for short-term work commitments. In parallel, professional social networking platforms and recruiting technology providers have been investing heavily in matching algorithms to pair up talent supply and demand. “Within the enterprise, these two trends are translating into an internal employment marketplace,” explains Cain. “Organizational leaders can tap into an internal talent pool, and individual employees can both seek and be sought for work opportunities. This is about breaking work down into individual products, services or deliverables and using technology to match the available talent to the work that needs to get accomplished.”
- Jobs get deconstructed. Traditionally, organizations have invested in mapping out clear career paths for employees. While workers need a purpose-focused direction, a portfolio of experiences builds knowledge and skills and allows for the practice and improvement of competencies. Employees will increasingly find the accumulation of experiences to be more realistic than a carefully plotted-out career path.