26 January 2016

Humans in a Tech Era – are we really working smarter?

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We’re in 2016 - a fast-paced, constantly achieving era where technology is central to everything we do – from our interactions to work processes, from our hobbies to how we plan next week’s agenda. Much is automated and everything is measured. Our core human interactions are quickly being inundated by the whirlwind of emails, likes, texts and data that consume our days, simply because of the functions that allow instant interaction. 

Translate this to our 21st century workplace, and you would think we would have a relaxed, 3-day work week with much of our work tasks completed with technology’s aid.

Deloitte University Press recently released a report entitled “Simplification of work: The coming revolution” (2015) showing statistics regarding our work trends compiled from various sources:

  • In one day, more than 100 billion emails are exchanged, yet only one in seven is critically important
  • The average employee now spends over one-quarter of the workday reading and answering emails
  • People now check their mobile phones more than 150 times a day
  • 40 percent of workers believe it is not possible to succeed at work, make a good living, and have enough time to contribute to family and community

All things considered, with advanced technologies, surely humankind should be less frantic and be able to achieve more important outcomes in our work days with fewer hours spent working and exchanging emails. Or at least that’s the state of bliss we are all aspiring towards.

Technology has supposedly provided us with the means to achieve more with less, but really- has it improved our quality of life, or is it really driving us to work harder because we’re supposed to be achieving more with the abundance of technological tools?

A recent article on this site expounds on this quandary.  According to the writer, technological advancements have achieved more productivity in our world today than what noted economist John Maynard Keynes predicted in the 1930s. But interestingly, these productivity gains have not translated to less working hours and more relaxed human beings. The article goes so far as to argue that humans should not be working anymore in this day and age, with all the technological advancements available. Yet, we find ourselves being busier, our days more filled with work tasks, and our gadgets never resting.

What does this mean for the workplace in 2016? With interconnectivity and technology taking over, yet with workers feeling more overworked and pressured than ever, how do companies ensure that they sustain a high-performing workforce that is able to work smarter and have more time for life?
The “Simplification of work: The coming revolution” report (Deloitte University Press, 2015) offers these tips for simplifying your workplace, largely inspired by GE’s efforts over the last few years:

  • Make simplification a business and HR priority. Start by creating a team focused on simplifying the work environment. Ask employees about time-wasting and complex processes, and develop a business case to justify redesign.
  • Get email and unproductive meetings under control. Decide on what is important and reduce the number of emails, meetings and conference calls
  • Invest in more integrated, simpler technology. Rather than looking for more features, companies should evaluate software based in part on its ease of use.
  • Implement design thinking and process simplification within HR: HR teams should lead by removing steps and using design thinking to implement “just enough” processes and technology

There is no doubt that there are some work tasks that no machine or automation process can take over, especially in a crisis or large project which require lots of communication, risk management and problem-solving. However, as a rule of thumb, organisations should carefully consider the principles of being lean and agile, and make the simplification of work a priority.

Su grew up dreaming of being a journalist, dodging bullets and gunfire with a camera thrust in front of her reporting from a war zone. Having realised that she is not really as agile as she thought, she has settled for dodging cockroaches in metropolitan Sydney as her adrenaline fix. Su is inquisitive and loves a good challenge, which is why she has chosen to produce conferences at Akolade. In her spare time, Su likes to read, drink green tea, and fantasise about making the world a better place; getting rid of the need for war journalists entirely.

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