First there was water and steam. Then there was electricity. The Third Industrial Revolution introduced electronics and IT. Now the fourth is digital. Each stage has been characterised by its respective disruptive force that shook the foundations of society. This new earthquake moment will be successfully navigated by businesses that focus on long-term strategies instead of short-term distractions.
The key to unlocking successful strategies begins with, not just listening to, but also hearing employees. At the coalface are those same employees who daily run up against the changes brought about by the Fourth Industrial Revolution – and they’re afraid. What happens to their jobs in increasingly automated work styles? When will artificial intelligence (AI) put them out of work? How will they cope with employers who increasingly expect them to be available and online versus their families and rejuvenating personal activities that increasingly tug them away from the office?
Ricoh commissioned research from Quocirca and Coleman-Parkes to find out how employees go about their work today, what they fear from the future, and how they want their employers to help them cope and ultimately succeed.
Today, 39% of South African employees work in small teams with their own individual tasks versus 17% who do the same in large teams – for a total of 56%. However, 19% work in small teams and collaborate on tasks while 11% do so in large teams for a total of 30%. Contrasting this are those few 10% who work independently or in silos. Just 4% today work in virtual teams that collaborate across geographical boundaries. But that’s changing.
In the next year 62% of these same South African employees believe that they will have more work to do and 40% that their roles will include more functions or activities for them to perform. While 29% interpret that and other changes as providing better job security for the future and 28% that they’ll have more opportunities to progress in their careers, 25% or one-quarter, actually perceive less job security.
So how do they want their employers to help them deal with these pressures? A whopping great 61% of employees want technology to help them be better at their jobs and be more productive. 37%, more than one-third, perceive the opportunity to work more flexible hours as both an imperative and a benefit, while a third (33%) want to use technology to collaborate and communicate better with their colleagues.
As a result of that 27% expect they will spend less time in the office. However, 13% of those surveyed think this may be a challenge for them. But just 8% think they’ll spend more time in the office and less being mobile. One-quarter want to work more on individual tasks and 16% in larger teams. The belief that change is coming is almost universal; only 7% of employees think they won’t see any significant change in their work style in the next year.
So the nine headline ways employees specifically want their companies to help cope with these myriad complexities:
1. Improve employee productivity through collaboration technologies – 44%
2. Improve customer communications – 43%
3. Improve communication with employees around business plans – 41%
4. Attract more talent – 38%
5. Use digital technologies and data to streamline and simplify business processes – 36%
6. Invest in devices to improve mobile working – 35%
7. Invest more in R&D – 35%
8. Create new and differentiated products and services to grow revenue – 34%
9. Introduce digital technologies and data to make more informed business decisions – 30%
In addition, employees also seek out several attributes from their employers. Asked what they would find most attractive in new employers should they switch, respondents put businesses with solid financial backing first at 39%, followed by job security a close second at 38%, larger businesses at 35%, companies that use technology to aid productivity fourth at 35%, and lastly businesses with more international focus from 29% of respondents.
Business leaders challenged to deal with these trials must devise clear strategies. Fortunately, employees are quite clear about what they’re looking for and, being in the trenches, are best positioned to divulge the crucial issues they face and, more importantly, how to rise above them.
Lauren Timmer-Somer is the head of Marketing and Technology Services at Ricoh SA.