We often use the word Power to describe an innovation. Part of its power lies in its novelty — so when the newness fades so does our focus on something’s power. We’ve been focusing on tech for a good reason: Work’s transformation to digital is the essence of powerful. But our work depends on people: their ability to solve problems and innovate, to create, and to think about new tools we haven’t even heard of yet. A Harvard study found that human brains only stay focused on the present for about 53 percent of the time. So, let’s flip the script in the world of work and look at how to best leverage tech to unleash the brainpower of our people.
Why now? We’ve already entered what Deloitte calls “the big shift” and are about to transform again as a wave of AI and robotics hits. We’re going to need to fully understand the value of human capital — which we may start calling NI, as in natural intelligence. To do that, we’ve got to let free up some human bandwidth. Here are four suggestions for using tech to enable your people to use their brains:
Use tech to disconnect from tech.
It’s not counterintuitive: Ever-connected, ever-social Millennials, and Generation Z may need a cool app to reveal the power of disconnecting. I don’t agree that we all have screen-induced ADD or a shorter attention span than a goldfish. But more concentration time benefits everyone.
The new generations of project management and communicating tools have new shut-it-off options to stop push notifications for designated blocks of time, such as Basecamp 3’s “Work Can Wait” and Slack’s “do not disturb” modes. Older workers may do a facepalm over the irony of using tech to create tech-free time. But disconnection is the new novelty now — it’s a powerful state of mind.
Use tech to tend the brain.
Employers can leverage the tech-body connection into fitness and wellness campaigns — using fitness trackers, mobile apps, or workplace rewards and recognition programs to catalyze lunch-hour yoga or team hikes. It may seem like a trivial pursuit to set up a powerwalk contest, but playing has been proven to be a potent mind-cleanser.
Use tech to let people go home.
We’re clearly over work/life balance as a new concept. The idea of either/or has completely lost its power. The new ideal is work/life integration — and tech is responsible. But this isn’t just a fad. It’s actually better for us than trying to balance between the two, according to research first published in the journal Human Relations and later reported in the Harvard Business Review. Of 600 employees, those with fewer boundaries between work and life maintained a higher level of overall job performance.
So let your people take that personal call, or work from home. Add remote conferencing or external access to your company intranet, and think about how to leverage any kind of performance and productivity tools to help everyone stay on track, no matter where they are. Get everyone in the habit of checking the workflow calendars frequently — in this case, push notifications are everybody’s new (and powerful) BFF.
Use tech to celebrate what tech is not.
Cognitive and AI is both exciting and scary when we start having robot-emotion fantasies. But for now, we’re still distinct in our humanity, in our behaviors, in our soft skills. Deloitte UK research looked at hundreds of job profiles and identified 25 critical “human skills” for the machine age. Social skills and cognitive abilities will become more and more important as technology evolves.
These skills are essentially human. So far, they can’t be automated. As automation enters the workplace, we need to find human talent using tools that help us better discern human qualities. Given the talent crunch, the intense pressure on recruiters, and the nature of work now, that means insightful pre-employment testing that doesn’t just check off a skills list, but can measure empathy, listening, communication, teamwork, prioritization, social perceptiveness. These tests don’t replace an interview. But they can be used to glean accurate profiles and measurements.
As our work and our lives become increasingly combined, and as work continues to transform — from centralized headquarters to a constellation of teams, from local to global, from brick and mortar to virtual — we have an incredible opportunity to re-connect with our own humanity. Different isn’t always better, but if we harness the tech that’s changing us, it will be.