New technologies will redefine workplace models

By Joy Frascinella, head of PR at the Principles of Responsible Investment

Joy Frascinella.jpgResponsible investment has steadily moved from the periphery to the mainstream over the last decade.  This is because an increasing number of companies and investors acknowledge that looking at environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues translates into myriad advantages, from improved staff performance to better returns.

The social element in ESG has traditionally been the most difficult for investors to assess.  This is partly due to a lack of data showing how things like diversity, health and safety and training and development for the workforce positively impact the bottom line.

But social issues are poised to take centre stage in the coming decades. This will be driven in large part by the advance of new technologies, which will force senior managers to rethink their current employment models.

Emerging technologies like industrial robots, artificial intelligence and machine learning are accelerating at a rapid pace and will change the way we work.  While these new technologies have the potential to improve efficiency dramatically, there will also be a human cost attached as new technologies supplant humans. At the very least, they will change the nature of work – potentially causing disruption for many workers.  How employers handle this new scenario will help determine how well placed they are to survive in the 21st century.

In a recent report, the independent foundation the World Economic Forum predicted that robotic automation will result in the net loss of more than five million jobs across 15 developed nations by 2020. The good news is that in the past, new technologies have always ended up creating more jobs than they’ve eliminated.  And it is still difficult for machines, no matter how highly sophisticated they are, to replicate heuristic or experiential knowledge or skills like problem solving and collaboration.

Employers need to consider the needs of their business but also their staff when introducing new systems. Balancing technological innovations with the needs of the current workforce to ensure there are alternative opportunities for those whose jobs might be replaced by new technologies will be critical.  As will retraining those who might find that their jobs have changed because of IT upheavals.

Employers should take advice on how to handle working hours, remuneration, benefits and other core workforce issues as these too, will have to be reconfigured over time.

Another consideration for employers is data protection.  Robots, for example, might be storing employee data which will need to be safeguarded by the employer.  Failing to do so could create corporate governance issues, as we’ve seen from recent hacking scandals.

As new technologies continue to emerge, companies should ensure that the needs of their work force don’t get lost in the shuffle of excitement around innovation and the lure of increased profitability. This means taking a long-term view of company structure rather than just focusing attention on the bottom line.


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