Lewis Garrad

Originally posted here on LinkedIn by Lewis Garrad, Employee Research and Engagement, Growth Markets.

It seems very fashionable to make predictions about the future, even though the evidence suggests that most people are rather bad at it. Much of what is written about it is either obvious or complete guesswork. Given that, I thought I would take a stab at it. I have found that I’m capable of both guesswork and observing the obvious so I feel entitled to give it a go. I am going to make three predictions about the future of work based on real technology that has either already been developed or that looks likely. Let me be clear – the capability to do these things, more or less, already exists. What I’m contemplating is how they’ll be used and what it means for people at work.

I’d also like to address something that is sorely missing in a lot of the conversation about jobs, work and technology – the idea that technology will teach us something about ourselves that we do not yet know. So while others are pondering automation and impending irrelevance of human beings to many areas of work, I believe that a much more noble pursuit is to consider what HR technology will enable us to do for people and for the employers of those people. So, here are three ways life at work could change based on the emergence of increasingly powerful HR technology:

  1. Your digital twin will be winning you a job.

As of today there are 1.2 billion users of Facebook, 500 million members of Linkedin and 3.5 billion Google searches a day. The result is that many professional people have an online data footprint that is large and growing.

This vast array of data provides a unique window into humanity and an increasing body of research shows that it can be highly predictive of what you are really like, especially at work. The language that people use, how often they share, the sort of content they interact with is a direct indication of their personality; what people “like” online and how they perform in problem solving games is predictive of their cognitive ability. These connections have not gone unnoticed and tools are emerging that can use this data to create rather accurate talent profiles which means they can predict your chances success in certain jobs. While some tools are still asking you to do something to know you better (like MercerMatch and Hogan-X), others are using available public data about you (like Crystal Knows or Receptiviti).

The natural progression of this is that organizations of the future will see it as necessary and responsible to use this data to assess and understand candidate fit before giving someone a job – particularly if it’s managerial or professional. In the same way that a lender looks to vet your credit history when planning to loan you money (as a route to understanding how reliable you are), employers could use your digital footprint to help them understand if you’re really the right person for the role without even needing to speak to you. The data they can get online would be far more valid and reliable.

The crucial prerequisite here of course is that you have some sort social media profile. Without it you are an unknown quantity – a black box. Indeed, some tools have responded to this by giving an estimate of how accurate they believe they are based on the amount of information they can find about you.

The point is that the employer of the future might not even consider you as an employee for a professional position without being able to see a substantial data footprint from your online life. As the science and research around this improves, the links between your online social footprint and your potential at work are likely to strengthen and become even more valid. If you have a problem with this consider if you feel it’s worse than online marketers using the same information to advertise products to you, directly to your inbox or Facebook feed (which already happens).

2. Your email (or whatever organizations are using in the future to communicate) will know when you want to quit before you do.

As an increasing number of organizations move to even more distributed work teams (teams that are not in the same place at the same time), and on to cloud based communications systems (like Office 365) the amount of unstructured communication data that is available to organizations for analysis increases rapidly. The asynchronous nature of many virtual teams means that this data is often written or text based. While most people think of their work email or IM chat conversations as private, it’s common for employers to make it very clear that written communications at work can be scrutinized for any business purpose; a vast data set of employee insight.

This leads us to emerging technologies that are able to analyse what employees are writing about at work – mostly from email or internal chat data, but also internal social media posts or responses to open questions from pulse surveys. While this tech started life as a way to understand how people communicate (e.g. Volometrix), the internal relationships they have (e.g. Trustsphere) or what their biggest concerns are (e.g. Kanjoya), it is evolving quickly. Just see the recent HBR pieces looking at the connections between employee engagement survey responses and the email behavior of employees and their boss.

While in its early stages, the analysis and predictive opportunities are significant. As natural language processing algorithms improve and HR analytics data sets become larger, it’s possible that you can start to forget about the need to survey employees for their opinions and just run analytics on their internal communications. For example, researchers like Rob Cross have already shown that people who are experiencing collaborative overload are less happy in their roles and so burnout faster. It’s only a short leap of imagination to create a scenario where your email warns you of such a situation occurring to you.

The point is that the way you communicate with others has already been shown to give away many signals about who you are (see point 1 above). On top of that, it can also provide a lot of information about the experience you’re having – e.g. Are you getting on with your colleagues and your boss? Do you work longer hours than others? Are you feeling frustrated or disconnected? All of these questions might be answered by looking at how you are expressing yourself to colleagues and clients.

The main consideration then is about how this could be used. Imagine if the early warning signs of disengagement could be detected by your email, with advice about what to do sent to you and, at your request, your boss. Wouldn’t that be much better than getting the the point of wanting to quit without anyone knowing or being able to help?

3. Your performance will be what the most number of people say it is.

Many of us feel increasingly comfortable rating our experience of a service or person that we have just dealt with – mostly because it’s become easy to do so via our mobile phones. It started with sites like TripAdvisor for hotels and restaurants and has made its way to taxi divers via Uber. The universal 5 star scale seems to be the weapon of choice. The more immediate the feedback the better.

While many people complain about rating data like this, there is an important reality to consider – in most cases your performance at work is what people perceive it to be rather than some tangible metric. It is your reputation for performance that defines you. The notable exception is often the most senior levels of management, who can be judged based on organisational output (but who rarely are). This means that more frequent and more diversified rating data is actually likely to be useful – it can create a more valid picture of your performance from a wider range of sources. This would expose those who manage up well, but manage down poorly, and help those who are actually getting work done (pleasing customers and colleagues).

So performance metrics of the future are probably real time and app based – something that makes it easy to get faster access to more fluid ratings of your reputation; something would make the connection between your reputation at work and the way your performance is measured much more transparent and direct. This would also have the positive effect of changing the role of your boss from someone who is rating and approving your performance feedback, to someone who is coaching you to respond to it – a very different conversation.

So what?

While some of this might seem obvious – it matters. The way we find work and how we are evaluated for our contribution is changing. These changes will shift our relationship with our employers and our jobs. The emerging HR technology industry is deploying the data we generate online and is using it to make many more inferences about us to enable better decisions.

The question will be whether individual employees resist these changes or embrace them. My view is that the quicker they embrace them, the more control they will have over how they influence careers, jobs and work in general.

Join the conversation with us here: https://mercer-digital.com/

If you like this topic, check out these articles and authors:

Tech Out Your Talent

Your Digital Twin

Bosses told to stop snooping on employees’ Facebook profiles

New Talent Signals: Shiny New Objects or a Brave New World?

Everybody lies: how Google search reveals our darkest secrets

A Primer on Measuring Employee Engagement

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