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The Changing Landscape of Work: How Technology, Automation, and AI are Reshaping the Workplace

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As companies seek to adopt new technologies like artificial intelligence (AI) and virtual reality (VR), they are bound to face a number of both opportunities and challenges. While many technological advancements and changes have yet to be seen, two things remain clear: challenges often provide opportunities for growth, and potential pitfalls tend to accompany new technologies like AI and automation. 

Nevertheless, Eric Sugar, president of LineZero, says the time has come when companies will either adapt or be left behind.

Prepare for digital transformation with change management 

A McKinsey & Company survey reveals that 70% of digital transformations flop, and a BCG survey says 75% of transformation efforts don’t deliver the results companies hope to see. “Most workplaces approach tech with an ‘If you build it, they will come’ mentality,” Sugar remarks. “If leadership wants to take advantage of new technology in workplace productivity and efficiency, they must start with change management. This means building purpose and intention into their initial rollout plans.”

Change management arms the people encountering new tools with the knowledge, skills, and motivation to implement them. Deploying new technology means first educating the workforce about how it will benefit them. 

Without change management, new technology will never achieve the results that managers expect. “Leaders are best served with a bottom-up approach ensuring their employees the technology will make their lives better,” Sugar explains. “When technology products fail in the workplace, it is not because they don’t work. It is because they were deployed incorrectly.”

New technology requires innovation and a culture of continuous learning  

Successful companies are able to meet the rapidly changing technological landscape with a culture of continuous learning. After all, progress and growth in tomorrow’s workplace are all about adaptability. 

“The most successful companies have innovation written into their DNA, and that innovation is intentional,” Sugar remarks. “If there is no one responsible for implementing new technology at the highest level of corporate strategy, innovation will not happen.” 

Sugar says innovation regarding new technology must filter down from the top, but he also sees innovation rising from the bottom. “Smart businesses empower employees to come forward with creative solutions through competitive contests. They even gamify feedback and make it fun.”

Today’s rapid technological innovation in the workplace is challenging to predict, but consumer habits frequently influence commercial habits. In other words, how people play influences how they work. “Looking at how we spend our time on apps and social media, we can assume that mixed reality and virtual experiences will soon drive change in how we work,” Sugar observes. 

The workplace is likely to see use cases for VR in many areas, including hiring, skills assessment, technical training, and sales. “Group meetings are one of the best use cases for virtual or augmented reality,” remarks Sugar. “They enhance collaboration and connectivity and level the playing field for remote and on-site employees. While conducting 3D virtual team meetings in the metaverse may seem futuristic, I predict we will see them in the very near future.”

Balancing the benefits of automation and AI with potential risks to job security and privacy 

Although it can be tempting to view innovation through rose-colored glasses, not all of the changes that AI and automation bring to the workplace are beneficial. In response to today’s advances in technology, tomorrow’s workplaces will likely confront issues regarding job insecurity, ethical dilemmas, and inequality. 

“We learn to walk a tightrope when balancing the risks and benefits of new technology,” Sugar admits. “For example, when businesses introduce automation on a production line, jobs are impacted, and opportunities are created. I don’t know if it balances out, but AI will close doors for some people and open doors for others.”

In terms of inclusivity and equality, AI often falls short. Contrary to popular belief, AI does not have a mind of its own — it learns from the data people feed it. “AI is trained by people with specific datasets,” says Sugar. “These people may have the best intentions, but if they are all white males, for example, they have a similar, limited perspective. And, unintentionally, they will transfer that bias to the AI by the data they feed it.” 

For example, AI in HR departments can scan resumes and recommend certain employees for promotion. Profiles of successful employees train these AI, but what happens when the AI begins to favor certain background information such as schools, gender, or geographic location? “These are the risks people need to be aware of with increased dependence on AI systems,” Sugar warns. 

In the end, Sugar advises companies to incorporate new technology in a way that is consistent with their values. “We cannot avoid digital transformation,” he says. “For example, CEOs who feel a corporate responsibility not to disrupt jobs may hesitate to automate processes. If a process for accomplishing a task once required three people and now requires only the click of a button, what is the right thing to do? Companies that retain those three people’s jobs by refusing to automate that process put themselves and all their other employees at a competitive disadvantage.” 

Ultimately, AI and automation are neither inherently good nor bad. They are simply tools, but decisions about their use are guided by a company’s principles. As such, business leaders must apply the same ethical consideration to automation and AI as they do to their daily decision-making, such as who to partner with and how to treat competitors. 

“Automation and AI do not cause companies to compromise integrity, in and of themselves,” Sugar concludes. “As we adopt new technology, we must consistently align its usage with our corporate values.” 

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