The world of work has been changed in countless ways over the last few decades—the acknowledgement of the corporate world’s lack of diversity, the arrival of the millennials, the advent of company wellness programs and four-day workweeks and sabbaticals. But perhaps nothing about the world’s workplaces has evolved faster than the technology that can be found within them.
In March 2020, it was enough for most companies just to make sure their suddenly homebound workers had access to laptops and decent wifi. Then, as the work-from-home revolution dragged on, you saw some employees layer in other kinds of technology—ring lights, podcast-style microphones, external cameras.
IT departments are largely back to focusing on tech at the office, but not in the same way as before, according to Stephanie Hallford, a VP at Intel and a panelist at a recent Quartz at Work (from anywhere) workshop on workplace technology.
“In the office setting,” Hallford said, “companies are saying, ‘Ok, how do I create a means for the person online and the four of us in the room to have a balanced environment?’”
Hallford and others already are looking ahead to the metaverse and the promise it holds for converting telepresence (which is what you have when everyone is on a video call) into co-presence (which is when it feels like everyone is actually in the same room with you, even if they’re logging in from miles apart).
“The reality of that is still relatively far away, simply because of connectivity and [the fact that] no one owns the entire end-to-end process,” Hallford said.
Fair enough. Of course, the idea that businesses would be capable of supporting widespread remote work once seemed very far away as well.
But back to the present...
Hallford and the other panelists at our event offered several ideas about how tech can be better utilized in workplaces today. For example:
- Making connections between employees. Think beyond Zoom happy hours.
- Coaching. Apps make it easy to democratize a perk previously reserved for the c-suite.
- Personalizing learning and development. AI makes it easier.
- Removing bias from performance assessments. There are tools for that.
- Assessing job candidates for attributes like grit, conscientiousness, and good interpersonal skills. New technology can uncover what a traditional resume can’t.
- Determining, with the help of machine learning, the optimal traits or experiences for success in specific roles. Some big employers are already doing this.
What else did we learn from our panel of workplace tech experts?
Sophie Ruddock, a VP at the tech apprenticeships platform Multiverse, cited consulting work done with a construction company where the sales team and engineers were losing hours each week doing manual tasks that were ripe for automation. Rather than centralizing the work with IT, everyone on the sales and engineering team got trained in using technology that made their jobs less tedious.
Ruddock argues that this is as advantageous to workers as it is to the company: “You start to spread the competency, you start to spread the capabilities, across the organization so that everyone is gearing up for the future of work.”
Dani Johnson, a co-founder of the people-management consultancy RedThread Research, says it’s vital for managers to be explicit about the ways in which different systems are expected to be used by employees. In that vein, Quartz at Work editor Anna Oakes advises, if you’re using tracking technology to keep tabs on employees, make sure they know it, and explain why it’s important. It might even turn into an opportunity to underscore your mission.
Figure out how it can be helpful today, and make use of it, but understand that newer innovations could turn it obsolete quickly.
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