What are the 3 critical success factors in the workplace of the future?

Engagement, understanding the difference between technology and digital environments and the link between technology and wellness are three critical success factors in the workplace of the future.

There is little doubt that 2018 will be remembered as a year of seismic change for HR; a reawakening so to speak, of the importance of humans in the milieu of technology excitement in the workplace of the future. “Engagement” certainly topped the list of critical discussions with a lot of exciting work from HR professionals to attract and maximise the value of people in the workplace.

But engagement is not the only critical success factor for an effective future workplace. In a recent spot-survey of 65 Australian and New Zealand clients, 92 per cent were measuring their engagement levels to some degree, which supports the peak interest in this field. However, in the same survey, while 100 per cent of the respondents indicated they had started their ‘digital workplace’ journey, there was significant misunderstanding of this term, and in the third question, relating to how well they understood the link between technology and wellness, a low 3 per cent claimed to fully entrenched understanding of it.

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In the graphic below, we generally understand the connection between wellness and people (human), but less so with respect to technology and the environment.

Connection between Human, Technology and Environment

Technology enablement is not digital enablement

Why is this differentiation so important? It relates to the underlying objective of introducing technology into our environments to ultimately improve human productivity. If you look at Australia’s (and many other countries) labour productivity stats, we have been on a downward trend since 2012.

labour productivity Australia 2010 - 2019

At the same time our actual hours worked is increasing. This seems at odds with the reasons we introduce new technologies into our organisations.

actual hours worked

Adding technology to improve an existing process only addresses ‘How’ an employee executes a task. It may be a funky new way of doing it with a great looking app, but it neglects to ask the important digital enablement question of “Why you are doing it?”. Our objective with digital enablement is not to throw more technology at people, but rather to enable people to do more with technology.

Technology’s link to wellness

This lack of differentiation between technology and digital environments is why we still see signs of Josh Bersin’s overwhelmed employee in our workplaces. We asked our snap-survey clients to rank their major concerns with respect to having overwhelmed and unwell employees. There was a dominant first-place vote for ongoing workplace and activity complexity. In many cases it’s not because there is no underlying technology, but rather the technology is being used ineffectively.

In 2017 AON Hewitt issued a report on Global Employee Engagement trends. On average only 24 per cent of employees were ‘highly engaged’ – meaning 76 per cent of employees are not fully engaged. This number changed insignificantly in 2018. The message is clear, if we want to create a step-change in overall engagement levels we must look beyond the human angle and take a broader look at our environments and underlying technology use. Jacques Ellul used the somewhat distasteful term “technology concentration camps” – urging us not to create environments which are “perfectly rational, but dreadfully unliveable”.

It has never been more exciting to be in HR, we have a significant role to play in maximising the value of people in our organisations and influencing how this happens in the future workplace. We must however drive a broader agenda which includes appropriate technology use and its impact on employee wellness.

3 critical success factors in the workplace of the future

  • Three critical success factors for your workplace of the future are engagement, understanding the difference between technology and digital environments and the link between technology and wellness.

  • There is a significant difference between creating a technically enabled environment and a digital environment. The former is about software, the latter is about empowerment to do more with technology.

  • As humans we are at our happiest when we can be irrational, make mistakes, share emotions, be spontaneous, indulge in passions, seek out the mysterious and have faith. Technology needs to fit the human model.

This article was written by Presence of IT’s Rob Scott as part of our Workplace of the Future series, and initially appeared in Inside HR.