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Technology’s Impact on the Workforce

Four Takeaways from Our November 2017 Phoenix Roundtable

Our society, and the way we interact within it, is in a state of transformation. Technology, globalization, changing demographics, and new social values are reshaping interpersonal expectations. More frequently, leaders are asking “How do these changing expectations manifest in the workplace?”

They’ve seen an impact on the talent landscape, a disruption in traditional business models, and radically different means of interacting with colleagues. To help understand how organizations are coping, Strong-Bridge Envision hosted a leadership roundtable about Technology’s Impact on the Workforce.

Leaders from a variety of companies and industries discussed their concerns and experiences, and below are the highlights of their conversation. Above all, it was clear that we are in the midst of change in where, when, and how work gets done.

1. “Culture is going viral.”

Flexible schedules and virtual working practices valued by the modern workforce are challenging the traditional office environment. Keeping and attracting talent while maintaining a collaborative, relationship-based culture can seem at odds. Many leaders at the roundtable felt a loss of control over their own culture. With any number of employees working remotely at a given time, top-down communication and culture-setting simply don’t have the impact they used to. The dynamics of informal collaboration and corporate culture are shifting as water cooler culture ebbs in impact.

To cope with this, many companies are using technological co-working tools like Slack to facilitate collaboration with varying degrees of success. Others have tried to facilitate face-to-face interaction through “core hours” – mandatory in-office times designated to foster in-person collaboration. The new generation of workers is highly-collaborative and team-oriented, meaning with the right implementation of the right tools your culture will not be lost.

2. “Employees are ghosting each other – accidentally.”

Rapidly changing communication technology is shifting the dynamics of organizational communication and spurring the need for new social contracts. A concern shared among participants was a perceived loss of interpersonal skills.

Participants cited the example of missed connections. Communication platforms like texting, IM, Chatter, and Slack are commonly deployed to facilitate quick, low-context communication. These platforms are a great first step to facilitating virtual communication, but it can fail if the right expectations aren’t set for employees. In environments with multiple communication methods, a growing problem is with missed connections as individual workers selectively opt-in to networks. Messages delivered over IM or Slack may not reach a recipient who hasn’t elected to use that platform or has actively opted out. These missed connections create confusion – have messages been received or are they being ignored? Is everyone following the same conversation thread?

In the past it was sufficient to ask if someone was an email person or a phone person. In today’s workforce these questions are much more complex. Leadership is being challenged to rethink the need for training on interpersonal skills in context of evolving communication methods, and be willing to set communication expectations they may not have had to do in the past.

3. “We value learning over experience.”

The modern workforce has become proficient at micro-learning. Looking up how-to videos on YouTube has become a part of everyday life to receive self-directed, just-in-time learning. With changing workforce learning expectations, the challenge organizations now face is how to balance micro-learning with the need for deep subject matter expertise.

By providing more insight, background knowledge, and theory, going deep into a subject area enables the learner to discover, explore, and solve more complex business problems. However, deep learning requires a significant amount of time and therefore doesn’t lend itself to the self-directed nature of micro-learning. Leaders must consider: where does it make sense to go deep? As an organization, is deep expertise being developed where it is needed for the long-term?

This issue is highlighted when facing the problem of retiring Baby Boomers. Organizations are increasingly challenged to capture skills and expertise from these experienced workers to keep knowledge from walking out the door as they reach retirement. Such in-depth knowledge transfer, leaders are realizing, will not just happen on its own. What is the new apprentice model? How can organizations bridge the gap between generations to facilitate better knowledge transfer? Is there an opportunity to implement reverse mentoring with millennials?

4. “There is no start and end to change anymore, it’s just part of what we do.”

Organizational change is not just constant, but accelerating. Organizations are seeing a growing need to treat change management as an embedded competency rather than a skill deployed to address a specific initiative.

The concept of managing organizational change is no longer new. Participants were familiar and well-versed in established change management frameworks. While these organizational change methods and frameworks are used to address the need for adoption across large, well defined initiatives, increasing pace of change is causing disruption.

Organizations are seeing the need to increase the ability to manage change efforts past a few specialists to keep up with the pace of change. There is a drive to embed the right competencies within every individual in the company to be able to manage and adapt to change.

In Summary

The topic of technology and the workforce illustrates the challenges faced by today’s leaders. Shifting workforce demographics are impacting workplace culture through changes in communication and learning styles. Virtual working environments are forcing adaptation to support and maintain corporate cultures that deliver value. Increasing pace and scope of changes is moving past something tied to technology implementations, and is becoming a workforce competency.

Continuing the Conversation

Join our Leading from Strategy to Execution Roundtable in Phoenix on November 7, 2018.