In The Future of Work, we explore how companies are transforming to stay competitive as global collaboration becomes vital. We will feature stories from both builders and leaders who manage these transformations to illustrate workplace trends and what’s coming next.
The combined forces of globalization and technology are transforming our workplaces in a multitude of ways: AI is entering the mainstream and it promises new levels of efficiency and cost savings for businesses. It also promises other changes: The latest predictions from the World Economic Forum suggest that almost 75 million jobs will be displaced in the next two years alone. At the same time, an estimated 133 million new jobs will be created, presenting higher income-earning opportunities. However, almost half of the core competencies required across all roles will change, resulting in a significant skills gap.
These aren’t the only changes we can expect. Millennials are expected to make up about 75% of the workforce by 2025. This demographic is extremely online and is used to being able to effortlessly share content across various platforms. In tandem with this, the combination of globalization and a rise in mobility is resulting in a greater need for remote working and online collaboration. The number of people who work from home has already increased by 170% since 2005. This is all without accounting for the impact of Covid-19, which many predict will cause permanent changes in our economy and working lives.
This is a lot to grapple with. The companies set to prosper in the new landscape are those that pioneer the application of digital tools and processes. Product teams and software developers have a crucial role to play here.
Collaboration is the key to success
The opportunity here lies in improving the capacity of employees to work remotely whenever possible, and increase productivity.Thomas J. Holt, professor, Michigan State University School of Criminal Justice
To meet the needs of an increasingly remote global workforce, product teams need to enable secure collaboration in different regions, languages, and devices. Whatever an application does, sharing information across vast distances quickly and easily should be an inherent part of its development.
This is no mean feat. “The opportunity here lies in improving the capacity of employees to work remotely whenever possible, and increase productivity,” said Thomas J. Holt, a professor in the School of Criminal Justice at Michigan State University. “However, dealing with foreign language translations for non-native speakers is a big challenge, as the tools for auto-translation are not particularly effective with some character sets.”
Some tools, such as Skype, now offer real-time translate functions. However, dozens of countries block them due to encryption issues or simply the desire to limit voice over internet protocol (VoIP) to their national telecommunications companies. “There will be a complex time of transition where credible collaboration tools will have to navigate multiple technical and cultural standards along with varied political constraints,” said Daria Lamb, ambassador to the future at the Institute for the Future in California.
Lamb said that when racing to build the next big thing, it is easy for product teams to become laser-focused on the challenges they are trying to solve. “Yet, to build something that is resilient for the future, they need to look beyond what is in front of them and try to spot adjacencies — what [existing] ecosystems can they learn from?”
Lamb points toward recent Stanford studies as an example, which have found that physicians’ positive, confident, and warm words can reduce skin irritation and increase the positive placebo effects of treatment. “What will that mean for those developing software with a voice interface?” Lamb questions. “Software developers need to think about how they can design more human aspects into collaboration platforms.”
Data-driven decision making and AI empower workforces
According to Mckinsey Global Institute, data-driven organizations are not only 23 times more likely to acquire customers, but they’re also 6 times as likely to retain customers, and 19 times more likely to be profitable. Meanwhile, Accenture research shows that AI has the potential to boost rates of profitability by an average of 38% by 2035 and lead to an economic boost of US$14 trillion across 16 industries in 12 economies by 2035.
By democratizing the use of Big Data and AI, product teams can ensure these benefits are realized by an entire workforce. “As technology evolves, and becomes part of the fabric of business, then AI and data analytics need to be available to all,” said Magnus Revang, research VP at Gartner. “The enterprises that deliver the most value with AI are those that embed it across the enterprise to deliver real-time predictions. This requires the identification of strategic use cases, curation of data management and streaming ecosystems, and devising streaming-data analytics platforms.”
This is easier said than done. Gartner research highlights that 50% of organizations lack sufficient AI and data literacy skills to achieve business value, so it’s never been more important for product teams to focus on building tools that are easy to use and which make handling complex tasks and data/analytics as simple as possible.
“No matter how great AI and data analytics tools are, they are worthless unless people actually use them,” said Revang, who believes that success depends on a collaborative development process. “It’s important to get multidisciplinary teams together, comprised of end-users and other non-experts. By having different perspectives involved in the application development process, solutions can be evaluated right from the start and are more likely to be successful in the future.”
Enhance human tasks with machine collaboration
AI will take away tasks, not jobs.Magnus Revang, Research VP at Gartner
According to Harvard Business Review, firms achieve the most significant performance improvements when humans and machines work together. Through what it calls “collaborative intelligence,” humans and AI actively enrich each other’s complementary strengths: the leadership, teamwork, creativity, and social skills of the former, and the speed, scalability, and quantitative capabilities of the latter.
This is an important concern for software developers. “AI will take away tasks, not jobs,” said Revang. “Developers need to think about the solutions necessary to support this different way of working and ensure machines are appropriately trained to perform certain tasks responsibly.”
Lamb agrees: “Imagine automation as not eliminating people but see human-machine symbiosis as a partnership between human and machine,” she said. “Developers should consider how we can get more done together with software bringing out the best aspects of people, rather than software eating humans for breakfast.”
According to Michael S. Kirkpatrick, associate professor at JMU Department of Computer Science, developers, managers, policymakers, and anyone else who has the ability to shape when and how these systems are used, must establish policies and procedures for accountability. “They must accept that it is never the algorithm’s responsibility for making a decision; only humans have autonomy in that regard,” he said. “As such, the AI system must be used as a tool to be used by a human with sufficient expertise and authority to overrule the automated processes.”
While it’s clear that our future workplace will require a raft of new skills and technologies, it’s important for software developers to remember that our vision for the future is evolving all the time.
“Rather than trying to predict the future, developers need to create solutions that enable employees to quickly adapt to the changing environment in which they work,” said Revang. “Agility is key here. Most firms will be in a hybrid state where they are lugging some legacy software, while rolling out cutting edge solutions at the same time. Success will come to those who continuously strive to be better, while accepting they will never be perfect because perfection doesn’t exist.”
Lindsay James is a journalist and copywriter with over 20 years’ experience writing for enterprise business audiences. She has had the privilege of creating all sorts of copy for some of the world’s biggest companies and is a regular contributor to The Record, Compass and IT Pro.