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Workplace 2030

1 July 2016

With the digital age well underway, and increasing talk about automation and artificial intelligence, what does the future of work look like?

It seems that any big company switched on to today’s technological advances has its own innovation hub or, trendier still, a “garage” to explore what digital disruption means for their business and how they can harness change. And it was at Deloitte Digital’s garage in London that 30 business leaders got together to discuss the future of work in the first of a series of CBI Workplace 2030 events.

The focus of this first event was on the impact of the digital age and how businesses can prepare and respond to it in ways which raise productivity and enhance competitiveness.

As Marianne Green, Deloitte’s director of organisation, transformation and talent, pointed out, the growth of digital creates uncertainty as well as opportunity for organisations of all sizes.

Despite the difficulty of predicting how technology is going to evolve, she added, digital isn’t optional for business – leadership in this area is crucial to engage and attract talent. This was identified as the biggest challenge for the employers in the room.

Lynda Gratton, professor of management practice at London Business School, said many staff remained surprisingly attached to traditional corporate structures. But Vernon Everitt, managing director, customers, communication and technology at Transport for London, was adamant: “The old notion of hierarchy has to go.”

TfL focuses on new technology – and data – to deliver the best customer service it can at a time when it’s increasingly under pressure, both in terms of passenger demand and cost. But for Everitt, openness, employee empowerment and collaboration were the only ways to convert ideas into products and services at the necessary speed. 

“Share where your organisation is going, and the shared purpose will bring the organisation together,” he said. “The key role of leaders is to ask the right questions of the right people.”

Default to open

Google has a “default to open” policy. And although Roger De’Ath, the company’s head of business development – digital transformation, recognised this carried some risk, he said that trusting staff and creating “genuine transparency” had led to better decisions and greater accountability throughout the company.

He added that trust, culture and people – rather than technology and funky offices – were the key to creating an innovative environment, which in turn ensured technology was more likely to create jobs than destroy them.

“Future technology will change jobs, not replace them,” said Neil Carberry, CBI’s director for employment, skills and public services.

“Technology gets rid of some tasks, but it also enables and opens up different and more interesting work for people,” agreed Everitt, adding that it was important to remember the human side of a tech-developed workplace – even if that required new skills.

But Green added that people shouldn’t overemphasise the difference between generations’ use of technology. “Everyone is capable,” she said.

“Age stereotyping does not help us understand the complexity of a multi-generational workforce,” added Gratton.

The challenge of change

But Gratton was also surprised by the lack of speed at which firms were changing their practices and adapting to new technology, even in something as simple as offering flexible working.

On a scale of one to five, the audience only scored the UK three in its ability to adapt compared to competitors.

And according to Deloitte, only 32 per cent of people say their CEOs have sufficient digital skills to succeed. Addressing this skills gap at the senior level had to be a priority, said Green as she nodded to the rise of the role of chief digital officer.

“A CDO can help established organisations blend leadership capability with new digital skills,” she explained. She added that they could also help to break down organisational silos, and drive a shift in culture towards an acceptance of failure – something she deemed necessary before a company’s adoption of digital could really take hold.

However businesses respond to the challenge, Carberry urged that managing the transition to the digital workplace had to be at their top of their agendas.