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Blog: Workforce Analytics: The Future of Work and Digital Ethics

Blog: Workforce Analytics: The Future of Work and Digital Ethics

What does the future of work look like? It's a wide-open question as technology disrupts traditional workplace paradigms in ever-increasing ways. As organizations shift to an agile mindset, challenges include which technologies to use, what boundaries to set for the workforce, and how to effectively define and measure success. Many are turning to new workforce analytics platforms to quantify things like productivity and performance, which raises questions about which metrics to emphasize and ethical questions about how invasive the gathering of that data should be.

Where is the Future of Work Headed?

Nobody has a crystal ball, but the way work is structured and defined will likely undergo a continuous transformation for decades to come. Some of the key trends shaping the future of work include:

1) Agile

Once thought of mainly as a software development tool, organizations are embracing agile methodology for all kinds of workflows because its customer-driven focus through flexibility, learning, and adapting has proven the most effective in a business climate that's constantly being disrupted. It's the best way to deliver innovation and true customer value, but it also means doing away with traditional workflows and command structures to give more autonomy to self-organized teams.

2) Remote

For more and more workers, traditional 9 to 5 jobs in an employer-provided office space are becoming a thing of the past. Yes, mobile technology has blurred the line between work and personal life to almost nonexistence, but it's also opened up the benefits of remote work where employers are no longer limited by geography when searching for the best talent and employees can contribute whenever they want when they want – improving productivity and work/life balance.

3) Integration with automation for a hybrid workforce

New technology is automating many workplace tasks – particularly the repetitive ones – which increases productivity but also presents workflow challenges as workers learn how to integrate with their new digital helpers to become a hybrid workforce. Managers must learn how to allay the fears of workers who feel threatened by bots and show them how to be more successful with the help they're getting.

4) Tight labor market

Economies go through up and down cycles, but the current labor market is tight, meaning organizations have to not only provide the best customer experiences but also the best employee experiences too if they want to attract the best and brightest. That means giving workers the tools and environment they want to succeed and incentive to stick around.

With a Constantly Changing Paradigm, How Can You Tell What's Effective?

All the disruption in the workplace brings many benefits, but the end of traditional workflows and command structures also creates challenges. How do you measure performance? How do you define success? How do you hold people accountable? The goal posts aren't necessarily where they used to be, and it's not just measuring people performance, the bots have to be assessed for effectiveness, too.

Until recently, evaluating workforce performance was the realm of big-name consulting firms who came in and got paid huge sums for a one-time snapshot. That's changing with new workforce analytics software that allows for more real-time parsing of what's working and what's not. Ongoing data allows managers to make small tweaks and evaluate the results without having to commission a whole new – and expensive – study.

Among the benefits of workforce analytics are:

  • Testing of employee policy effectiveness
  • Productivity measurement
  • Better linking of HR decisions to business goals
  • Accurate prediction of future workforce needs
  • Optimized employee experiences

New startups are getting into the workforce analytics space, but established players like Microsoft also offer data. Office 365 Enterprise, for example, includes insights to help organizations learn, innovate, and adapt.

How Do You Measure?

In the old days of one man working with one machine on a factory floor, measuring productivity was relatively simple. How many widgets per hour is he turning out without defects? But what if you have two coders working on a software project. One is turning out three times as many lines of code, but the other is writing better code. Which is more productive? Worthwhile workforce analytics solutions have to be able to take such variables into account. Considerations like data quality, data integrity, and consistent definitions must be top-of-mind.

What's Ethical?

As difficult as it is to quantify success in the new digital workplace, there are also tough new questions to be answered around what data should be collected, how it should be collected, and what's done with it.

For example, if a worker is fully remote, how much ability should an employer have to look over their shoulder and evaluate their productivity if their workplace is their home? How much of the data gathered should be considered actionable – as in grounds for disciplinary action or formal performance evaluations? There are broad ethical considerations and, in some cases, organizations could potentially run afoul of privacy law.

One thing that is clear is that there has to be excellent communication from the organization around what's being collected, why, and how. If not, there's the risk of unease and mistrust from workers who feel like they're being controlled by "big brother."

Win with Big Data

Just like data analysis around customer behavior has revolutionized industry after industry, workforce analytics will allow organizations to become ever nimbler with the right people working in the most effective ways possible. A consideration of what data to gather, how, and what to use it for should be a part of every digital transformation strategy.