HR must be ahead of the new industrial revolution

The
effect that technology has on how we work and live our lives will be as
far-reaching as that of the industrial revolution, according to the early
findings of a three- to five-year research project by the Industrial Society.

“iSociety
will examine the inter-relationship between work, life and information and
communication technologies in a forensic and independent way,” says Industrial
Society chief executive Will Hutton.

The
research, which is being carried out in collaboration with Microsoft, will
build into a series of papers with the findings available on the society’s
Website.

Project
coordinator and head of futures at the Industrial Society Richard Reeves
believes information and communication technologies are probably at the halfway
point in their effect on us, mainly because we are yet to realise their true
potential.

He
says, “I liken it to when electricity first appeared. People in factories still
relied on steam power sources until they realised they could spread production
out via power cables, but it took decades for them to do this.

“We’re
still clustered around our desks – the steam engines – and our nine-to-five
culture.

“ICT
has the potential to completely change the way we work and it’s the role of HR
to be ahead of this curve, anticipating change, not catching up with it.

“The
principle of work will be the network, not the firm, and companies have to
learn the skills of partnership and alliance management.

“HR
professionals have the people skills so they should be out there doing it.”

The
preliminary survey, carried out by ICM on 1,003 adults this month, hints at the
major changes that will take place in the workplace.

The
findings suggest that a street-smart generation of workers is emerging, with
limited loyalties, who feel they are in a position to dictate new terms.

“Share
options are the magnet,” says the report. “Stocks are the currency of the new
economy with big knock-on effects on the capital market. But the price is high:
the most talented work the most hours, a long way from the dreams of
telecommuting, while others (generic labour) struggle to survive.”

More
than half the population thinks that technology is reducing people’s workloads,
which is in contrast to other surveys that suggest people fear ICT allowing
work to intrude on their lives. One in two say that technology has allowed them
to work more flexibly.

Reeves
hopes the research will provide some much-needed “cool-headed analysis” which
won’t suffer from the extremes that other futuristic reporting has in the past.

“Many
predictions about ICT have lost value because they were so extreme as to be
utter nonsense,” he says. “They forget that people are involved. On one side
we’ve had the e-vangelicals (pun intended) who believe that work is the harbinger
of all that is good and on the other are the digital doom-sayers who predict
the death of human jobs and enslavement of workers – with not much in between
the two.”

Each
annual iSociety report will feature three parts: an assessment of the current
situation; forecasts for the future; and a focus subject, which will include
learning, work and families.

As
a matter of course each will look at attitudes to ICT, home and workplace
take-up of ICT and the digital divide. The reports will be available from the
Industrial Society’s Website at www.indsoc.co.uk/isociety.

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