With the ease of having technology at our fingertips comes a plethora of challenges that HR professionals need to consider.
Ten years ago the keyword on everyone’s lips was ‘globalisation’ – what did it mean for the workplace and our workers?
Many conferences and professional development initiatives had globalisation as the central theme. Today, however, interest in globalisation has just about sunk without a trace.
The community and human resources profession have absorbed the fact that we live, work and compete in a global marketplace. Today’s greatest challenges come from our new digital-delivery world. We are a work-in-progress as the workplace impacts upon our competitiveness, and how we work. The digital life impacts all of what we do – at home, on the job and all places in between.
Some of the biggest changes emanate from the smartphone, the Internet of Things, particular technologies like 3D printing and virtual reality, as well as ‘new money’ such as digital cash and blockchain.
Smartphones have rapidly become an essential complement to everyday life. People use smartphones every nanosecond of the day to call and text others, read and send emails, take photos, find a recreational venue, operate their home security system, order rides or flights, or book accommodation. And also to connect ‘anywhere, anytime, any wifi’ with social media of your choice.
In 2018 Sir Ken Robinson, a leading UK thinker and author, described them as antisocial media devices. How many times have we seen people walking blithely along with their faces turned down completely onto their devices, oblivious to raging currents in the river next to them, or to semitrailers hurtling past on the road nearby?
The smartphone has disrupted the industries that produced telephone books and booths, maps, tourist guidebooks and cameras. The smartphone manages our experience of the otherwise ‘boring’ daily tasks of life. Well, actually, they are the boring intermediary steps to events and experiences of great pleasure.
Few understand how these devices work. The smartphone is vested within a complicated array of base stations, cables and microwave relays designed and built for profit, but the public is generally unaware of the interests and incentives involved.
Every use of a smartphone generates data. It’s then stored by companies that leverage it for their own purposes, whether that be criminal or commercial – or both. Recent legal cases involving Facebook are apt to this very point. Further, the smartphone has become a common medium for cyberbullying.
The Internet of Things is every device that is connected to the internet, whether that is a fridge or a wearable device. Wearable biometric sensors, such as Fitbit and the Apple Watch, document biological data you can use to regulate your exercise.
Such devices promote self-awareness through benchmarked data to improve fitness and health. While there are benefits for the individual, Big Brother lurks beneath. Large health insurance companies have varied premiums for users of biometric devices who follow regular healthy exercise regimes, or not. Some employers seek to monitor your blood pressure in tough negotiation situations to assess if you are fit-for-purpose in your job.
Virtual assistant devices provide forms of convenience that supplant the need for thoughtful consumer decision-making. Alexa can order ordinary household items for delivery to your home. As a result, Amazon collects valuable customer data on each user’s needs and habits, which it can analyse and reproduce as product recommendations. Did I miss where we consented formally to all of this?
Augmented or virtual reality (AR/VR) can be used by architects to design new buildings. Their clients can walk experientially through the result, long before they commit money to turn soil and build.
Games are played on VR; historic battlefields are re-enacted. As a corollary, psychologists are concerned VR takes people’s minds away from actual reality, and dysfunctional behaviours or worse can occur on re-entry to the real world.
The early predictions of threats from 3D printers to replace a significant number of manufacturing plants built on intellectual commercial property seem somewhat exaggerated now.
Digital currencies such as Bitcoin aren’t leading to a whole new outlawed international currency system, totally out of reach to nation states and regulators. They represent a very small part of international reserve currency values today, and speculative investors have now retreated because of sudden price drops and volatility. Bitcoin has itself become something of a Bit-con. At the same time, digital wallets and stored value transfers are replacing our pretty dollar notes that are now receding in their use and circulation. Further blockchain or the distributed ledger technology that underpinned the Bitcoin product has been used in other legitimate ways, such as for confirmation and exchange of secure private data.
Watch this space as we all work through forthcoming chapters of this new digital life.
This article originally appeared in the March 2019 edition of HRM magazine.