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The Future of The Agile Workforce

**This was originally published in the UK Guardian and Digitalist Magazine Dec 2016**

What if I told you that your employees don’t think you’re very smart?

The Future Workforce Study 2016, conducted by Dell and Intel, which surveyed 4,000 full-time employees across 10 countries, found that 44 percent of employees worldwide feel that their workspace isn’t smart enough, and 40% of millennials surveyed are willing to quit a job that doesn’t meet their technology expectations.

In our digital dog-eat-dog world, employees tethered to laptops and landlines are a bit concerning, and frankly, the heat is on as almost 60 percent of employees worldwide expect to work in a smart office within the next five years.

Smart devices like the iPhone have changed everything about how we exchange, consume, decide, and engage. We are used to intuitive and simple technology that can push relevant information directly to us. Our devices can provide us with health analytics and even recommend a pair of jeans we might like from our favorite brand. We live in a world where smart watches, sensor-driven washing machines, intelligent thermostats, and soon maybe even self-driving big rigs full of beer are commonplace. We have Alexa in our kitchen to help us perfectly time our pot roasts and order up new oven mitts. For less than 20 bucks, we can buy Google Cardboard and be transported from our living room couch to flying a helicopter in less than 5 seconds.

According to the Future Workforce Study, employees today are more interested in high-tech perks such as artificial intelligence and virtual reality than ho-hum low-tech perks like free lunches and foosball tables. Handing out smartphones and promoting work-from-home Wednesdays simply won’t cut it anymore.

This connected world seamlessly and effortlessly improves our lives each day and has led to an expectation of a smarter workplace. It’s no wonder that employees are demanding cutting-edge, integrated, simple technology and workplace solutions that can keep them connected and productive wherever they are. And it pays to be a digital leader, as we learned in the recent Leaders 2020 research conducted by Oxford Economics and supported by SAP.

With cloud computing, collaborative technologies, and mobile at our fingertips, we are all tech-resilient and can adopt and respond to technology changes quickly. Enterprises competing in a smart world have the stability required for agility to thrive, but they must work to shed the cumbersome wrapper of legacy technologies and outdated mindsets. Emerging organizations competing in a smart world have the agile attitudes needed to innovate and deliver quickly, but they must focus on providing a stable, adaptable platform of engagement. All organizations must be prepared to embrace the breakneck development speeds of today’s cloud offerings, seize powerful integration opportunities, and get excited about providing immersive omnipresent experiences.

Smart, agile workplaces have an unwavering focus on providing constant unification between people, information, and processes. Today’s success depends on connectedness and collaboration—that’s not news. An IBM study from more than five years ago alerted us to the fact that industry outperformers have extensive smart workplace practices in place. But what have we been doing with this knowledge since then? Is it still a trend after such a long time? It is time to catch up and deliver the experience that employees have been asking for: simple, smart, and stretchy.

The increasingly complex demands of the marketplace, churning with cycles of interruption and disruption, and the need to be agile in responding to this environment is creating an imperative for simplicity. The call for “simple” can be felt at the organizational, team, and individual levels. It shows up in every aspect of the workplace, from how we solve pressing problems and how we structure the organization to get work done to the tools and processes that we provide to individual employees to support their daily work. Technology enables speed and information flow. More agile companies will get and keep the best talent, generate the most powerful innovations (and learn from the iterative process), and capture the market share their competitors aspire to.

Organizations that go beyond digital buzzwords and focus on active transformation are more profitable that those that don’t. An agile workforce is flexible, collaborative, innovative, information-forward, and competent, and comes to work with a growth mindset. These attributes are nurtured by digitally proficient leaders, a learning culture rooted in development, and innovation-focused HR systems.

Is your organization differentiating and providing a smart experience that employees can’t get anywhere else? Here are some do’s and don’ts that could help:

  • Don’t do it all at once. Pursue “stretchy” cloud technology solutions that you can grow in to at the pace of your business. Ensure that video, mobile, and social capabilities are embedded into a collaborative platform.

  • Don’t shove solutions at issues you haven’t first identified clearly. Designing for employees is the key to success, and their needs may vary. Choose solutions that allow users multiple entry points to engage, communicate, and collaborate with others, as well as key processes.

  • Don’t discount the pace of innovation. It’s time HR starts thinking like a product team. Focus on smart solutions that can snap into other smart solutions. Flexibility and integration are the keys to preparing for the unknown.

  • Do consider both culture change as well as process change when crafting your smart workplace strategy. Couple needed operational changes with scalable and employee-centered technology offerings.

  • Do make things simple. The business of people is not a simple task, but your technology should be. Get the most out of your technology investments by focusing on solutions that invite innovation and do the heavy lifting for you. No more force-fitting processes into the technology – when you move, your technology should move with you.

  • Do recognize that the future of work evolves with interesting ideas springing up—like bimodal people management, a new reliance on employee mindsets and learning cultures, and conversations about your next robo-boss.

Don’t get left behind.

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