Introducing flexi-time and making employees feel valued will be vital to preserving morale in the workplace going forward.
Tanya Duncan joined European colocation data company Interxion in 2001. She held a number of positions and steadily made her way up the ranks before being appointed managing director in 2005.
Duncan has extensive experience in the management of complex customer environments, capital-intensive projects and strategic business development. She has played a vital role in the positioning and development of Interxion in Ireland.
Her customer focus, coupled with a strong understanding of business and technical requirements, has spearheaded Interxion’s success in the Irish data centre market.
Duncan has no doubts that technological progress and demographic changes within our population are going to drastically transform the workplace. In turn, she makes it clear that how managers relate to their employees and how they prioritise is going to have to adapt.
What challenges and opportunities face the workplace and workforce of the future?
Today’s workforce is changing at a rapid pace and organisations are facing a number of opportunities and challenges on different fronts.
When it comes to data centres, the biggest opportunities include the increasing capability of technology and AI, and how it is transforming our industry. These developments will allow us to continue to develop the opportunity we provide to our clients, making our service more efficient and adding greater value to our clients as a result.
Some of the main challenges I have identified in my role include managing the talent requirement of the organisation while keeping employees engaged; managing an organisation through changing landscapes such as the advent of GDP, PSD2 and Brexit; and adapting your organisation to meet future needs and trends, but not prescribing to them so much that you lose sight of the organisation as a whole.
What key trends do you foresee in relation to intra-team behaviour, management-employee interactions or other workplace dynamics?
Technology in general tends to have a younger workforce demographic. However, we are seeing older people stay in the sector because of the benefits available and the importance of their knowledge and expertise. As such, managing these two very different age groups can be a challenge.
I believe that by building a team that works together, and really understands the organisation’s wider goals, challenges such as managing a difference in age becomes much easier.
Technology has transformed the workplace, particularly when it comes to how we communicate and how we work. In terms of workplace dynamics, this can often mean that conversations that may have taken place in a meeting are moving online. In most cases, this delivers time efficiencies. For a team to develop a strong working relationship, I advocate for face-to-face meetings on a regular basis.
On the other side, technology has allowed people to remain or return to work as it enables them to balance their workload differently, from working at home to Skype conferences. We encourage our employees as much as possible to choose a method that works for them.
How will the workplace change as the Baby Boomers and Generation X age out of the workforce, and it becomes millennial-driven?
This will change how we develop our employee benefit schemes. Baby Boomers and Gen X wanted reliability, security and clear benefits.
Millennials on the other hand, and indeed Gen Z, want freedom to develop their work schedule to suit their life. They want to know that they are working for an organisation that has a strong ethical ethos; they want to be challenged.
They also want to be rewarded for their efforts, not necessarily through one-off bonuses but rather through ongoing opportunities and career development.
What part will diversity and inclusion play in the make-up of the workforce of the future?
The world we live in is becoming more and more diverse. An organisation that fails to foster and encourage diversity in all its guises is missing out on opportunities for different skillsets and ways of thinking, and will be viewed negatively by current and potential employees.
In Ireland, we can often think that diversity does not apply to us, given our status as an island and the make-up of our current population. If the development of Ireland’s technology sector and Brexit have taught us anything, it’s that we need to be at the forefront of diversity and inclusion, or risk being left behind.
Organisations need to look at how they can help the diversity of their sector, be it encouraging more women in STEM, providing university scholarships, or introducing new programmes at primary and post-primary level to keep more students across a broader range of backgrounds engaged in STEM from an early age.
Work-life balance is arguably central to job satisfaction. How can it be better achieved?
When I think of work-life balance, I think that technology can significantly help or hinder this, depending on how it is approached. When it comes to an organisation, ensuring that teams are sufficiently resourced and have what they need to deliver should not be overlooked. Technology can assist this by allowing individuals to work from home, or work the hours that suit them.
For many individuals, technology can hinder their work-life balance if not managed correctly. I think managers play a vital role here, so that employees can understand what is required of them and know that just because you can be connected, does not mean you need to be.
Promoting and maintaining a positive work-life balance will be a strong calling card for those looking at their future career opportunities. An organisation that recognises this will be well placed to take advantage of it.
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?
How we work and the make-up of our workforce may be changing, but I continue to believe that Maslow’s hierarchy of needs can still be applied to today’s workforce – the order may just need to be reimagined.
Many in the tech sector know that they will be able to meet their physiological needs and so, place far less value on job security. They are now demanding esteem in terms of finding new challenges and creative opportunities.
I believe that salary will always be a key measure of opening conversation but when it comes to an employee choosing an organisation, it is other elements – opportunity for creativity, career opportunities, a challenge – that candidates will base their decisions on.
We’re currently deep in the world of data. What part will data play in developing the future of work?
Data collection is not new. We are only starting to see the benefits that data can offer to our lives if we take the time to investigate and understand it.
An organisation can tap into the data around it in any number of ways, from monitoring the time most employees log on or off, to the level of email throughput or the software tools employees use most to identify areas for improvement or development.
This could be something as simple as allowing flexible working hours or varying how teams structure their days, to ensure both the employees and the organisation are getting the most from their time.
An insight-led approach can transform an organisation, its workforce and the results they deliver.
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?
There has been a lot of commentary in media and the industry around the difference AI and bots could make to our sector. The truth is that this is just another technology development, just as cloud storage was years ago. The approach an organisation takes to these changes is critical.
When it comes to the data sector industry, the advent of this type of technology will not have a sudden impact but rather, we will see some roles change and grow. As such, this provides an opportunity for employees in those roles to either take a leading role in introducing and managing the technology, or reskill so that their industry knowledge can be utilised in a new way.
Employers, for their part, need to communicate with their employees on these changes, providing suitable training opportunities for staff who have a valuable wealth of knowledge, which the industry needs.
In the immediate to medium future, I don’t think that AI and bots will significantly alter the data centre industry.
What are the sectors of the future? Where do you believe we will we be seeing job growth and development?
I believe technology and data management and storage will continue to be significant sectors globally and in Ireland. The volume of data travelling through networks continues to increase. Organisations will be looking to the data centre industry for ways to harness and manage this throughput.
What will companies need to do to attract and support the best talent?
There are three main areas I think employers need to look at: career development, rewards and team ethos. If an organisation can provide an employee with these three factors, I believe that individual will deliver tenfold for the organisation.
These elements cannot stand alone and are dependent on the individual, but provide a good overarching approach to attracting and retaining talent, particularly within Ireland’s tight-knit technology hubs.
How do companies need to change right now to be ready for the future of work you have envisioned here?
Change is coming to our industry and across Ireland’s economy, whether it is just through Brexit and GDPR, or the evolving needs of our workforce. To meet these challenges, organisations need to take a proactive approach with open communication between management and employees.
While this may sound simple, if delivered consistently and correctly, the business will continue to thrive and grow as the world around us changes.