Four Ways Tech Can Unleash the Power of Your Workforce

We often use the word Power to describe an innovation. Part of its power lies in its novelty — so when the newness fades so does our focus on something’s power. We’ve been focusing on tech for a good reason: Work’s transformation to digital is the essence of powerful. But our work depends on people: their ability to solve problems and innovate, to create, and to think about new tools we haven’t even heard of yet. A Harvard study found that human brains only stay focused on the present for about 53 percent of the time. So, let’s flip the script in the world of work and look at how to best leverage tech to unleash the brainpower of our people.

Why now? We’ve already entered what Deloitte calls “the big shift” and are about to transform again as a wave of AI and robotics hits. We’re going to need to fully understand the value of human capital — which we may start calling NI, as in natural intelligence. To do that, we’ve got to let free up some human bandwidth. Here are four suggestions for using tech to enable your people to use their brains:

Use tech to disconnect from tech.

It’s not counterintuitive: Ever-connected, ever-social Millennials, and Generation Z may need a cool app to reveal the power of disconnecting. I don’t agree that we all have screen-induced ADD or a shorter attention span than a goldfish. But more concentration time benefits everyone.

The new generations of project management and communicating tools have new shut-it-off options to stop push notifications for designated blocks of time, such as  Basecamp 3’s “Work Can Wait” and Slack’s “do not disturb” modes. Older workers may do a facepalm over the irony of using tech to create tech-free time. But disconnection is the new novelty now — it’s a powerful state of mind.

Use tech to tend the brain.

Some millennials prefer to be seamlessly tethered, even if the fitness tracker may turn out to be a time bomb. But exercise and going outdoors has proven benefits for cognition and productivity.

Employers can leverage the tech-body connection into fitness and wellness campaigns — using fitness trackers, mobile apps, or workplace rewards and recognition programs to catalyze lunch-hour yoga or team hikes. It may seem like a trivial pursuit to set up a powerwalk contest, but playing has been proven to be a potent mind-cleanser.

Use tech to let people go home.

We’re clearly over work/life balance as a new concept. The idea of either/or has completely lost its power. The new ideal is work/life integration — and tech is responsible. But this isn’t just a fad. It’s actually better for us than trying to balance between the two, according to research first published in the journal Human Relations and later reported in the Harvard Business Review. Of 600 employees, those with fewer boundaries between work and life maintained a higher level of overall job performance.

So let your people take that personal call, or work from home. Add remote conferencing or external access to your company intranet, and think about how to leverage any kind of performance and productivity tools to help everyone stay on track, no matter where they are. Get everyone in the habit of checking the workflow calendars frequently — in this case, push notifications are everybody’s new (and powerful) BFF.

Use tech to celebrate what tech is not.

Cognitive and AI is both exciting and scary when we start having robot-emotion fantasies. But for now, we’re still distinct in our humanity, in our behaviors, in our soft skills. Deloitte UK research looked at hundreds of job profiles and identified 25 critical “human skills” for the machine age. Social skills and cognitive abilities will become more and more important as technology evolves.

These skills are essentially human. So far, they can’t be automated. As automation enters the workplace, we need to find human talent using tools that help us better discern human qualities. Given the talent crunch, the intense pressure on recruiters, and the nature of work now, that means insightful pre-employment testing that doesn’t just check off a skills list, but can measure empathy, listening, communication, teamwork, prioritization, social perceptiveness. These tests don’t replace an interview. But they can be used to glean accurate profiles and measurements.

As our work and our lives become increasingly combined, and as work continues to transform — from centralized headquarters to a constellation of teams, from local to global, from brick and mortar to virtual — we have an incredible opportunity to re-connect with our own humanity. Different isn’t always better, but if we harness the tech that’s changing us, it will be.

Photo Credit: itwasharderbefore Flickr via Compfight cc

This article was first published on FOW Media.

Workforce 2020: Oxford Economics’ Shows The Future’s Not So Scary After All

I’ve been waiting for this study to go public in order to talk about it, and it hasn’t been easy. Workforce 2020 is a global survey on the future of the workplace — and the workforce — conducted by Oxford Economics for SAP. In the second quarter of 2014, OE surveyed more than 2,700 executives and 2,700 employees from 27 countries on a wide range of subjects, everything from talent and leadership development to technology and data.

What are we most concerned with going forward? What are our strengths, and what are our weaknesses? The SAP study confirms that among the top trends having an impact of on workforce strategy:

• Number one is the tide of millennials entering the workforce

• Number two is the globalization of labor supply

• Number three is the difficulty in recruiting workers with base level skills.

The findings are meant to help us prepare for the nature of the 2020 workforce, which will be more global, more diverse, filled with more millennials, and more reliant on tools like analytics and cloud-based technology. Nothing really new, though OE’s research shows key gaps between those distinctions and just what we’re doing to adapt to them: only a third (34%) of the 2,700 executives surveyed think they’re making progress in creating a workforce that will meet future business goals.

But what I find more interesting is a gap that’s more like a non-gap: the assumed gulf between the attitudes and values of the millennials versus the nonmillennials. As it turns out, GenY is generally not all that different in what they value in work.

The gist of our millennial misunderstanding is that we assume that, as keyed in and digitally fluent as they are, millennials don’t necessarily, well, care the way you might think. But as the OE suvey shows, that’s not entirely the case. The numbers challenge our assumptions on millennial workplace values.

When millennials and nonmillenials were asked what was important to them in work:

• 20% of both cited making a positive difference in the world.

• 68% of millennials compared to 64% of nonmillenials cited compensation as important.

•  29% of millenials and 31% of nonmillennials cited a work-life balance (and I’d argue that a two percent difference may simply be a natural correlation to one’s perspective changing with time, versus some kind of behavioral correlation to a generation who texts first, asks later).

• 32% of millennials and 30% of nonmillennials listed meeting their income goals as important.

• And meaningful work was cited as important by 14% of millennials compared 18% of nonmillennials. (Again, is that simply the nature of age talking, not instagram? When you were still wet behind the ears, did you truly understand what meaningful work might be?)

The biggest distinction — all of four percentage points — is over compensation and meaningful work. Who wants to get left out of this equation? I would hope nobody. But in terms of perspective and basic core values, these findings show there is far less of a difference that some people may have assumed. Considering that the influx of millennials coming into the workforce is the Number One concern in business today, that’s just a bit reassuring. And considering their ease with tech and data; their comfort with mobile and their savvy with social media — skills which are seeing tremendous growth in the workforce, particularly over the next three years. I think we’re in good hands. And I think this should be noted for every single generation. Innovate or simply be left behind. The time is now.

photo credit: *katz via photopin cc