Mil­len­ni­als’ wants will change work

The new gen­er­a­tion will be look­ing at speed, agility and user-friendly tools – and the op­tion to work from a cof­fee shop

Mail & Guardian - - Technology - Nafisa Ak­a­bor

In a small town called Lysaker, on the out­skirts of Oslo, lies Cisco’s re­search and de­vel­op­ment (R&D) fa­cil­ity, which houses more than 350 engi­neers who are ded­i­cated to cre­at­ing in­tel­li­gent prod­ucts for the cor­po­rate world.

The on-de­mand video col­lab­o­ra­tion tools go through rig­or­ous test­ing, which in­clude cli­mate, vi­bra­tion and drop test­ing, and a com­bi­na­tion of var­i­ous test en­vi­ron­ments to en­sure faults are picked up early on, de­vel­op­ment time is re­duced and engi­neers are ed­u­cated.

Us­ing ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence and ma­chine learn­ing tech­nolo­gies, the firm’s video con­fer­enc­ing tools have been de­vel­oped to elim­i­nate back­ground sounds, track and zoom into who is speak­ing in a group con­fer­ence call and fol­low them from left to right in a con­fer­ence.

Un­der its We­bex sub­sidiary, Cisco pro­vides co-cre­ation tools sim­i­lar to Slack or Mi­crosoft teams, with a vir­tual white­board fea­ture that works seam­lessly across video screens, mo­bile apps and desk­tops, so em­ploy­ees can col­lab­o­rate in real time no mat­ter where they are.

It is these kinds of tools that may well de­fine how com­mu­ni­ca­tion in a cor­po­rate space is done in fu­ture, with mil­len­ni­als shap­ing how busi­nesses will adapt.

Ac­cord­ing to Deloitte’s 2018 Mil­len­nial Sur­vey, the growth of in­dus­try 4.0 tech­nolo­gies — such as ro­bot­ics, the in­ter­net of things and ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence — has al­ready al­tered the na­ture of work.

Key find­ings among mil­len­ni­als and Gen Z, who par­tic­i­pated in the Deloitte sur­vey, which in­cluded South Africa, were that di­ver­sity and flex­i­bil­ity are key to loy­alty; per­cep­tions of what mo­ti­vates a busi­ness and its ethics took a sharp down­ward turn — af­ter trending up­wards for the past two years; and young work­ers feel un­pre­pared for in­dus­try 4.0.

Loy­alty ap­pears to be in­flu­enced in a very dif­fer­ent way than it was pre­vi­ously in cor­po­rates. Fifty per­cent of mil­len­ni­als and 44% of Gen Z chose flex­i­bil­ity of hours and lo­ca­tion as key driv­ers of loy­alty.

This cor­re­lates strongly to what Cisco be­lieves will drive the work­place of the fu­ture — the abil­ity to work any­where, from a cof­fee shop to a board­room, but with the right ongoing col­lab­o­ra­tion tools.

Snorre Kjesbu, vice-pres­i­dent of Cisco’s col­lab­o­ra­tion end­point tech­nol­ogy group, says there haven’t been any sig­nif­i­cant changes in the work­place since the 1950s. “If you go into the workspace, you see the same thing. We have lots and lots of dis­parate tools, and it’s a chal­lenge.”

Kjesbu says his per­sonal life had been turned up­side down by the iPhone and yet the most cre­ative tool the cor­po­rate world has is to fly peo­ple around the planet to share the equiv­a­lent of Post-It notes.

He be­lieves the right tools are needed to do things quickly, and work­ing agility will play an es­sen­tial role in or­gan­i­sa­tions of the fu­ture. “The way we or­gan­ise our­selves and sit is chang­ing, and the type of tools we use in the work­place is chang­ing rapidly, with ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence and ma­chine learn­ing quickly en­ter­ing the space.” spend­ing long hours at air­ports or ar­riv­ing home late be­cause of traf­fic, em­ploy­ees can spend more time with fam­ily and friends.”

Naidu says the trends ob­served around world also hold true for South Africa, and the com­pe­ti­tion to at­tract tal­ent is what mo­ti­vates busi­nesses to think about the em­ployee ex­pe­ri­ence. “With Gen Y and Gen Z en­ter­ing the work­place, they are ex­pect­ing a rich set of com­mu­ni­ca­tion and col­lab­o­ra­tion ap­pli­ca­tions which are en­gag­ing and easy to use, in­clud­ing video.”

He says what hap­pens be­tween meet­ings is more im­por­tant than what hap­pens dur­ing a meet­ing. “There­fore, meet­ings, as pointof-time dis­cus­sions only, will be re­placed by ongoing col­lab­o­ra­tion within and across teams, as­sisted by con­text-aware tech­nolo­gies.”

Cisco has in­vested heavily in ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence tools with ma­chine learn­ing and be­lieves, by 2020, vir­tual as­sis­tants will be ca­pa­ble of sum­maris­ing the most im­por­tant top­ics of a meet­ing and, by 2022, could pro­pose suit­able col­leagues for a team based on the com­pany’s goal and team mem­bers’ ca­pa­bil­i­ties.

Cisco is also test­ing fea­tures such as iden­ti­fy­ing peo­ple who join a group video meet­ing by over­lay­ing name la­bels — a strictly opt-in fea­ture; tran­scripts and trans­la­tions of what was said; pri­vate feed­back, such as how much a per­son speaks in a meet­ing and whether they in­ter­rupt oth­ers or get in­ter­rupted fre­quently; and the abil­ity to book a meet­ing room when one walks into it.

“The work­place as we know it is chang­ing, and com­pa­nies need to adapt or die be­cause, just as of­fices and fac­to­ries of the 1980s evolved over the years, so too will the cur­rent work­place,” says Naidu.

Al­though change man­age­ment in com­pa­nies is key to han­dling the tran­si­tion to a digi­tised work­place — which is not to mean re­place­ment of peo­ple, but rather to com­ple­ment them with the right tech­nol­ogy and tools to be more pro­duc­tive — the change should not in­tim­i­date com­pa­nies as there are key ben­e­fits to be gained, he says.

As for com­pa­nies that don’t adapt? “They will have dif­fi­culty in at­tract­ing young tal­ent who ex­pect to work from any­where; and in­ef­fi­cient team­work and in­creased costs are fur­ther con­se­quences.”

“With Gen Y and

Gen Z en­ter­ing the work­place, they are ex­pect­ing a rich set of com­mu­ni­ca­tion and col­lab­o­ra­tion ap­pli­ca­tions which are en­gag­ing and easy to use, in­clud­ing video”

New tech­nolo­gies: Chil­dren at an ex­po­si­tion about ro­bot­ics and ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence. Com­pa­nies that don’t keep pace with change will have prob­lems hir­ing mil­len­ni­als.Photo: Philippe Clè­ment

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