The future. Some are frightened by it, others excited. It inspires imaginative predictions, but these are all too often proven wrong (we’re looking at you, Back to the Future). No matter what your thoughts and feelings about the future, preparing for it is a non-negotiable.
With new technologies, artificial intelligence and automation emerging in workplaces at a rapid pace, the future of work is likely to look vastly different to how it does today. So, how are leading companies future-proofing both themselves and their employees in such an environment? Let’s take a look.
“At AgriDigital we believe education is key and that our team is our most valuable asset,” says Simone Barakat, the company’s Communications Associate. The agricultural software solutions provider is on the rise, having just secured a $5.5 million funding round to assist with their expansion into North America. But despite this success, they remain mindful of the unpredictability of the tech space, and the need to futureproof their business.
The education that Barakat speaks of takes many forms. AgriDigital actively encourages their employees to seek out learning and upskilling opportunities, and offers assistance to those who invest time or money into educational efforts.
AgriDigital has also been an enthusiastic adopter of cloud-based collaborative tools such as Slack, Trello and G Suite, which have given the company incredible flexibility. “Now our team can work anywhere in the world, at a time that suits them! This is really important to us — one of our beliefs is ‘work is what you do, not where you go,’ and this is particularly relevant as we begin to grow on a global scale. Flexible working conditions allow our employees to create their own work schedule, which helps them to maintain a work/life balance and feel empowered and supported in their role.”
Furthermore, the company doesn’t see automation as a bad thing for their team. “Automation of work practices that once had to be done by hand means employees have more time in their day to work on other high-level (and often more creative) tasks. This improves their skills and knowledge, and makes their work more enjoyable and interesting at the same time,” says Barakat.
In the ultra-competitive sphere of online marketplaces, staying ahead of the game requires a truly pioneering approach. CarsGuide has managed to maintain exactly that since its foundation in 2011, and their innovation shows no sign of slowing.
Jeremy Gupta, CarsGuide’s CTO, believes that his team plays as big a part in future-proofing the organisation as anything else.
“I’m passionate about hiring, promoting and creating smart generalists,” he states. “With the rate of change in technology, having one trick ponies is a recipe for disaster. Specialists will actually hamper both the agility of their team and their own careers if they get too stuck in their silo.”
Through initiatives like hack days, brown bags, tinker time and structured training, Gupta aims to create jacks of all trades, rather than masters of one.
Gupta is well aware of the impending revolution that automation may cause. “Automation more than anything is going to be the biggest driver of change, and the rate at which certain skill sets become obsolete.”
But he also sees the potential benefits. “Automation assists across the board. Whether in engineering, QA, data science, finance or HR, it frees people up to do higher value work. Every time someone is freed of something manual and repetitive, it is one less thing that consumes their day — and that’s hugely positive. We need to embrace it or it will pass us by.”
Like most in the tech space, CarsGuide and Gupta highlight the mindset of the individual and organisation as the most important future-proofing tool, rather than picking up any particular strategy or skill-set.
“It’s the mentality of being a lifelong learner and not being comfortable with the status quo; couple that with a curious mind and you have a recipe for adaptability and the ability to excel in ambiguous, complex environments.”
“Companies are being placed in a position to think outside the box when it comes to preparing for the future,” says Samantha Chestney, Senior People and Culture Business Partner (APAC & Japan) at Nuix.
As one of Australia’s leading software companies, the team at Nuix are no strangers to innovation. It’s this desire to innovate that creates an environment that embraces change, and subsequently generates excitement around the possibilities that the future holds.
“Prepare for the expected increase in automation — many future skills will relate to mind-machine interfaces,” predicts Chestney. “With this level of technological change and automation comes the need for companies to be increasingly flexible in mindset and attitude, mentally and physically, but not at the risk of delivery of outcomes.
“Leading companies will also need to invest in education (software platforms, analytics, sharing a good story through understanding information and data) as the capability of talent and the workforce shifts.”
Accenture, a leading global professional services company wants to empower their people to work alongside their clients, some of Australia’s most iconic companies. They support their people to bring their whole-self to work each day and be supported by a team-based culture that thrives on solving problems.
Randy Wandmacher, the company’s ANZ HR Lead, embodies the Accenture philosophy perfectly. To him the future looks bright both for the company and its employees; while the company is very realistic in its predictions of what the future might look like, he doesn’t feel as though the rise of technology will see man entirely being placed by machine.
“With today’s technology, roughly half of the tasks that people do can be automated. That’s a staggering figure. But just as interesting, and maybe even more important, is that only five percent of jobs can be entirely automated.
“Accenture’s view is that jobs in the future will be reconfigured rather than removed and displaced. New jobs will be created through the introduction of Artificial Intelligence, and it is vital that employees are re-trained and reskilled in this space. Additionally, research has shown that the most sought after human attributes in 2020 will be an individual’s ability to problem solve, apply critical thinking and demonstrate creativity. These are the skills we focus on developing for all our employees.”
Flexibility is also high on Accenture’s agenda. “We offer a range of flexible work arrangements to help our people achieve work/life balance, while meeting the demands of our business. Our fly-back program, smart work initiative and client-site flexible work arrangements help address the challenges that come with the professional travel experienced by many of our consulting employees,” says Wandmacher.
The nature of the company has also meant that a focus has been put on remote collaboration, enabling employees who may not actually have the need to travel to work from where they please.
Finally, Wandmacher lists the attributes that he believes professionals need in this changing digital world. Accenture looks for employees who are:
- Digital visionaries
- Smart risk takers
- Confident captains
- Agile achievers
- Curious intellectuals
- Natural collaborators
As a business that aids and facilitates the transition of other businesses into the digital future, Optus is rather uniquely placed to offer insight into what might happen next. Cam Harris, Senior Director of the company’s Digital Business Solutions Group, offers his perspective on the workplace of the future.
“Teamwork is one of the most important aspects in the workplace. But for teamwork to be effective, companies need to adopt modern work practices and technologies that help team members — wherever they are — share their work in a simple and efficient way.”
To this end Optus has taken its own advice, initiating a raft of collaborative innovations within their own organisation. “The average worker spends an estimated 28% of the workweek managing e-mail and nearly 20% looking for internal information or tracking down colleagues who can help with specific tasks.
“Collaboration tools give teams a way to corral their conversations into one place — accessible from desktops, tablets or smartphones — without having to sort through email messages, log into multiple apps or travel for meetings.”
Optus and Harris don’t see the advent of AI and other automation technologies as the end of the human workforce, but rather a useful assistant that will improve an employee’s ability to work, and perhaps even their enjoyment of a role.
“To thrive in the digital age, organisations need to work smarter. This is ultimately what will enable them to be innovative, competitive, and to deliver game-changing experiences to customers. Effective collaboration takes time, and technology will only do so much of the heavy lifting. But it’s a step in the right direction for supporting teams and modern workflows in the digital age.”
The banking sector is where the trend towards automation is perhaps most apparent. Beginning with the spread of ATMs, continuing with the trend away from cash and cheque books and towards online banking, and finally with electronic forms of payment becoming incredibly simple, banks have long seen the perks of using technology where a human might once have been required.
But this transition hasn’t been undertaken flippantly, as evidenced by the fact that one of Australia’s ‘big 4’ — CommBank — has its very own General Manager of Corporate Responsibility.
Kylie Macfarlane, the GM in question, explains that many of the careers we’ll see in the not-too-distant future haven’t actually been invented yet, and indeed, careers exist today that didn’t exist as little as 5 years ago.
“We’ve seen it at Commonwealth Bank, with exciting new roles such as innovation managers, behavioural economists, and in-branch concierges emerging only recently. It’s a sign of the times — our customer needs are evolving quickly, and our workforce is adapting in step to meet those demands.”
She emphasises the need for a change in mindset — parents must recognise that their children are unlikely to have what they might term a ‘normal’ job, and must do what they can to guide young people into roles that are a little more future-resistant.
“As futurist Ross Lawson highlights in our new Commonwealth Bank Jobs and Skills of the Future Report, the demand for candidates qualified in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields already outstrips supply. At the same time, technology is set to play a stronger role in the classroom, with things like coding, robotics and virtual reality woven into regular activities. However, as we grow increasingly reliant on technology across the board, the human attributes of emotional intelligence, adaptability and relationship skills will be more important than ever.”
Macfarlane also reassures us that CommBank understands that great power like theirs comes with great responsibility. “Commonwealth Bank is investing heavily in partnerships with education providers to make sure our young people are prepared for the future — both for their careers and their financial wellbeing. As one of the nation’s biggest employers, we have a responsibility to help Australians prepare for the future. It’s a responsibility we take very seriously, but it also offers the exciting prospect of helping to shape the country’s future for the better.”
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