So far we’ve seen three industrial revolutions; the first powered by the steam engine, the second by electricity, and the third by digital computing.
Now, we’re staring out over the next impending industrial revolution thanks to the emergence of smart machines, robots, and other powerful technologies.
Each revolution has dramatically shaken up the world of work, and we can expect nothing less from the next one. In fact, you could say we’re already well into the fourth revolution, with many people around the world acclimatising quickly to a hybrid workplace that includes both humans and intelligent machines.
In a survey by Pega and Marketforce, 88% of respondents said they would be more than happy working alongside what they consider “robots”, although they’d rather not be managed by them.
So, with fast approaching changes on the horizon, what can we expect the working world to look like in the years to come?
1. Machine-Led Workforce?
Could those sci-fi films showing robots taking over the world be our future?
The short answer is no. Well, not yet, anyway.
At the moment we’re easing into the smart machine landscape with the likes of AI-powered virtual assistants like Alexa and Siri, but automation is quickly becoming a huge part of daily life.
And, for businesses, the ROI on automation and machine-learning technologies is too compelling to ignore.
In fact, a study by the London School of Economics found that this kind of technology could deliver a potential ROI of up to 200%. Many businesses out there are already tapping into robotic process automation (RPA), a computer software that can take existing processes in a business – like claims processing or customer support – and automate them.
Companies that aren’t already using RPA software are looking to join the bandwagon. Deloitte found that only 9% of organisations have implemented RPA so far, but a whopping 74% are planning to look into it over the course of the next year.
It doesn’t take long for the software to understand the processes, and then it can take over running them. This eases the pressure on employees and frees up their time so they can focus on more humanistic tasks and creative endeavours.
Will Machines Take Over?
Controversial headlines like this one would have you believe that robots are clawing jobs out of innocent hands, but this is far from the truth.
In fact, the integration of AI and automation will be far more nuanced than a Hollywood robot takeover, and it has the potential to have a hugely positive impact on the way we work.
Remember: there are millions of jobs that rely on emotional intelligence, human judgement, and cultural understanding that smart machines will never be able to replace.
2. Goodbye Middle Management ?
The Pega and Marketforce study shows that 72% of people think the increase in AI and robotics in the workplace could drastically reduce the need for middle managers. While this isn’t the best news for those in middle management roles, it might mean the workers in roles below them can blossom and flex their creativity more.
78% of respondents believe that, with the help of AI technologies and machine learning, junior level employees will be able to make informed decisions, creating a flatter hierarchy in the workplace.
Optimization and Collaboration
While AI might put an end to middle management, it’ll bring about new opportunities for employees at all levels.
Limiting it to scheduling and quality control would be a massive waste of its capabilities, which is why 91% of respondents in the Pega and Marketforce survey claimed that the emergence of increasingly advanced analytics will bring about new opportunities for collaboration between teams and other organisations.
3. The Rise of Remote Workers
Flexible working has never been more fashionable.
Working hours aren’t as rigid as they used to be, and a fast-growing number of people are turning to the gig economy to pick up work rather than taking on full-time roles.
This gives them far more flexibility in the way they work, and it means companies can hire top talent as and when they need it rather than investing in workers around the clock.
There are perks for customers, too.
Flexible working patterns mean businesses can provide a 24/7 service and create a timely customer experience, whether someone wants to manage their finances in the dead of night or get their groceries delivered right after a night shift.
We can already see the growth in the gig economy (which is essentially when people are hired for specific projects instead of being hired as permanent employees). In fact, it’s thought that the independent workforce accounts for 30% of the working age population in the US and Europe – and this is set to rise over the next decade.
4. Customer Centric Landscape
More and more businesses are aligning the way they run things with the growing needs of their increasingly busy customers.
Today, people want things and they want them now and, with the sheer amount of new businesses popping up every day, organisations are having to give their customers exactly what they want – or lose them.
Over the past few years, millions of companies have set about trying to copy the customer-centric solutions of big-name brands like Amazon (which has self-proclaimed itself as customer obsessed). We’re seeing more and more processes and systems emerging that help put the customer first, like personalisation and seamless funnels that tap into customer wants at every step of the buying cycle.
Technology will play a huge part in this, too, by making sure that every employee (regardless of whether they’re a permanent worker or a part of the gig economy) understands the importance of unrivalled customer service and is given in-the-moment tips on how to deliver a memorable experience.
In the future, we might see companies rated more and more on their customer engagement levels. The Pega and Marketforce survey showed that 91% of respondents think that customer feedback plays an integral role in career progression, and they believe that engagement tools and technologies will become an influential factor in whether a company is worth working for.
Looking Forward to the Future Workplace
First and foremost, we can predict that we’ll be waving goodbye to repetitive tasks which will be picked up by automation and emerging technologies. This means there will be more room for challenging and varied work which relies on the creativity, judgement, and emotional capabilities of human beings.
This will tie into the rising need for a brilliant customer experience. Interactions with customers will be made easier with advanced algorithms, but the smooth transition to AI tools and technologies will benefit everyone involved. When frontline staff are able to identify tasks that can be handed over to a machine, they can start freeing up the time of their workers for more innovative and important tasks.
The future workplace looks bright, flexible, and responsive. We may well be saying goodbye to middle management, but we’ll start to see activity and responsibilities spread out amongst other team members, including junior staff, with the help of AI-powered solutions.