Work and the nature of work is changing, says our careers expert Giles O’Halloran. Digital technology has and is revolutionising everything, including how we work, learn, communicate and live...
Take a moment to consider this – when you go somewhere, do you always have your smartphone with you? Is it second nature to have it - as it is a wallet, a purse or your keys?
Do you use apps on your mobile devices to email, message, network, compare prices, check facts or research ideas? Do you use apps to help you manage your lifestyle, your diet or your fitness? Most people will do some or all of these and work is no different – the nature and definition of work is changing to harness and develop digital ways of doing things.
So let’s look at how this is impacting the world of work then…
Digital is not just for knowledge work
The belief is that only knowledge workers (i.e. white collared, office workers) use computers and digital devices, but we need to challenge this notion. Firstly, we are all knowledge workers in reality. Every job needs knowledge for the work to get done – this could be specialist knowledge of a process, using a picking console, how to work a trimming machine or how to use and advise customers on self- scanning devices.
Although we traditionally refer to blue or white collar workers, the fact is that work and the use of technology in work has become integral to everything we do. Take farming for example. It is a traditional industry and one of the oldest professions that reaches back into our past. However, farmers now use GPS, digital metrics and other technology to optimise yields, stock, harvesting or fuel consumption.
It has become part of every role and it will not be long until employers in other sectors realise that apps deployed via employee mobile devices will help organisations manage their work schedules, annual leave, product or service updates etc across everything from retail to manufacturing. Some employers are already doing this and they are proving that you do not need to sit at a desk in an office to achieve this.
One way that work is changing is the way that organisations recruit. Although agencies and some of the more traditional avenues that are used to recruit staff still have a place in the recruitment portfolio, lots of organisations in different sectors are using social media as a way to target or attract talent.
Whether it is engaging via Facebook and Twitter, approaching directly via LinkedIn or even identifying potential SMEs (Subject Matter Experts) via blogs or specialist sites such as Quora, there are so many platforms that employers can use to source their candidates.
The flip side of the coin is also true - there are so many platforms that candidates can now use to profile their knowledge, skills or capability. Their LinkedIn profile acts as a pervasive online CV or resume, they could have a blog that focuses on their expertise or perhaps even a vlog talking about key trends or subjects that are going on in their industry.
There are so many ways for candidates to profile their capabilities and for employers to be able to seek them out. What’s more is that most of these tools are free and are accessible via mobile devices and apps – making them attractive to candidates and employers alike.
Whether it is seeking work, developing business leads, getting work done or keeping up to date on industry trends, networking is a key opportunity for every employer, employee and candidate. Digital technology on mobile platforms means that both talent and knowledge now sit on pervasive networks. This has changed the paradigm so that you don’t even have to leave your house to be able to stay connected to the wider world. Digital apps in all forms allow people to connect, stay in touch, get work done and share information anywhere and at any time.
Traditionally, if you wanted to network, you had to go and meet others at a venue or event, sometimes you might pay to attend and it was also often uncomfortable seeking out and approaching people. The whole experience put many on edge or off the prospect of the experience completely.
However, digital apps and platforms not only allow individuals to connect seamlessly and without having to meet face to face, they offer the individual or organisation the chance to tap into much wider global networks at the click of a button or with the swipe of a finger. It has never been easier to connect with people you do not know and start a conversation that could lead to so many great opportunities.
Virtual and real events
It used to be that conferences were all about meeting in one physical place to share information, learn or find out about an industry or sector. Events (such as networking events, industry conferences etc.) like these will continue because there will always be a need for people to make contact in real life. However, the fact remains that more is available online and you can attend virtual conferences via platforms or even social technology – minimising travel costs, reducing carbon footprint and optimising time for other purposes.
This could mean holding a conference call on Skype, using Twubs to manage a Twitter conference, or even using an app like Bizzabo to connect and stay in touch with other event goers. The fact remains that digital technology and apps are allowing us to connect, share and work together en masse and via shared platforms.
The biggest opportunity with digital technology is the realisation of truly flexible working. By this, I do not simply mean working from home, working reduced hours or flexitime. These all still have an element of control on location or time, whereas true flexible working is the ability for people to customise their work, in order to do it anytime, anywhere and when they are most productive. This could be managing documents, cases or processes, balancing machine outputs remotely or booking rotas for working hours over the next month.
The possibilities are endless, and with the increased use of machines or robots to do lower level work, there will be a greater emphasis on digital skills so that higher level and higher value work can be done. Digital platforms allow work to be managed across multiple sectors and puts both the trust and output in the hands of the employee. This is a massive move in both working mind-set and motivation.
The simple truth is that we all need to have digital skills and be digital savvy going forward. We do not need to be experts per se, although we may develop skills that become an expertise as we progress. However, this should be a wake-up call to us all that work has and will continue to change largely due to the technology we apply to get work done.
It is therefore imperative that you take the opportunity to at least build some digital skills and have a basic knowledge around the subject, as your future work may involve you thinking of new ways of working that will make you more productive and this is where digital skills or capabilities could give you or your employer the edge.
So take some time to consider the work you do, how it could change and how technology could change what you do? You then need to think about your next steps and what that means for you – that should help guide you on developing your future digital skillset.
About The Author
Giles is an experienced HR and Recruitment professional who works as a freelance consultant, strategist, writer and coach. He started his HR career with IBM after first reading Modern Languages at Warwick University and becoming a successful technology recruiter. He has since worked in other senior HR roles across Europe, advised at Board level, and implemented both strategic and operational HR business solutions. He also spent 12 years as a reservist with the UK's Reserve Forces, serving first with the TA and later with the RAuxAF.
Giles is a columnist with a leading, MoD sponsored, international career transition publication, and has also written blogs for a number of websites and organisations on employment and the changing nature of work. He is passionate about technology, the value of networks and the future of work.
Giles focuses on career transition support for individuals (CVs/Resumes, LinkedIn, Interviews, Networking etc.), and effective people solutions for organisations (HR strategy, Talent, HR Technology, Digital HR, HR Mentoring/Business Partnering and Outplacement services) and has worked across a wider variety of diverse sectors.