Workplace technology and the innovation around it is a topic that’s often subject to heated debate. For every article claiming that some new offering is central to the future of the modern workplace, there’s another citing it as a threat to jobs, or as simply overhyped. At Advanced, we regularly survey business leaders and other professionals from the UK, USA, and around the world, to get a feel for the changes that are really taking place in a range of different industries – and to establish what’s likely to come next.
- Searches for ChatGPT rose from less than 5,000 in November 2022 to over 11.2 million* in June 2023 – but can tools like this be trusted with critical business decisions, as some people suggest?
- In 2015, it was predicted that up to a quarter of all jobs would be replaced by smart software or robots by 2025 – how far off are we from that prediction now?
- Are the 47% of finance leaders who predict workplace use of ‘human technology implants’ by 2030, right?
The Advanced Annual Business Trends Survey recently discovered that finance workers in particular had bold predictions for the future use of things like AI, human technology implants, and embedded technology. In this report, we take a closer look at what those predictions might mean for employees around the globe, which are most likely to be accurate, as well as the considerations People and Culture teams need to keep in mind as adoption gathers pace.
What finance professionals predict for AI and workplace tech
We spoke to more than 5,000 senior decision-makers to get their thoughts on the future of AI-based technology and robots in the workplace. Among finance professionals, we found some particularly interesting insights - for example, almost half of those in CEO/MD positions expect microchips and other human technology implants to be in workplace use by 2030, along with 32% of finance professionals overall.
A large number of respondents also felt it likely that AI will be used to make critical business decisions by 2030, though just 19% of finance professionals overall expect the workplace to be positively transformed by robots and AI-based technology. The latter finding is likely related to the fears held by many regarding job security in the world of ever-developing automation and AI adoption.
- A recent report from the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) found that more than a quarter (27%) of jobs could be easily automated in the near future, noting that finance, medicine, and legal activities were all among the high-skilled categories where jobs were at greatest potential risk from automation.
"The automation revolution has already started within the finance sector.” Says Nadine Sutton, Principal Product Manager at Advanced Financials. “Some worry that this will lead to widespread job losses. However, the journey towards true AI is a slow one, so there is plenty of time to figure out where people fit in.”
"In the meantime, finance workers can enjoy fewer repetitive tasks in their daily routine and get involved with more fulfilling work around strategy and innovation. It is also likely that new (and previously unimagined) roles will be created due to the technologies that are emerging. This will give employees an opportunity to learn and adapt, which assists with their ongoing development and career prospects.”
Stephen Dews, CFO at Advanced says: “The capacity of AI to evaluate massive datasets in much less time than a human makes it a game-changer for professionals analysing financial markets and forecasting outcomes. It will soon be as much a part of the normal toolkit for CFOs who are seeking deeper insights into their own business data, as the calculator was in a previous era.”
“Accurate market prediction, forecasting, budgeting, and planning skills are an inherent part of the CFO’s role. When AI can handle massive datasets, and used correctly can provide key information at a granular and macro level for improved decision-making, why wouldn’t a CFO embrace this technology? It is our job to consider what is likely to happen and how to best prepare for the future.”
He adds, "I predict that the more we use AI and other new innovations like VR, the more time we will have in our working days to use this information wisely. But it’s important to remember AI is heavily reliant on the quality of data it is fed. So, it’s absolutely crucial finance leaders do all they can to ensure their data is accurate, complete, and accessible, if they are to reap the full benefits of this technology."
Meanwhile, predictions of commonplace technology implants may be a long way off. Ever since a US company microchipped 50 of its employees in 2017, there has been an online debate around the future of such technology, with at least 11 US states having banned employee microchipping at the time of writing. But many workplaces are yet to adopt more straightforward technology such as Cloud computing, and only 40% of our respondents across all industries said that their organisation’s leadership were prioritising technology investment at present.
The fact and fiction of previous tech predictions
Over the years there have been plenty of waves of excitement around the “next big thing” in technology, with some predictions living up to expectations and others failing to take off.
Worldwide interest in Web3, for example, has dropped 50% since January 2022**, having been tipped to be the future of online life not long ago. Famously, Ethernet inventor Robert Metcalfe once predicted that the internet would catastrophically collapse by 1996 - a prediction it’s safe to say couldn’t have been further from the truth.
One thing that is worth considering is the disparity between what people imagine new technological advances to look like in practice, and what they really mean.
Our Digital Natives Report found that 40% of Gen Z workers were already using AI in their everyday working lives, while 36% were making use of wearable (though not implanted) technology. Predictions of physical robot co-workers from years gone by may not have materialised, but instead been realised through the AI revolution we are now experiencing.
Younger generations entering the workforce expect to see the same standards of technology in the workplace that they interact with in their everyday lives. For some, that means meetings with remote teams taking place in augmented reality settings - for others, it’s having AI on hand to develop creative ideas, or to reduce the amount of manual activity needed to tackle more monotonous tasks.
- As many as 80% of Gen Z and 81% of Millennial respondents said they are happy to work alongside robotic technology if it means fewer manual processes.
- 64% of Generation Z think a robot would be better at decision-making than their boss if it had access to the right business intelligence, a stark contrast to the 39% of the over 55s who said the same in our survey.
“Today’s digital natives, the generation that has grown up with the internet and Cloud-based technologies, are much more open to the role that technology will play in their working and home lives.” Alex Arundale, Chief People Experience Officer at Advanced HR says. “Employers can leverage those skills and expectations to help build a sustainable skills pipeline for the future.”
“Many of the recent conversations around AI and new technologies conclude that technology is only as good as the people that use it. AI will be most effective when used by human employees that bring other characteristics such as empathy, instinct, and a sense of justice, with moral and ethical distinctions.”
What people and culture teams need to know about new innovations
A recent OnePoll survey found that 77% of hybrid and remote workers would be more committed to their role if their company provided them with better technology, with 11% of IT workers having actually left a role in search of one with better tech, and 42% saying they were applying for other roles because of a desire for better workplace technology. The average worker loses around 102 minutes of productivity each week due to issues and frustrations with tech.
“To remain competitive, agile, and innovative, organisations need to provide what workers want, so their people can add more human value and to ensure they don’t lose this talent to competitors.” Says Alex Arundale. “To do this, they need to tune into what their people are telling them and explore digital transformation options to help bring about the necessary change.”
93% of respondents in the OnePoll survey also said that job satisfaction and employee retention would increase if companies invested more in tech.
New technology typically comes with new risks, particularly in the early stages when possible negative outcomes are yet to be revealed and worked through. From cybersecurity risks to ethical implications, the sought-after innovations that improve our working lives can also create a whole new set of challenges for business leaders.
One of the risks that has already emerged around new business technology is the proliferation of an ‘always on’ culture and the associated risk of burnout. The Advanced Trends Report found that 85% of business professionals are working extra hours, 38% because they have too much work to fit into their contracted time. It is particularly difficult to set boundaries between home and work life when working from home. One of the ironies of the popularity of flexible and hybrid working is that while many people embraced it as a way to get a better work-life balance, some have instead found blurred boundaries increasing their levels of anxiety and stress.
Workplace surveillance and employee monitoring systems are also among the tech that is gaining popularity, particularly now that large sections of the workforce work remotely. The pandemic triggered a widespread surge in employee monitoring, where some bosses leveraged surveillance software to keep tabs on productivity when teams shifted to working from home.
- A recent TUC survey of more than 2,209 workers in the UK showed that 60% believed they had been subject to some form of surveillance and monitoring at their current or most recent job, up from 53% in 2020.
Being watched can have a hugely negative impact on employee morale, making people feel less trusted and more micro-managed than before. “The creeping role of AI and tech-driven workplace surveillance is now spreading far beyond the gig economy into the rest of the labour market.” The TUC says, noting that the financial service sector has the greatest proportion of workers reporting surveillance (74%).
The union body warns of a huge lack of transparency over the use of AI at work, with many staff left in the dark over how surveillance tech is being used to make decisions that directly affect them.
Alex Arundale explains: “Having some autonomy over how they work, when they take breaks, and working at times when they feel most productive is an important part of employee wellbeing. Feeling under constant surveillance can cause anxiety and increase the risk of burnout, making it counterproductive for the employer.”
“Some employers are now providing wellness trackers to help their staff improve their health and wellbeing, potentially giving the business access to personal medical data about those workers. Others are using remote worker monitoring software to manage employees working from home. Embedded human microchip technology may be the next step forward from these technologies and will certainly open a Pandora’s box of ethical questions around privacy, data ownership, and security.”
Many HR professionals would argue that well-designed continuous performance management tools are a much better way for employers to keep an eye on productivity, with a focus on the quality of output instead of the quantity of hours worked. These tools encourage frequent and regular communications between managers and staff, the setting of small, incremental goals with recognition of successes that helps to build employee engagement and improves the employee experience.
The latest Cloud technology can allow HR teams to listen and act on employee concerns quickly and effectively, by giving easy access to information and workflows anytime, anywhere. Additionally, automating repetitive tasks through AI frees up HR professionals’ time to invest in employee wellbeing, while flexible workflows can ensure HR teams are able to react quickly to employee feedback.
An expert view on the future of everyday workplace technology
“Employers need to consider the proportionality and necessity of new technologies, weighing convenience against the impact new additions might have on employee morale.” Alex Arundale continues; "But it’s also important that the familiarity workers have with legacy systems is not a reason for sticking with less effective solutions. This will end up costing the business more – in lost productivity, in their diminished ability to attract new talent, and the expense associated with systems that are reliant upon highly experienced/specialised IT professionals for vital maintenance.”
“As these systems are eventually phased out, organisations will struggle to find the legacy support they need. IT professionals entering the workplace are focused on the Cloud, as well as other emerging technologies they expect to be their bread and butter in the future. Cloud-based systems are ideal for remote working, for example, increasing work opportunities for those with disabilities, long-term and chronic health conditions, or where geography makes access to the workplace difficult. This also supports greater Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) in organisations that use the Cloud for all business-critical functions.”
“Technology exists to make our lives easier, hence workplace technology should make working easier. The digital solutions that we use now are streamlining processes, reducing arduous and time-consuming workflows, enhancing communications, and allowing teams to share one true version of information immediately. In short, technology has taken much of the legwork out of many roles, allowing people to focus on more rewarding tasks such as strategy, creativity, innovation, and collaboration.”
Stephen Dews adds; “These new technologies will create new opportunities and roles too. Just as not so long ago, SEO experts and Cloud technology developers were unheard of, so too there will be many new areas of expertise required to develop, manage, and monitor technologies such as AR, VR, and AI. There will be an increase in functions that revolve around legalities and compliance within these technologies that will also be helped by the same solutions.”
“AI is already helping to automate compliance checks across vast datasets, helping people to effectively monitor activities for potential violations. This is vital as it protects the business and individual employees from making mistakes and their potentially ruinous consequences. Forward-thinking CFOs are already embracing the power of new technologies to protect their businesses, their customers, suppliers, and employees from perilous scenarios, as well as elevating their function to greater efficiency, productivity, and profitability.”
Additional sources of information referenced
* Ahrefs Keyword Explorer global data
** Google Trends