Digital proficiency will be essential in the future workplace

The future of work will be based on highly intelligent software tools, giving workers access to relevant information in real time and therefore improving their ability to make decisions faster than ever. Because of all this, The Huffington Post reports, digital proficiency will become an essential skill for the future office worker.

The publication spoke to Alan Lepofsky, vice president of Constellation Research, for his thoughts and predictions on the future of work.

With a background in next-generation collaboration techniques, enterprise social media and disruptive workplace technologies, Lepofsky feels that despite new communication platforms and tools, "the future of work is still functionally job-based."

This means that rather than being an integral part of the worker's day, tools and collaboration software will be 'supporting structures' that help people get on with what they need to - without even realising they are there.

The two technologies that Lepofsky feels have really changed the way we work in recent years are cloud computing and mobile. He feels that mobile has made the greatest impact so far - and that doesn't just include phones and tablets, as "mobile is the ability to work anywhere, anytime, not tethered to your desk," he explained.

He foresees that this trend will continue advancing in the years to come, to the point where "we can look at information on anything":

"In the future information will be projected onto your kitchen counter-tops [...] Imagine three, five, 10 years from now whenever it happens to be, where the physical structure of the device disappears [...] whether it is augmented reality information, or our walls and surfaces and curved objects, dashboards in our cars -- all of these things are going to become screens for information."

Besides what people might think, the adoption of digital technology has less to do with age and more to do proficiency, Lepfsky explains; and proficiency falls into two areas of concern: skill level with technology and comfort level with technology. Accessibility to useful information will also play a major role in enhancing digital proficiency among staff.

It will also be important for business leaders to actively demonstrate the benefits of digital proficiency and aim for 100% adoption of collaboration technology.

"There's no happy medium," said Lepofsky. "For something to be successful you need 100% adoption [...] It has to be the way that that process is done, not an optional way."

Employee benefits of the future

From egg freezing to charging your electric car for free, workers of the future will be granted a host of strange new benefits by their employers, according to a new study reported on the Employee Benefits website.

The Society of Human Resources Managers (SHRM) recently released its '2016 Employee Benefits' report, which looks at how workplace benefits have changed in the US over the past five years, and offers predictions for how they are likely to progress.

Crucially, the study found that employee wellbeing is becoming an increasingly important issue for most companies; in fact, the number of US employers offering a general wellness program has risen from 58% in 2008 to 70% this year.

Researchers put this trend down to growing healthcare costs, which means that employers are focusing on preventative measures to improve the health of their workforce. A RAND Corporation study found, for example, that each dollar invested in wellbeing provides an ROI of $1.50 - sometimes more, if the company targets chronic diseases.

Wearable technology - such as fitness bands - and organized fitness contests are two of the more bizarre benefits relating to health and wellness. The report found that fitness bands or activity trackers had already gained 13% employer participation, and fitness challenges had achieved 34%.

There are other quirkier benefits that are beginning to emerge as a result of improving technology and changing work patterns, some of which are due to become more popular in the years to come. According to the report, these include: electric vehicle charging; free shuttles to and from work; non-medical egg freezing; paid surrogacy leave; unlimited vacation policies; student loan repayments; and even free haircuts carried out on site.

Evren Esen, the SHRM's director of survey programs, predicts that general wellness programs will continue growing in popularity through 2016 and beyond, as companies compete to attract and retain the best talent - talent that is interested in more than just pay.

"Employers will realize that in order to be competitive, they will need to offer wellness programs [...] I think we could get close to 100% of organizations having wellness programs," she explained.

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Is On-Demand Economy The Future of Work?

The rise of on-demand companies such as Uber, Lyft , Instacart , AirBnB – to name a few, no doubt, is bridging the gap between demand and supply, creating customer’s delight  and disrupting the incumbents with new technology applications but at the same time making a huge dent on the world of work and employment.

Every time, there is a discussion or debate on jobs automation and Robots replacing our jobs, the one argument that optimists provide is – Not to worry - we will have plenty of jobs supported by the on-demand aka ‘Gig’ economy.  I really find this argument a bit unsettling. I don’t think this gig economy is for everybody. Everybody may not be comfortable lending their garage or home to a stranger through Airbnb or using their car to drive strangers from point A to point B and secondly, these are not well paying jobs. If you have young kids and you are in your mid 30s – now starting to worry about saving for retirement and kid’s education, you know the money earned from such ‘gigs ‘won’t take you much far.

But the success of Uber like platforms proves that it works for some or most people. So, I started thinking on some of the merits and ills of the on-demand economy – is it really worth the hype? Will this on-demand economy convert into something big to accommodate more workers and create shared wealth? I outlined some of my thoughts here but would love to hear from you on what you think.

         i. Worker flexibility: Work anytime, any day, part-time, full-time. Infact, many people like the flexibility so that they can do multiple jobs.  But this flexibility can become an inconvenience to the company at times. The contractor may not be available/may not want to work when the company needs them.

       ii. Operational agility:The platform companies, most of the times, bear no operational costs / over-heads which is advantageous for the firms as it creates healthy profits, but since the company bears no responsibility of operations, all the costs are borne by the contractors/ workers ( to abide by the guidelines). E.g. Uber drivers have to spend on their own to keep their cars clean, upgrade their vehicles, and get required inspections.

      iii. Business Model: It’s a lucrative business model for start-ups – creating new technology applications or licensing the IP and thus a low entry barrier if one wants to start a services company but not equally true for workers. One cannot make a great living out of being solely an on-demand economy worker. Infact, according to the recent study conducted by Stanford University graduate students and a Y Combinator alumnus on the on-demand economy workers, the average hourly wage is $18 an hour, with Ride-sharing drivers and Airbnb hosts making the most at $25 an hour.

     iv. Customer Experience: Of course, ride sharing and renting an apartment has economical advantages for the customers, but this could lead to safety, security and privacy issues. Though the companies make every effort to do thorough due diligence of its participants but in the absence of updated regulations, policies and active monitoring, the system could be subject to abuse. The absence of employer-employee relationship and brand loyalty could contribute to its vulnerability. However, companies have started realizing the importance of this key relationship, training, quality and active supervision and have started reclassifying some of their contractors as employees. The latest examples being Instacart and Shyp.

       v. Growth: Working as a freelance / contractor will not provide skills and talent based brand differentiation to the companies. A worker can work for Uber the first half and Lyft the second half of the day. In the short run this is not an issue, but in the long run, companies will lose out on worker’s creativity, on-the job learning, quality of work, translating customer’s voice and finally lack of skills up-gradation for the next growth phase for its own existence.

The fact is the on-demand economy and its jobs are not going away. In-fact these are going to become more prevalent and co-exist – may be - as a third category of jobs and workers. So, the fundamental questions we all need to address are - Would this on-demand economy provide adequate safety net for its workers? Would it motivate our kids to earn higher education and upgrade their skills? Would it inspire us to create something extraordinary? Would it provide a sense of purpose as a member of society? Would it create shared prosperity and wealth in the society or would it increase the already huge divide between Haves and Have-nots? Would it provide enough jobs in the Robotic world, since now we have started talking about Uber driverless cars as well.

We all need to think and make sure that the next era of economy and work, works for everyone for collective good of society and our nation.