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The future of work: four major trends
The increasing automation of work, attributable partly to IT technologies, will continue to inspire changes in working time and place as well as in the very nature of daily responsibilities. What changes should you be prepared to face?
More computing power and fewer physical barriers in data transmission have caused a significant part of operations at the world's largest stock exchanges to be taken over by robots. That, in turn, has completely changed the nature of work of the core staff at brokerage houses and has led to employment reduction in the sector.
However, it would be premature to announce the onset of a revolution in the forms and ways of performing and organizing work. Changes observed today are happening slowly, on an incremental basis. What will be the end result? Experts agree that a delayed effect of trends such as miniaturization or the Internet of Things (i.e. the ability to automatically exchange data between devices, without human intervention), will be robots taking over many specialized responsibilities.
Jeremy Rifkin, an American macro trend analyst, is considered to have the most radical opinions on the matter. As early as 20 years ago, he announced that in the nearest decades a significant part of the current employees will become redundant. This is happening because of the so-called technological unemployment, i.e. decrease in the number of jobs due to introducing technical and organizational innovations to the manufacturing processes and rendering of services. In the first place, and this is already happening, robots will replace people in simple, recurring activities. Foxconn , the world's largest manufacturer of electronics for many top brands, has more than 1 million employees in China. In 2011, the company installed 10 thousand robots named Foxbots. Until now, the number has grown up to about 50 thousand. They are supposed to speed up the manufacturing of devices and replace people at the most dangerous and harmful stages of the production process. The company announced that in the future, the number of Foxbots is supposed to reach 1 million. Meanwhile, Amazon started testing drone delivery in order to limit the role of couriers in the delivery process.
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Does the future really look that grim? No. The basic consequence of widespread automation will be releasing employees from the most strenuous and unrewarding duties. The potential released in this way can be used for performing tasks that require creativity and intuition, i.e. features difficult to program and automate. How organizations can adapt to the new trends in work automation is a question worth answering.
1. Complete delocalization of work
World experts have no doubts as to the fact that the development of communication strategies will be followed by the so-called delocalization of work, that is a total break of the link between where and when work is done and the organization that commissions it. Intellectual and conceptual work will be remunerated according to the end result and not the time spent on it. Modern organizations already use virtually all tools needed for remote work, such as unified communications systems, mobile telephony and remote access to the business applications they use. That paves the way to an easy creation of international teams and acquiring talents in various locations, including abroad.
Today remote work is possible from any place where broadband internet can be accessed. Employees have a choice: they can work wherever they feel most comfortable, which translates into high efficiency or creativity. Are they members of a team? No problem, a fast and stable connection allows a few persons to work on the same documents in real time. The ever more refined wireless broadband internet allows to work while travelling by car or train. Videoconferencing and working online on documents using mobile devices are just two examples of what is already possible today. The only barriers that prevent some companies from giving up their traditional office spaces are legal limitations and practices established throughout the years.
2. Full automation of recurring processes
The development of information technologies will influence further areas of an organization's activity, leading to automation of all parameterizable activities. It should also be noted that the number of these activities is continuously increasing as the analytical capabilities of IT systems improve. Machines are already successfully replacing specialists taking care of financial communication and reports, fundamental analysis of companies or preliminary medical diagnostics.
The number of areas that can be automated will continue to grow.Within a few decades, only creative, flexible and mobile employees, who are focused on continuous learning and changing their professional competencies, will be indispensable on the labor market. Luckily enough for people, the work of the future will still require complex thinking. Machines have a long way to go before they reach this level.
Experts claim that the future belongs to companies organized in the form of a network. Even though such organizations have lower capability of resource mobilization, they are better at coping with the challenges of a dynamically changing market situation and demand as well as discovering new customers. Such network structure is used not only by young start-ups, but also by some of the world's largest companies, including the ones that operate in ‘traditional’ business, e.g. fuel companies. Two excellent examples are Shell and BP, companies with a well-established reputation. Part of their standard business processes are performed by external companies and even those elements that for years had been considered crucial to the company's value (initial exploration of deposits, analysis of geological data, etc.) are now outsourced more often.
3. Network organizations
According to many experts, today's hierarchical organizations are doomed for failure in the modern overly competitive world. The more internally complex and innovative the daily tasks are, the more difficult it is to commission and perform them within traditional structures with clear-cut subordination and responsibility borders.
4. No more full-time jobs
Structure modification will be followed by changes in the model of employment. Modern companies are already more willing to use contract and temporary staff not only at the lowest level of the organizational structure, but also for specialist and management positions. Interestingly enough, at the lower end of the ladder it is the employees who insist on a more stable employment relationship, while in the case of higher positions, specialists require more freedom in the way their contracts are constructed.
There are indications that these trends will intensify, until the now prevailing full-time employment model is completely eliminated. That will, indirectly, increase the importance of all framework collaboration agreements, such as outsourcing contracts that guarantee more stable relations (especially when it comes to fixed-term contracts with high-class specialists).
The last 40 years of technological development have led to significant changes in the way daily tasks are performed. Remote work, together with various forms of global collaboration, has become more common. However, all signs indicate that this is only the beginning of real changes in the way work is organized. It will become more and more virtualized and automated. Remember to prepare for the transformation and invest in IT solutions that will help to streamline the daily tasks of today's employees.