Over the years, technology has revolutionised the world in which we live. We as humans initially created and developed digital technologies to enhance our lives. Some might argue that they have, others might disagree. Regardless of which position you take, one fact is undeniable- technology is changing our lives every second of the day.
Firstly, digitisation and digitalisation are two concepts that are very often confused and misused, and understandably so. Digitisation refers to the transformation of physical source material into a digital format. Digitalisation on the other hand, is a result of digitization and cannot occur without it. Digitalization is more complicated and does not have a single commonly accepted definition. Gartner in the United States describes it as “the use of digital technologies to change a business model and provide new revenue and value-producing opportunities,” which summarises the generally accepted notion of this complicated term.
Having established the difference between the two very similar words (two letter difference), we can now look precisely at how digital technologies are affecting our lives, and specifically the workplace.
The workplace is partially shifting to the home
A study carried out by the European Central Bank (ECB) found that approximately 86% of companies have adopted digital technology with big data (digitization), and 79% with e-commerce (digitalization). The increasingly virtual aspect of conducting business has seen ”work from home” agreements become increasingly viable and popular in recent years. The percentage of employees who sometimes work from home in the EU has risen from 7.7% in 2008 to 9.6% in 2017. With widespread use of connected devices in the modern world, this is now a more feasible option without disrupting workflow. But why exactly would a company agree to a ”work from home” agreement when employees could simply sit back and watch series all day?
Ironically, working from home has proven to increase performance as Best Buy in the USA experienced, with a 35% increase in productivity as a result of its flexible work program. The “Results Only Work Environment” (ROWE) encouraged working from anywhere at any time, doing away from the traditional 40-hour weeks spent in an office. Furthermore, 54% of people say their home is the ideal location for undertaking many important jobs.
From an employee perspective, working from home provides the ability to adjust the work environment to one’s desires and avoid the office distractions that can sometimes grind people’s gears. Workers also save precious time and money spent commuting, leading to lower stress, increased motivational levels and above all, a greener planet for all of us. Global Workforce Analytics estimates that remote workers could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 54 million tons every year if people worked out of the office for only half of the work week.
Currently, people who work from home in the United States save 3.6 million tons of commuting-related greenhouse gasses annually. To replicate those results, it would take the planting of 91 million trees to offset the same level of emissions, according to 2017 data.
Research has found that 86% of people said they preferred to work alone to “hit maximum productivity”, making home-working situations ideal for producing high-level results. This presents an opportunity to hit two birds with one stone by contributing to preserving the planet’s health and optimizing professional productivity from the comfort of your own home.
Besides increased productivity, businesses themselves also enjoy numerous benefits from having people work from home. Often, setting up the appropriate equipment and software for employees can be costly. However, this initial expenditure then generates a series of long-term benefits. For instance, less office space is required, which in turn leads to less facility requirements and expenses over the long term, the possibility of strategically locating employees near important customers to increase face-to-face interaction and responsiveness, and increased staff retention to preserve key expertise and know-how.
The whole ”work from home” concept may seem like a match made in heaven, although this arrangement raises questions concerning work-life balance, with the risk of one coming dominating the other. It has become increasing common for work-related concerns to follow employees outside working hours. The benefits of connected devices keeping all team members up to date has strayed into keeping them excessively updated and making them feel they are constantly at work.
Establishing a clear line of separation between professional and personal life is imperative to successful implementation of a remote working setup. When that line of separation is clearly entrenched and the right balance is struck, a potential cause of anxiety is transformed into a world of boundless opportunities.
Should we keep the office or simply all work from home?
With digital technologies advancing rapidly, are face-to-face interactions necessary? We can all live in a digital space and continue interacting with customers and employees via the connected world, right? Some level of physical interaction is essential for both customers and workers in the office and will continue to be necessary for a number of reasons.
Firstly, it is important that the work environment does not feel like a social network or a virtual reality where business is conducted. The distinction between the two is most easily asserted by a building and its appropriate professional environment. This is fundamental to reminding workers of the professionalism that needs to be maintained at all times and instilling trust among stakeholders to uphold a good brand image. The physical office space also brings many subconscious benefits, which support a professional demeanour in key decision-making and everyday operations.
Secondly, certain business functions cannot be transferred to the digital space. For example, contract negotiation with external parties requires face-to-face interaction to successfully utilise emotional intelligence and retain a truly personal relationship with customers.
Internal collaboration is another example of why the bricks-and-mortar component cements a business together. It ensures strong coordination, a company culture and even the daily routine of getting out of your pyjamas and into the working mentality.
It is important to note that not everyone will embrace the digital trend. Some will still cherish entering their office and sitting at their desk to get down to business. Experts with years of experience need to be retained and a corner office or daily coffee deliveries may be the non-financial benefits that keep them with the company. Take the office away and you are essentially removing certain people, which no amount of money can compensate.
Artificial intelligence vs. humans
The belief that artificial intelligence (AI) and robots are replacing humans has been gaining ground for some time now. AI is undoubtedly on the rise around the world, with Gartner calculating that “global business value derived from artificial intelligence is projected to total $1.2 trillion in 2018, an increase of 70 percent from 2017.” Furthermore, the AI market is projected to become a $190 billion industry by 2025, making AI an inevitability now and in the future.
The most evident application of AI is in the automation of tasks across a number of industries that are embracing the digital transition. Interpretation and application of data is now carried out by computers with little human involvement. Another aspect in which AI has a strong presence is repetitive tasks that do not require a high skill level. In some cases, it has therefore become more efficient and cost-effective to simply use robots and embrace the AI culture.
This does not mean that robots will replace humans, but instead relieve humans of boring tasks and give them more freedom and creativity to engage in more exciting pursuits. AI should be considered as an assistant and not the enemy. Embracing AI brings clear benefits, such as increased employee working capacity and capabilities. The opportunity to seize these advantages is already here, with the share of jobs requiring AI skills having grown 4.5 times since 2013.
AI has actually been with us for longer than we think, we just haven’t been aware of it. One of the more interesting AI facts is that only 33% of people think that they use technology that features artificial intelligence. The actual number is, shockingly, much higher – 77% actually use an AI-powered services making the adoption of AI in work processes a natural and incremental step for humans.
Robots undoubtedly have capabilities beyond those of mankind, but the same can be said of humans compared with robots. AI does not understand irrational thoughts and will not provide the emotional compassion required by humans. People seek validation and justification for their feelings in troubling times and robots cannot provide this necessary human element. Additionally, humans will always prefer to interact with humans. AI will never be able to understand the nuanced details of a situation and, regardless of how much AI development progresses, robots will not edge humans out of the workplace entirely.
The dichotomy of ”AI vs. humans” should therefore actually be a partnership of “AI with humans”. From the smartphones we all interact with on a daily basis, AI is a part of our livelihood and enhances our experiences on a daily basis. We simply need to adopt the same mind-set to incorporate the AI culture into business practices, and then many opportunities and possibilities will arise and become attainable.
Digital technologies have become a prerequisite for businesses today
With the global public cloud computing market set to reach $258 billion in 2019 and AI set to boost profitability by 38% and generate $14 trillion of additional revenue by 2035, adopting and embracing digital technologies is without question paramount for any competitive business. Understandably there are certain fears regarding an increasingly digital space, yet the benefits and possibilities that can be achieved are enormous. The reality is that digital tech is no longer a luxury, but a necessity in today’s world. A cloud-based storage system is currently utilized by 90% of companies in one form or another, allowing for data access anytime, anywhere.
The technological changes across all industries underline the benefits of “life-long learning” and are empowering humans to exert an immense influence over the world. Helping and preparing corporates and individuals for the digital era that is already shaping the world in which we live, will lay the foundation for a prosperous future for us all.