The world of work and industry has changed immeasurably in the past few years. Remote working and automation have become the norm in many sectors.
Yet the trends seemingly brought about by the pandemic already existed. What happened in 2020 merely accelerated developments that were already reshaping the market and business environment prior to Covid-19.
With this in mind, we can form an idea of how we may be working, producing and managing in years to come. In fact, it’s incumbent upon technology innovators and large employers such as Epson to help shape it for the better. After all, our business has nearly 80,000 employees globally.
So, what are the trends we see emerging – and that we’re embracing to help shape the future of work?
Megatrends to watch out for
If there is anything that the past decade has taught us, it’s that the ability to adapt to emerging trends and global circumstances can either launch a business to the peaks of success, or bring it crashing to its knees. Leaders need to be ready for everything and start considering how their workforces can prepare for 2030.
From physical automation using SCARA robots that manufacture and assemble, to virtual automation using software robots to manage repetitive office tasks, everything that can be automated will be automated. From an industrial perspective, this will be seen in techniques such as distributed production. In the office, it will see swathes of admin staff redeployed. Robotic process automation and artificial intelligence (AI) will be managing invoices, training and on-boarding staff.
Freed from the drudgery of manual processes and tasks, ideas will be the most important assets of the future. These need to be channelled into real-life innovation, and the only way to achieve that is through collaboration and sharing. What’s exploded in the pandemic will continue to develop with new ways to connect and share beyond the limitations of the office block.
Today, hybrid meetings play a crucial role in creating a space for collaboration. Continued innovation in versatile display tools, such as projectors will help to bridge the gap between people working remotely and those in the office. Scaling the experience, by showing life-size projections of remote participants ensures equal stature and greater presence.
With human ingenuity unlocked to innovate through collaboration, the sky’s the limit. Yet the world’s resources are finite, and the human brain and body have limitations. This is why sustainability needs to be at the heart of work and industry. It also requires that corporations don’t just grow their own business, but bring others with them, investing in communities, start-ups and partners that will lead to greater success.
Epson, for example, is enriching lives, communities and organisations by focussing on fair profit rather than excessive revenue growth. It is also committed to supporting a sustainable society through open partnerships and co-operations, working with charitable organisations and reducing underground resource dependency.
Finally, life-long learning.
There is no doubt that innovation and disruption are rapidly changing the scope, pace, and scale of work. With the workplace set to change dramatically through automation and digitalisation, and the growth of entirely new industries, skill development and a serious commitment to life-long learning will be vital to meeting the workforce needs of the future.
In a nutshell, the emerging workforce will be one that is data literate, comfortable working with AI and robots, and has the initiative to look at what the future demands in terms of skills so that they can keep pace with evolving technology.
How businesses can get ready for the future
Businesses need to formulate concrete plans to capitalise on these megatrends and be ready for the workplace of 2030. To achieve this, leaders must focus on building tech-driven and human-centered cultures headed by purposeful and visionary people who can drive sustainable business operations.
To start, businesses need to think about how they incorporate changing demographics into the workforce. The 21st century has been characterised by a growing youth that cares deeply about social and environmental issues. As more people from Gen Z begin to enter the workforce, businesses will be held accountable to be purpose-driven rather than solely profit-driven. In light of this, leaders need to reconsider and re-formulate their long-term plans to incorporate sustainable strategies and adopt socially responsible practices to re-align their purpose and operations.
In tandem, businesses need to integrate environmental, social, and good governance (ESG) factors into the goods and services they provide. They need to re-assess their impact on the environment as the demand for transparency around ethical or environmental policies increases. This involves rethinking how a company operates, from decarbonisation initiatives to creating a circular economy that minimises the use of resources and waste, as well as carbon emissions.
Next, businesses should gain a deeper understanding of the way each employee and team does their present work to better understand how to integrate technology, now and in the future. There is a talent shortage at a time when digital strategies are creating entirely new, mission-critical tasks, which businesses are undertaking in new ways. In fact, research suggests that up to 30 to 40 per cent of all workers in developed countries may need to move into new occupations or at least upgrade their skill sets significantly.
Most leaders see talent as the largest barrier to the successful implementation of new strategies – notably, those driven by digitialisation and automation. In response, businesses should look internally and develop talent they already have, developing structures and educational programmes to help systematically place the best-fit internal employees in future roles. As businesses prepare for the future of work, the need to upskill and reskill workers must be a priority.
Businesses that are ready for the future
These are uncertain times. Employers are struggling to define the workplace of the future; employees are worried that the workforce won’t include them. There are, however, several certainties:
Automation will continue to become common place.
Businesses without a purpose will face increased scrutiny.
And finding and keeping the right people for the job will get harder.
With this in mind, businesses should always be thinking about advancing the frontiers of their industry. There are already examples of companies that have made significant leaps in this direction.
One such company is Amazon, which has pledged $700 million in upskilling and training across several departments. For example, Amazon’s Technical Academy, a training and job placement programme, equips non-technical Amazon employees with the essential skills to transition into software engineering careers.
Another example is Epson. In fact, we invest about €1.14 million in R&D every day. Furthermore, we have committed €73 billion to furthering sustainable innovation and to becoming carbon negative and underground resource free by 2050.
The pressure to change has been building for years. Well before the COVID-19 pandemic, businesses were too slow, too siloed, and too reliant on complicated structures. What many feared, and that the pandemic has confirmed, is that these businesses were designed for a world that is disappearing, and not for a future that will consist of heightened connectivity, unprecedented automation, shifting demographics and an increasing focus on people, purpose and values.
The world of work and industry has changed immeasurably in the past few years. And it’s about to do so again.
Mukesh Bector is the Epson regional head, of East and West Africa.