The Twin Revolution of the Corporate Workplace
For the longest time, work was synonymous with productivity. Processes, tools and infrastructure were put in place to increase productivity and output. Still today, productivity is of critical importance, but with the fast paced acceleration of technology, AI, machine learning and digitalisation as a whole, productivity is no longer a human capital game and something we can increase on the back of the workforce to no end. Today we can’t make people work more and expect productivity to increase without limitations. Technology changes the way we work and has a huge impact on the workplace. Ongoing technological advancements have enabled increased productivity in ways that were unimaginable 20 years ago. In parallel to this and highly influenced by the constant increase of technology in the corporate world, the importance of well-being at work is an increased focus, especially with younger generations entering the workforce and with millennials taking on leadership positions.
New qualities long deemed irrelevant in a work environment are rising in importance like imagination, communication, creativity etc.
Back when the corporate world was born, expertise, competences and knowledge were the capabilities that were valued and defined work. Productivity increased as expertise and knowledge increased. In an age where information is a commodity and machines are able to learn and interact with humans, expertise and knowledge have taken a new shape in importance and we have entered an era where other skills are becoming dominantly important. Efficiency is no longer just a matter of reducing costs and making processes faster. New qualities long deemed irrelevant in a corporate work environment are rising in importance like imagination, communication, creativity etc. As machines learn to do some of the work, humans need to be more and more human to add value to the workplace. Creative problem solving, innovation, agility, empathy, ability to adapt and change are all becoming premium capabilities in modern workplaces and this means that leaders can no longer be commanding and controlling the workforce, but need to be the mentors and the coaches of the modern corporate work environment. Good leaders will also balance technology’s analytical skills with human values and capabilities.
As personalisation becomes a day-to-day reality for most of us, expectations from employees towards the workplace are also changing and employees expect that everything, including work, can be personalized and adjusted to fit individual needs.
As technology impacts all aspects of our daily life, personalisation has become something all of us experience daily through apps, shopping experiences, online activities, streaming service recommendations, etc. As personalisation becomes a day-to-day reality for most of us, expectations from employees towards the workplace are also changing and employees expect that everything, including work, can be personalized and adjusted to fit individual needs. Standard roles are slowly disappearing in the corporate environment and each one of us wants a role tailored to our skills, abilities and needs. This also means adjusting how we work to ensure the employees’ well-being is taken into consideration and a sense of belonging is established. Employees do not want to feel as outsiders, they want to belong and work is becoming an increasingly important and valued social community. People build relationships at work and value their social life in a work environment more and more. Work is not only about work, it’s also about living our daily lives.
To fuel this new era where productivity is increased by technology and humans need to step into new roles fueling innovation, creativity and communication, diversity is no longer an ethical need or something companies need to do to look good, but one of the most powerful ways for organizations to fuel their creative thinking and their innovation. Diversity of thoughts is needed to propulse companies, create differentiated advantages and strive. This is also becoming clearer as more and more companies start to openly hire neurodivergent employees while accommodating work expectations and ways of working to meet all people’s needs.
STEMpathy, which is the concept of arming STEM students and employees with a deeper understanding of empathy and humanity also showcases this shift in the corporate environment. While machines can learn algorithms just as the STEM workforce has, empathy remains a skill only humans have and which can enable competitive advantage in the workplace, especially when combined with knowledge, expertise and skills. STEMpathy employees will be in high demand as corporations realize the shift happening in the business world. This will be accelerated as hyper competition continues to prevail while information continues to be commoditized and processes optimized by machines. The STEMpathy workforce will soon be the new life line for many organizations.
So where do we go from here?
Leaders no longer have to choose between rationality, emotions and profits, but need to understand and ACCEPT that only the combination of the three will enable success and create a workplace where people want to work. Leaders have to be mentors and coaches and help provide a sense of shared purpose for all employers. Without a shared purpose, employees build relationships with companies that are purely transactional and this prevents organizations from striving. This also means that the focus on short-term results, although important for profitability, rewards and future growth, needs to be balanced with long-term aspirations as those create and fuel purpose.
At the end of the day, valuing humanity in the workplace is about treating people with respect, personalizing their roles and responsibilities to their skills and ensuring everyone finds a purpose in what they do. Leadership needs to be more and more human.
Who would have thought that the technology advancements that increase productivity in the corporate world would lead organizations to become more human? What a beautiful paradox.