Challenge the Future of Work


With the CHALLENGE THE FUTURE WORK Report, Bene is presenting a report that quantitatively questions the opinions of the experts from the qualitative FUTURE OF WORK report and challenges the findings.

So, together with the Fraunhofer Institute Bene asked 1,200 people from 34 countries about the current state and the future of work. This report summarises the findings on four key aspects of the future of work: digital transformation, leadership culture, the way in which people collaborate, and the creation of meaning and purpose, that employees associate with their work today.

Chapters


Interactions between people and machines – a matter of formation

Interactions between people and machines – a matter of formation

 

In the first chapter relating to perceptions of digital transformation, in particular in impact of artificial intelligence, we present one of the most surprising results of our survey: that a majority of the participants are actually looking forward to the many possibilities posed by artificial intelligence. We also show the range of future scenarios they regard as likely for the professional world: Ranging from gloomy forecasts of high unemployment, to more hopeful expectations that see intelligent machines relieving us of annoying and tedious jobs, freeing up our time to pursue more interesting and meaningful activities. The most plausible studies for us predict that there will be changes in almost all professions, but that only a few jobs will be completely obsolete.

 

Read more in the full report on: 

  • Everything that can be automated, will also be automated.
  • A sober look at the reality
  • Intelligent machinery on the advance
  • Work doesn’t run out – it gets better
  • Selected statements from participants

 

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Excursus: Artificial intelligence – here to stay

Excursus: Artificial intelligence – here to stay

 

‟Strong” artificial intelligence (AI), which can not only react to situations but also think ahead on its own initiative: plan, make decision and respond flexibly, may still be just a fantasy, and seems likely to remain so for many years yet, but ‟weak” artificial intelligence has been with us in our everyday private and working lives for a long time (and is no longer recognised as such by many people). It helps with more clearly defined problems by using existing data and machine learning to derive models and rules for the future (knowledge). For this is it crucial that large volumes of example data are available in the form of images, documents or voice recordings, which the system uses to “train” itself: a system that learns.

AI is embedded today in voice-activated personal assistants such as Siri, Echo, Alexa and Cortana, reminding us about appointments, answering questions, or managing household equipment and sending text messages at our beck and call. Since these machines are becoming increasingly able to recognise users’ emotions, they may soon be able to choose the right music to suit our current mood. AI is used to detect hate posts in social media, and in the investment advice business. AI controls the first self-driving cars and autonomous drones for logistics companies. Learning systems answer questions in call centers and analyze medical images to recognise breast cancer, heart disease, osteoporosis and the first signs of skin cancer. In industrial manufacturing, AI optimises processes, spots defects before they cause disruptions, and when utilized in robots, AI works side-by-side with humans.

AI can write simple messages and prepare legal documents. In the insurance industry it is used to assess claims, it extracts data from medical reports, evaluates them and calculates the premiums due. Retailers use AI to improve stock availability and reduce warehousing costs, fashion chains use algorithms to match items of clothing and to make size recommendations for customers, which helps to reduce the rate of returns. Electronics dealers use AI in their online shops to generate product descriptions automatically, based on product data. AI-based care robots bring meals to residents in care homes and clean floors, but they can also – since they are able to speak and learn – motivate residents to exercise or entertain them with quiz games.

HUMAN RESSOURCES 2.0

In corporate personnel departments, artificial intelligence plays an increasingly important role. Even today AI is already able to run automated telephone interviews and preselect candidates using speech analysis. Digital recruitment assistants compare applicants’ skills and aims against other vacancies in the firm and may then suggest alternatives to the position they initially applied for. Some companies already use AI-based career development assistants to give employees individual coaching and suggest training programmes and networking opportunities.

SUCCESSFUL AI SOLUTIONS REQUIRE THE INTERPLAY WITH PEOPLE

Some caution is needed here, however, warns the Fraunhofer Institute for Open Communication Systems: “Since the AI trains itself through machine learning based on training datasets, this is a ‘black-box process’: the human user cannot see the reasoning behind the AI’s decisions.” If there is a bias in the datasets, that bias is also learned by the AI – and prejudices are replicated. For example, if the selection of potential candidates for a management position is left to AI, it is conceivable that the AI will only suggest central European men, because positions like this have in the past been filled almost exclusively from that group. Since the assessment is conducted using a black-box process, this bias is not evident, and the apparent objectivity of the process is illusory. A study by the accounting firm Ernst & Young has also sounded warning bells: The expectations surrounding AI are driven by a strong degree of hype, the study suggests. Decision makers are often just looking for AI applications they can use in their company without reflecting critically on the underlying technology. “Anyone designing AI solutions should focus not only on their technological development but also consider the interaction between humans and AI. […] It is vital that there is informed discussion about the implications of human-AI interactions […].”

 

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Digital transformation in numbers – the Bene survey

Digital transformation in numbers – the Bene survey

 

One of the most surprising results of our survey – which stands in contrast to the narrative often advanced in the media – is that a majority of the participants say they are “looking forward to the many opportunities resulting from artificial intelligence (AI)” (graphic 1).

[…]

It is striking that there is a substantially more positive attitude towards AI in  comparison to new technologies in general that we defined in our survey as technologies for pure automation. AI on the other hand is defined as self-learning systems such as voice-activated assistants, smart home technology, autonomous driving and predictive maintenance (graphic 4).

All other findings including graphics can be found in the full report.

 

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The pressure is powerful

The pressure is powerful

 

The second chapter explores leadership in the digital age, and we highlight the strong preference that many of our survey participants have for a new leadership culture. Because the digital economy no longer works according to traditional hierarchical patterns, employees want their bosses to delegate responsibility, to rely on cooperation and participation. We argue that executives are now expected to exemplify and tell a new credible story of the future of work.

 

Read more in the full report on: 

  • The emotional bond at work is dwindling
  • The new way of leading
  • The manager as a conductor of the orchestra
  • Companies have to tell future narratives
  • Selected statements from participants

 

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Excursus: Management culture – aligned, unaligned

Excursus: Management culture – aligned, unaligned

 

In today’s technology-driven, complex working environment, one of the greatest challenges for teams and co-workers is to agree on common goals. If this can be done, companies may enjoy a competitive advantage, according to a study by the communications platform Slack and the market research company GlobalWebIndex, based on responses from 17,000 knowledge workers at all levels of company hierarchies, across ten countries, and from more than 40 industries.

The study defines “aligned workers” as those who feel very connected to the vision and strategy of the company. Equipped with this insight into the bigger picture, they approach their work with optimistic purpose and feel empowered to take action. “Aligned workers” apparently not only have a clear understanding of the company strategy, but also of their own goals, and how the two fit together. 90 per cent of them said they know what is needed to complete their work successfully. The study shows that companies can nurture this alignment through a clear strategy and by communicating their strategy clearly and regularly. “When people understand how their work fits into the larger whole, organisations can tackle even the most difficult challenges. Employees have a strong desire for connection to the company aims.”

The study found a positive correlation between monthly updates on the company strategy and the employees’ perception of the firm as “excellent”. 75 per cent of “aligned workers” would apparently also feel confident about making strategic decisions or exploring new business ideas. Amongst “unaligned workers”, who feel disconnected from the strategic objectives of their employer, the study reports only 22 per cent feel this. Those who feel unaligned consistently rate the work ethic and employee satisfaction as lower, are more pessimistic about the company’s future and feel less empowered to seize business opportunities.

 

Leadership in numbers – the Bene survey

Leadership in numbers – the Bene survey

 

Broadly speaking the desire for a different, new kind of management culture was confirmed by Bene’s present survey of almost 1,200 people in nearly as many different companies. However, some key differences emerge between the two types of company, on the question of management style in these companies today. In dynamic companies, decisions are evidently more likely to be taken together by managers and employees, while in less dynamic firms, responsibility is seen as lying with senior management, in the traditional style. There is also a striking difference between the average values where corporate strategy is concerned, and the extent to which it is embodied by the staff: dynamic companies, as evaluated by their employees, are more likely to have a “clearly formed strategy” that ensures they remain successful in changing times, and they are also more likely to allow their employees to participate in “intensive discussion” about this. In both types of company, however, survey participants agreed the most strongly with the statement that responsibility should be more widely shared – a suggestion that companies should surely not simply ignore, although they evidently often do (graphic 9).

 

All other findings including graphics can be found in the full report.

 

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Know-how and Know-why

Know-how and Know-why

 

In the third chapter we discuss the meaning and purpose of work, and reveal that employees today are looking for work content that they can deeply connect with, and that reflects their own values and goals. The traditional “higher, faster, further” is no longer a sufficient motivator for them. Companies that want to assert themselves in the digital transformation must therefore become purpose suppliers. Managers face the challenging task of bringing together their company’s goals with those of their employees to form a new narrative.

 

Read more in the full report on: 

  • Ikigai – the reason for being
  • Meaningful work
  • The question for the purpose of work
  • An engagement crisis?
  • Providing purpose
  • Selected statements from participants

 

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Excursus: Not made for routine

Excursus: Not made for routine

 

This man is not squeamish: he compares the curiously disengaged manner of many employees at work with the “learned helplessness” of dogs used in animal experimentation. Dan Cable is an American social psychologist and professor of organisational behaviour at the London Business School; in his book “Alive at work” he addresses the question of how to remedy this sense of disengagement that overcomes around three quarters of all employees. Like dogs that have been punished in experiments with shocks and eventually just lie on the floor and endure their fate, he describes employees as punished for undesirable behaviour and falling into a lethargic state that is highly unsatisfactory for all parties.

SUCCESSFUL THANKS TO TRIAL & ERROR

The fact that workers do not give their best effort is not due to inadequate motivation, but simply to biology, according to Cable: “Humans are not made for routine and repetition. ” They would much rather explore, try new things, play, learn. But companies make use of these instinctive impulses much too rarely. Cable refers to people who play – they would simply pursue their passion indefinitely, without even any monetary goal or other “reward”. The survival of organisations in a world that is changing so quickly, he says, depends increasingly on employees having the opportunity to be actively creative, and not to be always pushed into the same behaviours and responses by fear of “punishment” or triggered by “rewards”. And in making the case for employees’ self-fulfillment, Cable advises senior executives to see themselves as their employees’ humble helpers in this process: “This style of leadership does not mean demanding perfection, but on the contrary making it clear that people are never perfect and therefore need to be able to try new things, to fail.

 

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The purpose of work in numbers – the Bene survey

The purpose of work in numbers – the Bene survey

 

“Work is not only expected to be enjoyable, but also to serve a higher purpose.” This is what we wrote in our first Bene Future of Work Report. When we offered our survey participants just two alternatives for what motivates them at work, they sometimes chose – using Terkel’s definition – the day-to-day purpose (“self-realisation through my work”), and sometimes their daily bread (“good salary”), with a slight preference for self-realisation (average value 1.6) (graphic 13).

 

 

When participants were offered a wider range of response options, a fascinating distribution emerged: The strongest motivation for work came from the opportunity “to make the most of their own abilities”, followed by the chance “to take responsibility“ and for “personal development”. Employees are evidently much less strongly motivated by the prospect of working together with colleagues and managers, and of making a contribution to the company’s success and to society. So the findings of the Bene survey show a significant prevalence of motivating factors that affect them personally – you might say that “I” is stronger than “we” at work – that our egoistic needs are more important than the collective ones (graphic 16).

 

 

All other findings including graphics can be found in the full report.

 

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Balance in the office please!

Balance in the office please!

This chapter looks at the different forms of cooperation: In the digital economy how can we achieve the best work results? What spatial settings will be required for the best results, if work is performed with increasing mobility? What will be the ideal conditions for successful project work? And, are agile methods useful alternatives? With an overwhelming majority, the participants in our study advocate being able to work as independently as possible, and without too much control by their superiors. To do this, they want spaces for meeting colleagues, but also opportunities to retreat for concentrated work. Interchangeable cross-departmental project teams are the preferred method in most companies to solve tasks successfully. Agile methods are the exception.

 

Read more in the full report on: 

  • A plea for more privacy
  • The balance between mobility and stability
  • The happiness of teamwork
  • Profitable thanks to diversity
  • Selected statements from participants

 

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Excursus: The Multispace is the future

Excursus: The Multispace is the future

 

Flexible “multispace” offices – work environments where open spaces are mixed with a range of closed spaces, often combined with a non-territorial office concept – provide “a significantly higher supporting function” for company objectives. This is the central finding of a study by the Fraunhofer Institute for Industrial Engineering (IAO) on “Effective Office and Working Environments.” In 2018 the researchers surveyed almost 1,100 office and work environment experts and found that a multispace working environment yields significantly better results than other office layouts. Not only do multispace offices offer significantly more opportunities for employees to retreat if they need to concentrate or take a short break including in comparison to individual offices – they also have a positive impact on collaboration and the sense of autonomous working. Employer attractiveness also increases significantly in multispace offices because this is where the spatial layout least reflects hierarchical structures.

The new definition of mobile work

According to the researchers, good quality spatial design is present when office structures effectively support changes in the company, are representative of the working processes and promote informal discussion, provide an adequate range of meeting spaces and take specific user needs into account in their design. However, most of those surveyed felt that the modernisation of their work organisation is not happening fast enough, and the bigger the company, the more the speed of transformation is seen as too slow. The study participants indicated that their current office and working environment only supported the achievement of company objectives to a moderate extent. Just 23 per cent are already working in multispace offices. A further 19 per cent are working in multiperson offices, 15 per cent in group or two-person offices, 14 per cent in open-plan offices and 7 per cent in individual offices. The fact that 54 per cent of those surveyed expect the multispace to become the predominant form of office in future was summed up by the researchers in the title: “Wanted: work environment that offers choice”.  A study by the German Economic Institute looking at “Mobile Working in Germany and Europe” (2017) also places the significance of the “home office” trend in context. In contrast to what the public debate would suggest, mobile working primarily means working at a client’s premises. “The frequently conjured image of the employee who can choose to work in the office, on their balcony at home or in a cafe round the corner is the exception, and not the norm, when it comes to mobile working. Mobile working takes a variety of forms in Germany.”

 

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Collaboration in numbers – the Bene survey

Collaboration in numbers – the Bene survey

 

“Places to retreat for focused work” is by far the most common answer given by Bene study participants when asked what they see as important for working productively. The second most important thing is “regular meetings where the whole team is physically present”, and the third is “space for informal discussions”. “Spaces specifically designed for collaboration” and “group events during work hours” are also popular, as are shared meals. “Constant virtual consultations” and “group activities outside work hours”, on the other hand, are less popular. There is little difference between the responses from employees in dynamic companies and those in less dynamic companies – the desire for spaces to retreat and regular meetings where colleagues are physically present is relatively pronounced in all companies (graphic 17).

 

 

All other findings including graphics can be found in the full report.

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