IHRIM Keynoter Says Technology Innovations Will Change Work

By Aliah D. Wright Sep 18, 2015
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ATLANTA—Innovations in technology and the rise of Millennials in the workplace will change the way businesses operate; there’s no escaping it, said Wired magazine deputy editor Greg Williams to attendees of the 35th Annual International Association for Human Resource Information Management (IHRIM) Conference.

“The best technology is technology we don’t see,” Williams noted, such as the television sets and car stereos we turn on without even thinking about how they work. He added that companies need to consider how they treat their employees because “we have to make sure their experiences [with technology] at work are as seamless as they are in everyday interactions.”

After all, he said, “It is not really about the technology. It’s about all of us.”

In his keynote speech before more than 300 attendees on Sept. 16, 2015, Williams pointed out that “our connected devices are becoming our primary way we connect with the world.” He said that by 2020, 50 billion devices will be connected to the Internet. Desktop computing will soon be a thing of the past. Williams said to consider Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff, who “runs his entire company from his mobile phone.” On average, people check their smartphones 1,500 times per week, 221 times per day—which takes up three hours every day. More than 18 percent of the average user’s waking hours are spent on a smartphone, Williams said. And for employers, it’s worth noting that 81 percent of large companies and 86 percent of midsize companies that have made investments in mobile technology “reported improved workforce satisfaction.”

“Growth in technology is exponential now,” he said, “not linear.” The sale of relatively new tech companies for billions of dollars, including Instagram, Waze and WhatsApp, is proof that “we need to think about technology as an ecosystem—one where the distinction between work and personal is no longer applicable. … [P]eople use the aforementioned apps for work and play. Our homes, our bodies will [soon] be connected in real time to the Internet on a highly individualized basis—and that connectivity will be used for whatever purpose we need.”

Devices Will Talk to Each Other

He predicted that in the near future, “there’s going to be interconnection without the mediation of human beings.”

Ovens will turn on automatically when we come home in preparation for cooking that night’s dinner, and refrigerators will tell us what we can cook based on the ingredients inside. Sensors in trash cans will tell us when it’s time to take out the trash.

“Maybe your alarm clock [will be] talking to your news service,” Williams said, adjusting what time you need to get up to get ready for work based on changes in traffic patterns

He pointed to organizations that are at the forefront of this kind of technology: One company has placed sensors in inhalers so the people who use them will know what exactly is triggering their allergies. Boston uses an app that alerts the city to potholes in the road based on how cars interact with the streets. One Dutch company has attached sensors to cows to determine when they are in heat.

What HR Can Expect

Williams predicted that HR will see a tectonic shift in the freelance economy as more people become entrepreneurs, thanks to such apps as Uber and Airbnb that connect people with goods and services, as well as websites like AngelList and Kickstarter, where people get funding for startups.

“We’re now in the age of the entrepreneur,” he said. “Freelancers are going to be the new normal by 2020; more than 40 percent of the U.S. workforce will be freelancers or temporary workers.”

“Flexible working will be the new normal. Cloud and mobile technology and ubiquitous connectivity already mean we can work wherever we want.” Furthermore, he added, the Millennial generation, which will comprise the majority of the workforce by 2020, will expect such workplace flexibility.

Aliah D. Wright is an online editor/manager for SHRM. She can be reached via Twitter @1SHRMScribe. You can see the beginning of Greg Williams’ keynote speech by tuning in to her Periscope channel @aliahwrites.

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