Q&A: Will skills be the key to the 'future of work'?

Targus’ IT director talks about what the future of work might mean in practice

At the moment many organizations are talking about what the future of work might look like. This covers everything from the impact it might gave on employees’ well-being to the possibilities afforded by large quantities of accurate IoT office data. But how might this all pan out in practice? Atif Mahmood, IT Director of Targus in EMEA share his views in a lightly edited Q&A below.


What might the future of work mean in practice?

The future of work in practice will, as expected, be heavily focused around the role that technology will continue to play in enabling wider business developments.

Whether being used to enable flexible / remote working, drive digital transformation, introduce data-driven work environments or encourage heightened productivity, technology will be at the heart of businesses for many years to come.

Looking at the bigger picture, outside of just technological enhancements, the future of work will also force organizations to seek new and innovative methods of reducing costs. Doing so, however, typically means employees will be faced with a certain level of change, meaning any business transition requires tact, empathy and phasing.

Productivity will also be a key factor in driving future changes to working environments, as it relates so closely to other areas, such as the need for collaboration, retention of staff and the adoption of change.


What won’t work as anticipated?

As working environments continue to adapt to maximize the benefits of new technologies and digital capabilities, nothing will work as anticipated without the correct engagement and support of employees and the way they work.

A recent IDC survey found people, knowledge and culture to be the most commonly cited barriers to businesses digital transformation and not the technology itself.

Leaders can risk disengaging their staff if they assume their employees will simply ‘get used to’ any changes and attempts to transition quickly. To combat this, leaders should consider an education programme to support the change.


What will be the most important things for IT leaders to keep in mind now, to get ready for tomorrow?

In order to prepare for tomorrow, IT leaders need to focus on recruiting and retaining the best talent, looking after both new and existing employees. This is only made possible by providing them with the right tools and technologies to perform, as well as the right environments in which to share knowledge, collaborate and engage customers.

For organizations that have been successful in their digital transformation efforts, employee engagement and organizational culture is not an after-thought, but part of a holistic approach. One of the fundamental elements of this is the creation and management of new, flexible ways of working. In fact, in a recent Targus survey, just one in four European workers stated that their organization actively encourages remote working, including the devices required to do so.

It’s also essential for leaders to practice what they preach. If staff see managers maintaining their own offices during the roll-out of flexible / remote working, for example, it’s very easy to see a ‘them and us’ barrier forming. For organizations that have been successful in the implementation of mobile working, employee engagement and transparency is key.

By ensuring everyone is on board with this more open approach to work, employees will be keener to follow the lead, and buy in to the future of the business. It is also critical that, as part of any transition, staff are consulted to find out if the business can accommodate their needs. For example, some people prefer their own space, and this can be achieved through the development of silent rooms, pods and individual working spaces. When recently asked, two in five workers across Europe said their organization doesn’t provide a comfortable and user-friendly workspace.

One key driver behind changing working environments will be the continued development of augmented reality (AR), and how the technology will be used to create virtual workspaces and offices, for employees that chose to work remotely. Not only does this give all members of staff the same sense of community, which may be lost when colleagues are not physically in the same office, it will enable the same level of collaboration, an essential driver to employee productivity.

Organizations must be prepared to make concessions. If they’re preparing to take something away from employees, thinking about what they can give back should be a key priority. From providing best-in-breed devices to well-being allowances and cultural benefits, organizations must consider how they can improve people’s overall working lives as part of a wider commitment to changing workstyles. 


What isn’t getting talked about enough in this space?

When talking about the future of work, a lot of conversations are focused on millennials and how organizations can best cater to this generation of employees. However, what this fails to recognize is a large number of employees that don’t sit under the ‘millennial’ umbrella, and therefore aren’t catered for.

In just two years’ time, the workplace will be made up by as many as five generations working side-by-side: The Boomer, The Millennial, The Traditionalist, The Gen Xer and The Gen 2020er. The working combination of these five generations then poses a number of questions around how organizations motivate people much older or younger than each other, and what they can do to encourage employees of different generations to share their knowledge and skills.

To truly have the most productive business model possible, organizations need to step away from the millennial hype, and consider how their workplace can be the best, and most productive, for all members of staff. When it comes to the key factors driving changes to the working environment, productivity is a central theme, chosen by 60 per cent of businesses in a recent IDC survey. In addition, the changing nature of business, the need to facilitate collaboration and the retention of talent are also key, and all fundamental to successfully catering to each member of the workforce.