Digital Media Transforms the World of Work

By Aliah D. Wright Jan 27, 2016
While websites, apps and video have helped people find work and improve their professional skills and their work/life balance, digital media has also eroded productivity and caused a rise in income inequity, a new study finds.

The Shaping the Future Implications of Digital Media for Society study was released Jan. 20 by the World Economic Forum and Willis Towers Watson, a global advisory company.

Digital media is defined as those products and services that come from the media, entertainment and information industry and its subsectors, including websites and applications; digitized content such as text, audio, video and images; and services like information, entertainment and communication that can be accessed and consumed through different digital devices.

Of the 7 billion people in the world, 3 billion used the Internet in 2015; 2 billion actively use social media, and there are more than 1.5 billion mobile social accounts (for example, WhatsApp, WeChat, and Facebook’s Messenger), according to the European Publishers Council’s 2015 Global Social Media Trends Report.

“Digital media now touches almost every aspect of a typical organization, from how talent is sourced and deployed, to how work gets done, to how the business connects with employees and customers,” said Ravin Jesuthasan, a managing director at Willis Towers Watson and co-author of the study.

Match Skills to Business Needs

“Given these changes, we believe employers should consider several initiatives, including using digital media to more accurately match an individual’s skills to a specific business need, rather than thinking solely in terms of traditional jobs,” he said. He added that companies should take a “more nuanced approach to how work should be conducted; using social media tools to build communication and engagement within the organization; sourcing and building digital skills; and developing digital leadership.”

More than 5,000 digital users from Brazil, China, Germany, South Africa and the U.S. were surveyed. “Nearly seven in 10 respondents agree that the use of digital media for work-related purposes has grown significantly over the past three years and will continue to do so in the future,” according to the report. Conducted in October 2015 with the support of comScore, the study also revealed that users spend most of their time online for work-related purposes (32 percent spend more than three hours a day online), to get information or for learning.

“Increased online connection time appears to be driven mainly by work or information seeking, followed by social and entertainment needs, based on findings from the five countries surveyed,” the report states.

In addition:

  • 56 percent of respondents said digital media has transformed the way they work.

  • 41 percent said using social media improves their work effectiveness. Conversely, 14 percent said it reduces their effectiveness at work.

  • Half of respondents said digital media has improved the quality of their professional lives. Only 14 percent disagreed.

  • About two-thirds of respondents said digital media has improved their ability to do their work, learn and develop professionally, and collaborate with colleagues.

  • Roughly 60 percent said digital media has improved their ability to maintain balance between work and their personal lives, build relationships with professional contacts, and find jobs.

The report also pointed out that “people’s online behaviors shaped their digital identities” and that individuals behave differently in their private lives than they do professionally—something employers should be mindful of when considering the digital footprints of candidates, experts said.

As Jamie Notter and Maddie Grant point out in their book, Humanize (Que Publishing, 2012), “before social media, the rules were clearer. We used to be able to manage our identity in discrete packages, where work friends and personal friends would rarely interact, but that is becoming less and less feasible for many people in the age of social media.”

The study’s authors also point out that, despite its positive impact, digital media has caused a greater divide between the haves and have nots—simply because of the disruptions in labor markets and different skill requirements brought about by digital technology.

“Digital media and related technology may drive near-term inequality as innovations like talent platforms increase the productivity and rewards of highly skilled workers while simultaneously cutting the cost of low-skilled work,” Jesuthasan said.

Aliah D. Wright is an online editor/manager for SHRM.


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