Accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic, work has reached a new age of digitization. With today’s rapid and often unpredictable changes in technology, how can leaders ensure their employees are ready for anything? Creating future-ready workers is all about adaptation. Facilitating continual learning, identifying obstacles early, and using data to optimize working conditions will become essential as we continue to digitize the workplace.
To elaborate on these ideas, we have pieced together excerpts from a conversation between our podcast host Jo Richardson and future of work expert Kristine Dery from episode 12 of our podcast Bold stories. Future focused. Kristine is a research scientist at MIT’s Center for Information Systems Research, where she studies the relationship between technology and the way people work. This research has been the subject of her publications and teaching for the last 15 years. Read on to hear what she has to say about creating a workplace that will thrive in an unpredictable future.
Continual learning is key
Jo Richardson: Conversations about the future of work have been dominated by the questions, will we go back to the office.? Do we need to? And if so, how much? And we admit we're dying to know the answer to that one. But it's a narrow look at a much more expansive picture.
Kristine Dery: So I would encourage you to shift the conversation away from space and start talking about what it will take to create a workforce that is able to deliver on your strategy. And there are three things I think you really need to focus on. The first is continual learning. It is no longer okay just to come into the workforce with the experience that you had and whatever training you acquired prior to that, and then just incrementally learn as you go along. We know that organizations really have to apply a much greater focus on this. I think this rapid learning idea is probably one of the biggest changes that we will see. I saw some data yesterday that the time devoted to learning will go up from between 10% and 15% to closer to 40%.
Jo Richardson: Do you think organizations will recognize that and create time for people to do that?
Kristine Dery: I think this is the big challenge. There will have to be time allowed for people to learn from each other – not necessarily classroom teaching but certainly online teaching or reaching out beyond the organization's boundaries to learn in different ways. This is where we're going to see some big shifts going forward. So that's the first thing.
Empower workers to be problem solvers
Kristine Dery: The second thing is that, as leaders in these organizations, we have to constantly look for what I call the speed bumps, the things that are making it really hard for your workforce to become empowered problem solvers as opposed to just passive recipients of the technologies that they're given. And those speed bumps could come in the form of the technologies themselves.
Jo Richardson: We've all had this experience or known someone who has. You're trying to help a customer solve a problem but the tech just won't allow it. It puts a strain on both the customer and the employee experience. This is where, Kristine tells us, we become hostages to the technology itself.
Kristine Dery: We're not providing the right technologies or the right access or the right data, all of those things that come from that digitization of workspace. But they may also be coming from the fact that your workforce is just not digitally enabled enough.
Use your data to help build your future-ready workforce
Jo Richardson: …Data, too, can help us find speed bumps. And it's the third thing Kristine says we should be focusing on as we begin to bounce back from the pandemic.
Kristine Dery: What we've seen during the whole pandemic is, as we digitize work, we create a huge amount of data about how our employees work. We need really good analytic minds to be able to take that data and combine it with other data sets to understand the impact of things like commuting, things like the number of hours people work at a given time span, how we might reorganize work in order to fit more easily within people's lives, to be able to attract and retain the kind of talent that we need in order to drive these strategies forward.
Jo Richardson: But opening up these channels for communication is more than an innovation strategy, it's also about equity, offering more opportunities to more diverse voices.
Kristine Dery: You know, we talk about diversity and inclusion. A lot of that is about making sure that we have a lot of different perspectives in the organization and that we are able to provide a voice to those perspectives in ways that can be meaningful. I think the future of work is going to be dependent on people being empowered to solve problems. And if we keep that at the forefront of what we're trying to do, we're trying to create a workforce where humans do what they're really good at and that is using their minds to solve more complex problems for customers. They're going to use technology to do that better. They're going to need to be empowered to change the way they work and what would they do, and they will want to be involved in redesigning the nature of work going forward. Empowering them to do that, that's what we need to all be aiming for as we move forward.
Kristine has much more to say about digital fitness, the potential downsides of continual learning, and how to prepare for the next big disruption. To hear the rest of this conversation, check out episode 12 of our podcast Bold stories. Future focused.