The Future of Work - Boosting Productivity in 2017 and Beyond

Posted by  Ton Dobbe

There are parts of the future that are certain. While some technological advances, like the internet and the mobile app ecosphere, have changed the world in unpredictable ways, everyone knew the Information Age would define the 21st century.

Now the world is entering another turbulent era that the World Economic Forum has referred to as the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Political and business leaders from around the world gathered to try to peer into the future of work based on hard economic facts.

This collection of leaders started from the premise that "developments in genetics, artificial intelligence, robotics, nanotechnology, 3D printing and biotechnology, to name just a few, are all building on and amplifying one another. This will lay the foundation for a revolution more comprehensive and all-encompassing than anything we have ever seen."

The Significance of AI, VR and AR

Traditional industries like transportation are being rebuilt from the ground up, while others, like retail are just beginning to discover the impact technology can really have. On top of all the breathtaking hardware upgrades that have already redefined what work means, the commercial world is reeling from the implications of AI, Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR). These three related developments hold the greatest promise to boost worker productivity overall and collectively act as the most transformative force in the global economy for the foreseeable future.

Robotics and AI are certain to displace some categories of workers, but they may also prove to be the only path to maintaining and improving productivity in the future. While automation takes over more tasks that require intelligent decision-making, human workers will adapt to the productivity gains made possible through VR and AR. S. Somasegar, partner at Madrona Venture Group, proposed that, "In twenty years, VR will be a ubiquitous force and as pervasive and transformative as the internet was in the 90s or the smartphone was in the 2000s. Every 2D interface will be re-imagined and re-architected for 3D."

The essential question for the present, though, is "How?" What can companies do right now to deploy technologies as they exist right now to make the workplace more productive? This is growing in urgency as fewer workers are available to deal with the increasing workloads.

An Aging, Shrinking Workforce

Any consideration of the impact of technology cannot be separated from the demographic forces that determine who will be using that technology. One of the biggest conflicts on the horizon is that accelerating rate of change will overwhelm a workforce that is both shrinking and aging.

The Association of Executive Search and Leadership Council found that in the U.S. and Europe, more people will be leaving the workforce than joining it in the years ahead. Right now, 44 percent of the firms surveyed had effectively no plans in place to respond to an aging population in a society where more young people are seeking out entrepreneurial options.

Richard Dobbs at McKinsey warned, "For the first time in human history, aging could mean that the world's population plateaus in most of the world ... A smaller workforce will place a greater onus on driving productivity for growth and may cause us to rethink the economy's potential."

Real-World Applications

For the near term, the global economy faces an increasingly serious workforce crisis in both capacity and capabilities. Organizations can tackle this challenge now by creating work environments that encourage a more highly diverse workforce. Workers need tools to collaborate effectively and efficiently, freed from non-added-value tasks that only distract them from their work. For some organizations, the future of work has already arrived. It is mobile, cloud-based, automated and far more intelligent than the world has ever seen before.

Ton Dobbe

Ton joined Unit4 in 1991 as a partner manager before moving to the product team and subsequently taking the position of product manager. He became global head of product marketing in 2015 and has since been responsible for some of Unit4’s most successful product launches. He took on the role of chief evangelist in 2016.