Workplace technologies have been evolving over many years and their particular usefulness at the moment is evident in every news bulletin. Both the communication tools that we rely on and the network infrastructure that supports them have, so far, proved remarkably resilient in a global crisis.
It is becoming clear that many of us are unlikely to return to a world of wasteful commuting between homes and expensive offices, at least on a regular basis. The boundaries between work and home are being challenged and we have a unique opportunity to bring about lasting change in both our professional and personal lives. The genie is out of the bottle.
It can be tempting to view the prospect of significant change as a threat to many jobs and the traditional structures of employment that support them. Technology is becoming increasingly central to the future of work, but the paradox is that ‘human’ skills have never been more important. After all, ‘technologies’ in themselves are meaningless; they are created and shaped by people.
For example, applications of artificial intelligence (AI) may well lead to the loss of many jobs, but also add value to existing roles and create entirely new ones. This is an established pattern that we have seen with the development of steam power, electricity, the combustion engine and the computer.
The challenge for all of us is to focus change in ways that will enhance rather than damage our world. For example, insights from AI could help businesses to identify and reward high performers, achieve inclusion and diversity goals, or share the learning from successful projects across the business. This could lead to a supportive working environment with an engaged, motivated workforce which attracts others to work there. Alternatively, these technologies could be used for increased surveillance and control, with a very different impact on morale.
What does all this mean for ourselves as professionals living and working in this increasingly digital world? Skills in more demand include resilience, communication, flexibility, creativity, and collaboration; both on and offline. To maximise our potential, we need to develop our digital literacies, nurture our networks and embrace the principles of lifelong learning.
Lisa Harris is associate professor, director of digital learning at the University of Exeter Business School