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The Future of Work

The Question I Didn't Expect: Tech and Company Culture.

4 Min Read
Ben   |   September 10, 2019
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Sitting on the panel at a recent Hubspot event, I was posed a question that made me stop and think. 

“How will technology impact the future of work?”

It took me a little by surprise as the topic of the panel was 'Company Culture'. But thinking it through, as technology and the digitisation of work increases, this will definitely impact culture and employee engagement. So I thought I would expand upon the answer I gave on the day, looking at the impact in the short term, medium, and long-term.

Short Term effects- Focus on continual learning

In the short term, automation will continue to change the scope of many roles. Although AI is still a way off from the general intelligence needed to replace knowledge workers, that doesn’t mean many of the repetitive tasks can’t and will be automated. 


If you look at any tech landscape, whether HR, Marketing, Sales etc, there are so many vendors that are automating tasks that were once essential, but monotonous. The promise of these technologies is reduced errors alongside increased productivity and employee engagement as employees aren’t spending time on menial tasks.


So what to do with this extra time? Right now the research shows we’re not working less so I’m going to be optimistic and say it's going into increasing the scope of jobs and adding more value to the customer. 


A salesperson that is spending less time organising meetings and inputting data into the CRM can now focus more time on better understanding their customers' motivations. HR will have access to data they’ve only dreamed of, allowing them to use these insights to innovate their approach to increasing employee productivity for instance.


As roles change so demand for new hard and soft skills increases. The most efficient way to meet this challenge is with ongoing training and hiring new talent that exhibits a growth mindset. With that in mind, I expect companies that are really dedicated on up-skilling and training their workforce will have a significant competitive advantage.

Medium term - Decentralise decision making

Looking ahead to the medium term. The increased complexity and uncertainty that will develop alongside technology advancements will overcome the capability improvements through training alone. 


At the moment, there is pressure to create interdisciplinary teams that can work cross functionally to solve complex challenges. This is not limited to internal teams though - I expect to see the customer become recognised as a key team member with greater control over the means of production and customisation.


Traditional working structures are not suited to this kind of work. Decision making sits at the top with the power diluted the further down the ladder you travel. Instead, I predict a shift to a more bottom up approach to decision making and innovation; Flatter hierarchies and processes built to increase communication and transparency between teams with different skill sets and objectives. 


We already see agile methodologies being utilised in departments other than engineering. Marketing for example is able to take a lot from the “build, test and learn” process that is part of agile and this will be expanded out beyond functional silos in the medium term.


The main point of contention for many executives who pay lip service to agile, is that they rarely want to decentralise decision making. But this is essential if they are to realise the benefits of agile. If you or your manager falls into this category I’d suggest this great book Plain Talk: Lessons from a Business Maverick by Ken Iverson who led Nucor through an unprecedented reign of success and puts a lot of the success down to decentralisation (here’s a good overview of the main points). 

Long term - Total talent management and team dynamics

Going further ahead to the long term, the crystal ball gets hazier but let’s just progress the principles discussed so far. If we accept we will work in more agile and interdisciplinary teams, this will increase the pressure for roles to become more specialised.


But what happens when a good portion of the workforce is now specialised and highly skilled at working cross functionally? Permanent work arrangements may not provide maximum value for employees and employers. This, in turn will see a rise in the use of contingent and freelance labour as talent is deployed to meet specific challenges, as and when required.


The extent of which the future workforce will become contingent is up for debate - in a recent Accenture report, it is predicted that by 2026 there would be a Fortune 2000 company with no permanent employers outside of the C-Suite. 


Whatever the scope, the data backs up the increasing use of contingent workers and when this is the new normal, much of how we approach accessing, managing and off-boarding talent will change. We’ll see an increase in freelance and contract talent pool technologies. Workforce planning and management tools will have to address total talent management rather than just the permanent workforce. 


I also think we will look to better understand how to maximise team efficiency. Team dynamics can disrupt even the best performers. For the best outcomes there must be a balance of do-er’s, thinkers, relationship makers and excitement builders. So when looking at talent acquisition, whether contingent or otherwise, I expect to see project teams assessed not just on the basis of their individual skills but also with a view to balancing soft skills to maximise the output of the team.


This is such an interesting topic and there will be many more elements that will impact the future of work. I'm always interested in hearing others' perspectives on how technology may impact the future of work, get involved in the conversation and share your thoughts with us over @Weployapp on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. To learn more about how Technology and automation is going to replace our jobs in the Future of Work, read the eBook below

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Episode 3 - Workplace Culture

TONY: We’ve grown our team substantially at Weploy, from three to 25, and culture is starting to become a big topic. As the senior leadership team, we are trying to figure out what kind of culture we want. Can we influence that? Or is that organic? I’d love to know, what does culture mean to you?

MARISSA: To me, culture is about things that are intangible. Things that are related to your own personal values. For me, everything needs to be values-aligned from the start. When I think of one of the biggest mistakes founders make is that they fear talking about culture as being this ‘HR thing’ because – once you get HR into the mix – it’s uncool. It’s not fun and we aren’t a startup anymore. But when you do that and wait too long and you’ve built this toxic culture, then you are trying to go back and fix it.

For me, it’s not about the ping pong tables. Coming from Silicon Valley, you always see that with foosball tables and nap rooms. Those are just perks. They are benefits that companies use to make them seem cool. When I was at Slack, when we made the careers page, I said, let’s not focus on perks, let’s focus on the values and what we are trying to accomplish and speak to that.


TONY: Michael, how about yourself?

MICHAEL: I totally agree with that. The fundamentals create a great culture and those values are essential. What you said before about the questions you are asking yourself Tony – What is our culture? And how do we build a great culture? I think that’s how you do it. You identify what it is you want to experience, what kind of culture you want to have, and figure it out. I don’t think there’s a formula that you can translate from one company to another. What works for us is different from what works for you.

I think there are some fundamentals that are key – i.e. values – and being really clear about what they are and ensuring people know what they are through doing what you do. I think these are what translate to and result in a great culture, which might involve dogs and ping pong tables in the office. It doesn’t start with that. You have got to build the foundation first. It’s not sexy and cool to talk about values but it’s essential if you actually want to build a culture that is sustainable.


TONY: David, how about yourself?

DAVID: I agree with everything that has been said. I think it’s about a collective experience – and that’s a wide thing, what that collective experience looks like. It’s a combination of what industry you are in and what it is you are trying to achieve.

Why have culture? It’s about performance. What are you trying to perform? What are you trying to achieve as an organisation? It’s a combination of what your staff want and where you want to take the business as an owner. It’s always different from company to company but it’s always defined by a collective, agreed experience.

Regardless of what’s most important to each person individually, they can define what it’s like to be within this collective experience and company. If you can get people from different walks of life to have uniformity in that vision, and what it feels like, that’s where you start to establish a solid culture.


TONY: You said that culture is something you can feel, or is it something you can define?

MICHAEL: Culture is going to happen. You have a culture. Whether it’s the one you want is the question. You don’t build culture – yes, by design, you should build the culture you want – but the fact is there is already a culture. That’s the outcome. What people are feeling is the outcome of processes, systems and experiences, ideally, those that you consciously create with that outcome in mind.

Working back from the culture you have, everyone is going to experience the culture in their own way. Ideally, it’s a relatively similar experience and one that aligns with what you are trying to create. That’s when the design over default comes into it.  So if this is what people are collectively experiencing then, is it what we want them to be experiencing? Is it working? If not, then go back and figure out what experiences are necessary to curate this culture to be felt.


TONY: What do you mean by experiences?

MICHAEL: I think there are things that can happen quite deliberately that people probably wouldn’t normally think about or acknowledge, for example, communication. Not just that you communicate but the tone, the frequency, the consistency, and the language. Just being really clear about the rituals, the routines, the processes and having consistency across those to enable, again, a consistent experience or feeling. So a lot of what happens normally or quite naturally can be constructed or manipulated in a way to achieve a slightly different experience – if it’s not happening in the way you want it to.


DAVID: That ties back, Tony, to why you are doing it. What’s the core purpose? The core purpose comes back to the business purpose. So, how do you know if the collective experience is working, not working, or in the direction you want it to be?

Well, if your results are extremely poor, if the company is struggling, if people are disengaged, if they are not producing their KPIs, their KRAs, and you get the sense that there is a bit of lethargy in the organisation, usually that’s where the tweaks come from. That’s where you may say, symbolically, we are putting in a lot of effort to ‘create’ a strong culture but it’s just not working because people aren’t working.


TONY: Is your measure of a good culture or a bad culture whether people are performing David? Or are there other ways of measuring that?

DAVID: We measure people’s experiences, so we measure, at the same time, how people are feeling against a whole raft of different metrics and you put that in combination with how the organisation is performing. You can usually see a correlation when people are feeling good and the business is performing results-wise.


TONY: Marissa and Michael, you have both worked in hyper-growth startups at an early stage. They’ve all been successful – Facebook, Skype, Slack, and Vinomofo – how have you seen culture play a part in that?

MARISSA: Yes, I think culture can play a really good part in being able to scale successfully. It really does come down to the people. It kind of goes back to that team mentality. We talk about tenacity and grit a lot at Weploy. That’s what we look for and is what’s super important in that startup phase.

Maybe not so much when you are accomplished but I think that’s a key factor in some of the successful startups I have worked for. People are aligned with the end strategic goal and how they are going to get there and there’s no hierarchy of titles or responsibilities. Literally, we are all the same.


MICHAEL: I think it’s essential. Culture for Vinomofo has been the differentiating factor in our success. That was defined really early by our two co-founders, who were really clear about how we wanted to operate as a business, what we stood for, and how we wanted to work. That was very much an extension of their own personalities. Not only how they run the business but how they wanted to work with people within it and also the businesses we work with.

The challenge was then taking what was implicitly known by working from osmosis in a very small team, then, as the company grew, to go, ‘What is the essence of the business and that our customers love?’ and trying to protect and nurture that as we scaled. That’s when it became really important to identify what it was and to look after it.


TONY: David, you joined a business that’s quite traditional and has been around for a number of years. It’s gone through quite a cultural transformation, how has that helped your business?

DAVID: I think over the last number of years, in a couple of different industries and jobs, I have stepped into where things have gone wrong. Not necessarily results-wise, but culturally, there’s been a series of problems. When you step into an organisation and things aren’t in place, the first year or two is about putting the foundations in place; re-engaging with people, establishing social and cultural committees, honour boards, better rewards, and recognition. I have seen it through the lens of when a business is built without that in place and it’s left organically to chance.

The Grand Prix is filled with brilliant people and there are good aspects. It’s not a black and white thing. Because culture starts to get away from the company doesn’t mean everybody is broken. It just means when things get broken, it doesn’t have that resilience. That’s when relationships can become fragmented and people can become confused about what’s expected of them and make up their own rules.

Coming into the business, it’s always been about engaging emerging leaders, putting things in place, and creating some momentum from a business that has pre-existed for decades. I think, for me, the biggest challenge is not getting through those first few stages, which are building, but it’s about finding that long-term sustainability six or seven years into a program where a business can ride out almost any challenge. You can lose your CEO. You can lose a number of executive team members. Your financial performance can really dip. But your culture keeps people really tied and able to bed down and work their way through challenges.

I don’t think I have ever worked in an organisation that has worked their way through that from beginning to end. It’s always evolving and tinkering and I suppose that’s the goal for me, to get to the other end, where you can really ride out pretty much any challenge because those cultural norms are in place.

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Episode 5: Tech & The Future of Work

TONY: What does the future of work mean to you?

RUBY:  The future of work basically comes down to freedom of choice and flexibility. It’s actually this whole new unlocked generation where people should feel free to set up their working lives to suit them. I think it rolls into the gig economy, being able to represent different employer brands, and it being actually quite normal. It gives us, as individuals, freedom of choice in how we want to work and who we want to work for.

BEN: Flexibility is key, especially when you’re working with businesses where there isn’t an element of tech-savviness. We’re trying to attract people to an organisation who are excited about working in technology.

Most of them, these days, will have those side hustles. They will have things going on that aren’t their core day-to-day line of work. If you try and stop that creativity, you’re not going to attract the right kind of business to your people. We want people who are excited and want to develop new stuff. If you’re not willing to accept that they will have other things on the go, then they won’t join your business.


TONY: What is the role of technology in the future of work?

BEN: For me, technology – like automation and AI – especially in the context of human resources and culture is all about workflow performance improvement. Regardless of what we do and how we do it, there will always have to be a heavy human influence on decision making, cultural fit, and trying to attract people to your business.

We are there to be the components of organisation and lead from the front. You can’t do that with a bot. What I see the future of work being, for us, is around efficiency. Being able to drive efficiency through what we do and how we do it, in order to enable us to be more representative of our businesses. To take away the more repetitive, more mundane stuff we have to do in HR, and free us up for more of the fun stuff that will utilise our skills for people and culture.  

RUBY: For me, I think I am in this world where I get to play with a lot of this HR tech that comes out. Most certainly, it always comes back to efficiency, and giving me, as Head of Talent, more time to spend on the things I love doing - connecting with the business, understanding future people strategy, and really starting to grow the people within.

The tech that I have loved the most is around sourcing. I think essentially for us in this real space of war on talent - we are all, somewhat in competition with one another to find app developers and software engineers in our industries as a whole.  What really helps those individuals find us is often just the channels and we just can’t be on all the different channels that are out there at any one point in time. So when we can automate that, the possibilities become really exciting. I’m really excited about what’s going to be rolled out in the next couple of years as well. Just really being able to pinpoint and identify that exact person, that exact ‘unicorn’ every business is looking for – and using companies like Weploy is incredible.


TONY: One of the things that people always talk about when they hear ‘automation’ is that ‘it’s going to take away my job’. The HR tech sector globally is growing and, often, when I speak to HR leaders they are hesitant to use HR tech because they think ‘what part of my job is going to be removed or taken over?’ What are your thoughts on this? Should they be scared?

RUBY: Often it’s from a time-scarcity point of view, where we don’t have time to trial product as deeply as we should in order to recommend to the business that we should adopt it. I think if there’s anything fear-based it comes from a requirement to put your name behind something, get buy-in from the business, only for it to maybe not work because we haven’t been able to trial it properly. I definitely don’t think HR teams push tech away, I think it’s more that we don’t allow ourselves the time or the luxury of fully embracing it and trialling it as well as we should.

BEN: I think HR teams are becoming leaner and leaner as technology helps us achieve what we need to do, which ultimately does mean that teams are fairly time poor. I cannot see why HR leadership get scared around technology. I think all it’s ever going to do is support you in terms of doing better, interesting things. It’s not only about getting jobs out there; it’s about improving your employee value proposition (EVP) and showing off the attributes of your business. It’s fantastic! Ultimately, if the business doesn’t do those things, there’s a reason why.

I think, moving forward, there will be more uptake in technology in supporting the growth of businesses. But by the same token, it’s not going to be for the sake of uptaking it - there will need to be an absolute data-verifiable reason as to why you are using something. That comes back to, whether it be EVP, time to hire, cost to hire – those things need to be ticked off for you to be able to justify the trialling and usage of those systems.


TONY: People build businesses, not products. But more often than not, HR does not get a seat at the leadership table. Do you think technology will help bridge that gap? Or with technology, where do you see the role of HR in the future of work?

BEN: I think at the moment we’re at the point of leveraging technology to drive product and strategy. I long for the day that we have that seat at the table, which is relevant, and true, and pure. But for now what we have to do is make use of what technology is out there to actually leverage our knowledge and skillsets. There is also the argument about talent acquisition. I think that’s the next big question in the future: does talent acquisition actually sit in HR? Or is it a standalone strategic group that should be engaging with all the different parts of the business to really drive an overarching strategy moving forward?


TONY: By 2020, 40% of the workforce is predicted to be contingent. But even now, when it comes to people strategy, so many HR leaders, when I speak to them, think about the traditional full time worker. Where do you see technology bridging that gap?

RUBY: Workforces are changing. I’ve worked for lots of large companies and traditionally in the talent acquisition space, even in HR, we would push the contingent over to procurement. It’s this big beast that we really didn’t know how to deal with. Legally, there are a lot of contracts to deal with and time-bound employment technicalities. It’s almost easier for HR teams to deal with permanent staff because they’re regarded as the influence culture and engagement.

The reality is as you’re recruiting 40% of your workforce you are going to have to change your entire people strategy. As I started to see more executives leave large business, often the conversation would turn not to finding new full time hires to fill those roles, but ‘will you come back and contract with us?’ They are at an exceptional, pivotal point in their own career but they are also able to give back to us, as employers, as well.

So how does technology play into that? I feel massively around keeping your alumni engaged and keeping those community-building aspects really strong. Your applicant tracking system (ATS) should be able to keep track of where your contingent workforce is at any point in time. To be able to say, ‘Hey, you left us six months ago, has your contract finished? Would you like to come back and work with us? We have a nine-month gig happening.’

Coming back to what you say Tony, ‘You work to live, not live to work’. In technology, I came across a lot of awesome candidates and employees who just wanted to work for nine months and do a mini-retirement for three months on a beach somewhere for their own happiness and well-being. Is there technology out there which can tell us, as employers, when they come back and are on the market?

TONY: That’s where Weploy comes in.

RUBY: Exactly! This is an actual need that the HR market have and need to know more about and start adopting as we very quickly approach 2020 and beyond.


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