Strategies for properly employing tech in the workplace
Automation and artificial intelligence (AI). Big data and advanced analytics. Collaboration platforms and instant messaging. The workplace is becoming a technological wonderland, in which a company can place virtually every resource that its employees need to work more effectively and efficiently at their fingertips. Nevertheless, growth in workforce productivity is hovering around its lowest rate in almost two decades.
We saw this paradoxical situation echoed across the findings of Deloitte’s 2108 Human Capital Trends survey. For example, 71 percent of the respondents to our survey said they are already using personal productivity technologies like collaboration platforms, work-based social media, and instant messaging, and 60 to 70 percent of them said that they believe workers will soon be using these technologies more frequently. Yet, nearly half (47 percent) of the respondents are also worried that these tools will not enhance workforce productivity.
Are their worries justified? Is it possible that, for all their promise and potential, new and emerging workforce technologies could actually drive down productivity?
It can happen. After all, technology is not a productivity panacea in and of itself. Surely, by now, we all know that the next text that pops up on our smartphones could interrupt us and distract us from our work just as readily as it could focus and facilitate our efforts.
The fundamental difference between the two outcomes lies in how you put productivity technologies to work in your company. Here are three principles that can go a long way to ensuring that technology enhances the productivity and well-being of your company’s employees and avoids becoming one of the greatest sources of cognitive overload in their work and lives.
- Do new things, not old things in new ways.
The productivity-driving potential of social, mobile, analytic, cloud, and cognitive technologies stems from your ability to transform the ways people interact and create value within their companies. The key word in that sentence is transform. You can’t capture the full potential of new technologies by using them to make incremental changes in the ways employees work today.
Forget about doing old things in new ways. This is not just about reengineering processes — although it will eventually lead to that, too. Instead, try to create a new mindset and model for work by re-envisioning what work means in your company.
First, think about how you might redefine work. What are its core components? We humans are social, creative problem-solvers. Maybe you’ll decide that work is less about rote tasks (that could be automated) and more about constant innovation in response to the demands and desires arising from your markets.
Next, think about how your new definition of work might change how you approach workforce planning. When you know the “what” and “where” of work, you can define the “who.” Already, we are seeing the definition of talent expanding from employees to contingent workers to crowds. Now, it is expanding to include smart machines.
- Be the driver, not the driven.
Technology should augment and accelerate employee productivity within your company. As I suggested in a previous column about data and people analytics, to put technology to work, you need to be intentional and mindful about how your company uses it.
AI and machine learning — and tools that utilize them — can be something of a black box. They can work without supervision and deliver answers to questions that we may not even know to ask, but they can also do things that cause harm and destroy corporate value. For proof, ask the leaders of any of the major social media platforms.
If you are to remain in the driver‘s seat, you can’t let technology dominate your company. You are the primary actor in control of your company’s destiny, not the technology you use to achieve that destiny.
This principle will lead you to ask questions that should flow naturally from the previous principle, such as:
- Where and how will knowledge be processed in the context of work?
- Where and when are goals best achieved with a workforce that is augmented by machines?
- Where and when should work be automated?
The answers to questions like these will reveal how your company can use new technologies in transformational ways.
- Embed technology in the flow of work, not outside it.
To mitigate the distractions inherent to technology, you should integrate technology with the flow of work. In Deloitte’s 2014 Human Capital Trends report, we called out the “overwhelmed employee” — that is, employees who were drowning in the flood of information generated by digital technologies. The trend is still going strong and, if anything, continuing advances in technology are exacerbating it.
To make employees more buoyant, technologies that promise to bolster productivity need to be seamlessly woven into to what employees are doing moment to moment. You need to “consumerize” technology — making it simple and easy to access and use. You also can turn the overload problem on its head by reorganizing employees around technology. Smaller, more agile teams can help alleviate the overload on employees, as can outsourcing or automating rote and/or non-value-added tasks.
In short, to embrace this last principle for achieving the full potential of technology, you need to consider how, where, and when you deliver technology to employees.
It’s highly likely that the challenges that come along with new technologies will arise more and more frequently in the months and years ahead. Keep the above principles in mind as they do. They will help you as your company seeks to transform those challenges into profitable and productive opportunities.