??Man versus machine: three myths about the digital workforce

As the era of digital disruption continues, the focus is shifting from the development of new technologies to the way in which they can be harnessed.

Organisations are facing a rapid influx of millennials into their workforces and with it, a change in employee mindset and thinking.

The evolving digital emphasis and the changing relationship between man and machine brings a lingering sense of uncertainty when it comes to what the digital era will bring for the workforce of tomorrow.

Investing in technology is in some ways the easy part. However, enabling the right people, driving skill development and empowering managers, are much more challenging tasks.

Becoming a truly digital business today will require greater flexibility, knowledge and development to drive productivity. As companies consider their next steps in digital transformation, it is important however to address three digital workforce myths.

Myth 1: Employees fear digital change

We all know business is eagerly embracing the digitisation of processes and products, but do workers welcome the introduction of artificial intelligence and technology automation that threaten their jobs?

According to the research conducted by Accenture Strategy, the answer is a resounding yes. When surveyed as part of the Accenture Digital Disruption Survey, five times as many employees think the digital disruption to their industries will improve their job prospects as those who say it will worsen them.

And those who believe digital will improve their working experience outnumber the pessimists by ten to one.

More employees are embracing the inevitability of digital disruption, hungry for information and knowledge. An Accenture Digital Employee survey found over 60 per cent of Australian workers anticipate a major digital change in the way they go about their daily tasks.

As this culture shift begins to emerge, the key for organisations is to take this curiosity and evolve it into productivity through investment in the right technologies aligned against the right roles and people to drive outcomes.

Myth 2: Machines make better managers

This is perhaps one of the most common myths in the workforce today driving hostility between man and machine. Despite growing concerns that technology will soon outdo the need for a human mind, the truth is quite the opposite.

Even as artificial intelligence starts to play a bigger role in freeing managers and employees from more time-consuming tasks focused on administration and process efficiency, certain tasks which require more complex thinking, interpretation and a judgement call, still mandate a human touch.

These range from providing bespoke services to customers, personal support to staff as well as determining the strategic direction of an organisation and its investments. Where used correctly, artificial intelligence is a powerful partner that can be leveraged to enable and empower managers to focus more on creativity and innovation and less on daily administration and up-keep.

Myth 3: Digital is only for millennials

With Australia’s ageing population, the rapid rise of the millennials’ entry into the workforce is undoubtedly shifting the mindset of organisations. It will likely reinforce the drive for even greater openness to the emerging world of robots and artificial intelligence in the next five to ten years and beyond.

But this does not mean that technology advancements are only favoured by the new age employee.

An Accenture study found that by 2050, there will be over 2 billion people in the world over 60. As the quality of life enhances and people retire later than ever before, older workers want to remain as relevant and skilled as their millennial counterparts.

Slowly but surely, barriers to digital literacy are coming down and there is a real opportunity to use the experience and judgement of the older workforce in creating a more collaborative and productive environment, in turn driving loyalty and a culture of inclusion.

The rise of the digital era inevitably calls for a more creative effort in recombining managers and machines. Not only do we need to accelerate the introduction of new intelligent systems, we need to encourage experimentation to mold those systems into the fabric of evolving processes and teams.

This approach will show that digital is not something that happens to the workforce but something the workforce makes happen in their organisation.

Organisations that can embrace and foster a combination of creativity and technology will rise above others to the challenge in today’s digital market. The key will be to balance the development and resourcefulness of man against the need for efficiency of machines and harness the best of both to deliver a truly digital workforce.

John Cassidy is the Accenture Digital Strategy Lead for Australia New Zealand.

Copyright © 2016 IDG Communications, Inc.

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