It’s not often we realise in the moment that we’re living through real transformation.
But the past two years have been so incredibly unprecedented that I think we’re all aware of it right now. Existing digital transformation, paired with the fallout of the pandemic, means change is taking place on a scale we’ve perhaps never seen before.
So what is the long-term impact of this change going to be? What does the future look like? And how is work changing to meet it?
To find out, I recently spoke with experts from a range of different industries: Ulrika Biesèrt, Global People and Culture Manager at Ingka Group; Hendrik Witt, Chief Product Officer at TeamViewer; and Kirstie Mackey OBE, Managing Director, Citizenship & Consumer Affairs at Barclays UK.
Here’s what I discovered.
AI is a friend, not a foe
My first finding? New technologies will play a crucial part in this new world of work, and AI is no exception.
According to Ulrika Biesèrt, Global People and Culture Manager at Ingka Group, COVID has been an essential part of entrenching and normalising this change.
“Before COVID, I felt more resistance [to technologies like AI]. COVID has helped us rapidly make a change.”
At ServiceNow, we work with companies every single day, providing the tools and technologies they need to transform – including AI.
One of the most common use cases of AI we see is taking manual, repetitive tasks that employees have to do today – and automating them. That means not only is the task achieved more quickly, but employees are able to focus on more meaningful tasks elsewhere.
Banks offer an excelling example: whether it’s managing payments, or effectuating direct debit refunds, it would traditionally take hours to copy paste data from one system to another manually. Now, it can be done in under 30 seconds. Agents are much more satisfied, and customers get much better service.
I’m inclined to agree with Hendrik Witt, Chief Product Officer at TeamViewer, when he says that “…AI is now not a threat – it’s a support function.”
Adopting a flexible, employee-first approach
Our second topic of discussion was how to build the right approach to work in this new era.
The pandemic has had its highs and its lows. We may have found ways to get by in difficult times, but there’s been a real strain on many of us in our day to day lives.
Ulrike asserted that “The main learning [of the pandemic] is the power of culture and values” – that is, believing in people, and giving them what they need to do their best work, personally and professionally.
There’s a lot of truth in this. And we can’t understand what that is unless we go to employees themselves.
Many of us are in no particular hurry to get back to the full face-to-face office working. But it’s all-too-easy for us to fall into the trap of thinking that remote-only is good all of the time.
Increasingly, however, many are finding that working face-to-face is still invaluable in some situations. Just a few months ago, I met a few colleagues in the office for the first time in a long while, and, sitting around a whiteboard, we successfully solved a range of pernicious problems that had plagued us for some time while working remotely.
The answer, then, is to bottle the efficiencies we’ve all gained from the experience of remote working and blend it with just the right amount of face to face.
That amount will differ from person to person and team to team – but the more we can embrace truly hybrid work and give teams a choice as to how they interpret what hybrid means to them, that’s the future.
How do we make all jobs better?
Of course, underpinning all of these issues is one central concern: how do we make all jobs, well, better?
Part of this is ensuring digital transformation benefits everyone, not just small demographics, or those already in work.
According to Kirstie Mackey OBE, Managing Director, Citizenship & Consumer Affairs at Barclays UK, “There’s a need to reimagine roles. Hybrid work is opening more opportunities for people to get involved in roles they couldn’t before.”
Ultimately, that means getting the right talent pipeline is key – training new workers, but also making existing ones more comfortable. Kirstie went on to explain how we do that, too.
“It’s really important to make sure all voices are heard, and we put the right tools in place for colleagues to do that… [as well as] make sure [employees] build collaborative and trusted relationships across the business, so [they] feel confident to speak up.”
In my view, it’s also about having the right programmes in place, whether it’s shaping education so school leavers and graduates have the right skills for the future, creating new pathways to employment for those left behind by conventional education, or reskilling for those looking for a change.
ServiceNow’s NextGen Professionals Programme is just one example of how we do this. Part of the programme focuses on ensuring that universities offer the right kinds of skills to employees of the future. Elsewhere, our Youth Development Programme focuses on creating apprenticeships to train young people outside of university with the right skills they need to succeed. And our lifelong learning programme is aimed at adults looking to get back into work, or start a different career, whether it’s mothers coming back from maternity leave, or veterans leaving the Armed Forces.
At the end of the day, building an equal, diverse, and inclusive workforce is an essential pillar for any business: the more we can bring different types of workers in to address the skills gap, the more we can make our workplaces truly diverse – and unlock the value that these different insights and lived experiences can bring to our business.