The human at work in the new world

What we need is a more measured adaptation that ensures that we don’t substitute the human at work with over-engineered processes and technology …

During the voyage of the HMS Beagle to the Galapagos Islands in 1830, among the many observations Charles Darwin made, an interesting one was on the adaptation of beaks in finches. With their diversity in bill sizes and shapes, each species of the bird had adapted to the type of food plentiful in their area. While the birds had a common ancestor and were closely related, their adaptation made them quite different to look at.

Similarly, we humans have evolved to the needs of the modern office, the single biggest place of work to most of us. While Darwin’s finches had close to a million years to evolve, unfortunately, our time to adapt has been limited. Added to the changes forced in human behaviour, the rapid evolution of technology has prioritized process and tools over some human elements of work. What we need is a more measured adaptation that ensures that we don’t substitute the human at work with over-engineered processes and technology tools. While we change and adapt, it’s important to pay attention to the human at work and go about making work more human. In doing so we will make both work and life better for ourselves and those around us.

Long before circumstances forced a large part of the global office workforce to go remote, the line between work and life was getting blurred. Innovations in always-on technology, an increased focus on productivity tools as well as low thresholds in good office behaviours among managers and peers have accentuated stress levels and have a long-term impact on many officegoers. The process of human evolution at the office seems painful and avoidable. How do we make this less so, and ease our adaptation into the new world of work? Let’s look at some of the features or “beaks” that we need to get right.

The first feature that we need to evolve better is communication. It’s easy to take away the impression that with today’s tools, people have more communication than they need. That’s not true. What people have is a huge amount of information and misinformation. What they need is a greater amount of face to face, two way and open communication. For example, how does one ensure that the ideas from those operating closest to customers reach the level in the company that makes decisions? Thankfully, tools & platforms are allowing us a better and closer reach. The next-generation communication technology will bring in holograms and virtual reality to everyday use. If we combine the tools with better intent, we will be able to get each employee to participate with purpose, to contribute their ideas and help create a better workplace. The second adaptation is in the intelligent use of data and technology. Many business & people processes are done poorly and can be optimized using the data and computation tools that are easily available. For example, the decision on promotions are still made mainly using a gut feel. Using an algorithm to aid a promotion decision will ensure a better choice and guide the new manager to successes. Another example is using mapping software to track human interactions in the office and then determine optimum office configurations to get people to meet and form strong networks. The future belongs to organizations that have intelligent people operations that enable them to have quicker, insight-led people decision-making capabilities. These combined with customization at an individual level also give a superior employee experience and can vastly amplify human potential.

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