Sinead Scully is the director of enterprise business at IBM Ireland. Here, she talks about the important role data will play in the future of work.
The future of work is very much upon us, but we still want to know what exactly it entails. How is the workplace as we know it changing? How has it changed already? What can we expect in the future?
There are plenty of things at play, and there are many key players who are able to look ahead and see what might be coming over the hill for us.
Sinead Scully is the director of enterprise business at IBM Ireland. She is also its female diversity leader. She shared with us her thoughts on how the future of work will pan out and how it will affect the workplace as we know it.
What challenges and opportunities face the workplace and workforce of the future?
Every profession in every industry in every part of the world and the workplace itself are all changing simultaneously. In our workplaces today, we are drawing on a wealth of new data, knowledge, insights and tools. We are being equipped to rethink our job, and freed to do our life’s work.
Similarly, creating a desired employee experience can help address the workplace retention challenges that are currently spawning a virtuous cycle in the marketplace.
Insight from recent research by the IBM Institute for Business Value highlights a number of retention practices, ranging from increasing transparency and simplifying administrative tasks, to creating a work environment that balances personal and collaborative space. These will also help with the opportunities faced by the workforce of the future.
What key trends do you foresee in relation to intra-team behaviour, management-employee interactions, or other workplace dynamics?
Unified communications is a key aspect of the new workplace. By bringing together all the tools that today’s workers use to communicate and collaborate, unified communications solutions make those tools easier to access and use, and more productive for both workers and the organisation.
How will the workplace change as the Baby Boomers and Generation X age out of the workforce, and it becomes millennial-driven?
Some media reports have pitted generations against each other, with gen-Xers waiting impatiently for boomers to retire, and millennials eyeing the spots the promoted gen-Xers would leave vacant.
Our IBM evidence to date shows generational differences at work are much ado about very little. Also, these generational distinctions may even amount to stereotyping, too broad to be accurate or useful, and potentially discriminatory.
We advise companies to find the most meaningful groupings, ensure there is a focus on employees as individuals, and take actions accordingly. This, in turn, will drive improvements in employees’ workplace experiences, leading to better bottom-line business results.
What part will diversity and inclusion play in the make-up of the workforce of the future?
IBM recognises the unique value and skills every individual brings to the workplace. We believe that innovation comes from seeking out and inspiring diversity in all its dimensions today and of the workforce in the future.
As the IBM Ireland female diversity leader and executive sponsor of Connecting Women in Technology, I believe strongly in attracting, retaining and developing female talent as not only essential to a company’s culture, it’s a business imperative.
From my interactions with our clients and other companies, I know that to continue to grow and innovate, businesses need to be both diverse and inclusive. Companies need to be aware that the collective power of all of those different viewpoints is much stronger than what you see from people who all think alike.
Work-life balance is arguably central to job satisfaction. How can it be better achieved?
My overall wellbeing and work-life balance is important and whilst my work is a fulfilling experience (most of the time!), I do need to have time for my family, friends and my own personal quiet time and hobbies, so I try to ensure I have a good balance.
It is also in every company’s best interest to help employees balance the pressures of work with the demands of home.
This is all achieved better through work-life programmes. Why? Because employees are more productive when they know their personal issues can be easily addressed and supported by their company.
At IBM, work-life programmes have been established to help us all better manage our work and personal lives. The programmes accomplish this by creating a flexible work environment that is sensitive to an individual’s needs and responsibilities. And we share our practices and policies with other industries to help them better achieve their programmes.
We’ve seen immense increases in salary, particularly in tech. Do you think salaries in your sector will trend upwards or will we start to see other benefits coming to the fore?
As business professionals, we are driven always to advance, and to make a difference through our work. That’s why I always find it interesting when reading reviews by employees praising their workplaces as ‘the best places to work’, that they make little or no mention of salary. So there are benefits beyond salary that come to the fore with every employee and sector.
With technical talent at a premium, differentiating your company in the eyes of today’s employees and tomorrow’s candidates requires thinking like a marketer. Employees recognise there is no point in being paid a fortune if you are stressed out, rarely see your family, or totally bored at your workplace. In the end, we all know too well that life is short.
As a result, we need to take into account the other benefits like interesting projects to work on, great teams, excellent managers, opportunities to learn or lead, or mentoring others – these are all just as important a part of the company’s overall benefits, right down to saying a simple ‘thank you’ to a colleague. All of this matters in our jobs to help us make that difference we drive towards.
We’re currently deep in the world of data. What part will data play in developing the future of work?
Yes, we are currently deep in the world of data and I agree with the saying that data is the new oil or even the new soil. However, currently it’s only 20pc of the world’s data that we are seeing and is searchable – anybody can get to that 20pc. The future of business is in the other 80pc, that is where the future work and developments will be.
Although massive amounts of data are generated every minute of every day, an astonishing amount of that data is wasted. Less than 1pc of data is actually used, even though it has tremendous potential value.
In much the same way filmmakers may shoot hours of film for every minute you see on screen, a vast amount of data is collected yet never analysed, let alone monetised. This data is an untapped resource that offers huge opportunities for new products, business models and partnerships.
The potential for innovation is tremendous when you stop thinking of data as a side-effect of automation and other digital activities and, instead, view it as a resource with inherent value.
In short, to win in the future of work, data matters. Client control of their data and insights on the data matters too.
We’re looking at a more automated future, as AI and bots become more sophisticated. How do you think this will affect roles in your sector?
The next few years will be critical for information technology providers, as businesses and institutions around the world will make key architectural decisions about cloud, about data, and about AI.
At IBM, we take seriously our responsibility that will affect our sector, to ensure that new technology is adopted in ways that are both ethical and enduring, and this is never more essential than in times of rapid economic and societal change.
To affect roles in our sector, we’ll continue to engage across our industry and society, and to advocate for a business and policy environment that is open, inclusive, global and equitable.
What are the sectors of the future? Where do you believe we will we be seeing job growth and development?
Foundational changes are transforming all areas and sectors of work. The changes are driven by business pressures, strategic objectives, new IT enablers available both inside and outside the industry, the enterprise, and the manner in which individual companies mould these trends to win in their marketplace.
Digital technology is affecting every aspect of work. From delivering personalised consumer experiences to connecting the supply chain via a web of sensors.
To create new, compelling value propositions and job growth and development in this environment, companies should first find new ways to reimagine their customer experience.
Recent IBM Institute for Business Value research reveals that 54pc of global executives believe that customers’ buying behaviour is becoming experience-based, and 81pc of global CEOs plan to use new technologies to build new and stronger customer relationships.
Reimagining customer experience by means of new focus, expertise and ways of working will help companies and their sector rise to the vanguard of experience-oriented innovation, job growth and development.
What will companies need to do to attract and support the best talent?
Companies need to develop clear messaging that reflects their organisation’s core values, target attractive candidates and employees and create a compelling value proposition that resonates with technologists to help them make a difference through their work.
How do companies need to change right now to be ready for the future of work you have envisioned here?
Many of our clients are witnessing their business momentum placed at risk due to a lack of available technical talent. Companies can no longer reach into the market and grab critical skills on demand.
To better address changing customer requirements, organisations should consider adopting more agile software-development methods that bring together users, designers and programmers into close collaboration across virtual and physical environments.
Further, organisations must address their current and future staffing supply factors such as office location and design, the balance between internal employees and external contractors, on-shore versus offshore development, expected internal turnover rates, local labour markets and salary rates and access to development partners who possess essential skills.