The artificial intelligence revolution will transform white-collar work:

How to prepare your organisation for the cultural shift

The artificial intelligence revolution will transform white-collar work:

The white-collar workplace will see a massive transformation in the next 10 years as the gig economy (based on short-term work contracts) and ultra-flexible workspaces become the norm. New technologies like augmented reality (AR), robots, and artificial intelligence (AI) will be commonplace, paving the way for a more efficient, more productive, and more profitable workforce. Corporate life in the future may be unrecognisable to what it is today as we enter an era of a smaller, more tech-enhanced workforce that allows individuals to provide higher value to society.  But this will likely require people to retrain for new roles. Today, we are in the frenetic stages of building the technological foundations, which can explain why some people express discontent with certain aspects of technology, for example smart phones making us too accessible, or concerns over privacy and cyber-attacks. However, the fact is, technology will evolve and it will open up huge possibilities for the future.  We can’t stop progress; but how we take hold of it and the opportunities it brings will define who will remain competitive.

Not surprisingly, much of the workforce and its leaders alike are feeling overwhelmed, and to some extent threatened; so what can HR, IT and business leaders do over the coming years to properly address and implement technology as it becomes increasingly paramount to business success? It is within this context that Epson Europe embarked on new first-of-its-kind research that explored the current European workforce sentiment towards upcoming workplace trends, in order to reveal the opportunities and challenges ahead. The research tested acceptance of the insights of 17 global industry experts with over 7,000 full-time employees in the five largest European economies, including more than 2,000 working exclusively in the corporate sector. It suggests some stark choices ahead for individuals, employers and policymakers concerning technology adoption. These choices, which might have implications for individual employability, corporate performance and international competitiveness, are revealed by considerable gaps and divergent sentiments toward the potential benefits (and perceived threats) of technology in different industries and economies.

An era of disengagement?

According to the research, 68% of Europeans feel people will be less engaged with their company in the future because of technology changes, with 90% of the corporate workforce anticipating ‘disruption’ and raising questions about how corporates can best harness new opportunities. Yet the potential benefits that new technology could bring to peoples working lives have not yet fully been grasped. Despite 64% of respondents expressing positive sentiment (enthusiasm or intrigue) towards the expected technological shift, 22% of respondents feel that their organisation is poor at communicating the impact of technological change on their industry. Furthermore, while 69% of respondents said that their organisation is good at training employees to use new technologies, employers seem to be much better at getting new blood in when technological skills are needed (67%) than repurposing potentially redundant employees, which only 55% considered their employer good at. Despite this, 67% of respondents would be willing to retrain for a role that was not threatened, and organisations should capitalise on this willingness to learn.

With this in mind, business decision makers may have a big task ahead to ensure that employees remain engaged and have the necessary skills to drive efficiency and productivity forward into the future. This was supported by a number of trends that emerged from the research, which included aspects around the physical workplace, the environment and office habits:  

  • The great organisational reshuffle: Today’s workforce has already seen a mantra of a “job-for-life” swapped for more short-term career stints, and this fluidity will only continue. In fact, 74% of respondents agree that the concept of an individual being attached to a single company will weaken further over time and roles will become more flexible. Project work and the gig economy will be the future of professional work, according to 59% of respondents; and 71% agree that rather than having a specific role, employees will be labelled by a skill set. Organisational and HR models will have to adapt accordingly.

  • Global workplace, virtual meeting space. Future meeting rooms will be entirely virtual, according to 71% of those surveyed, with people based in workspaces around the globe using technologies such as AR and holographic projectors to join real-time workgroups. Selecting technologies that are fit for purpose will facilitate better virtual collaboration and confidence in new ways of doing things; but training and supporting employees as they use them is just as crucial.

  • Augmented collaboration: Technologies such as AR (complemented by speech recognition, semantic analysis and video technology) have the potential to be game changers in the corporate environment; across management, customer communication and colleague collaboration. Both collaboration and interaction will be enhanced, with 69% of respondents agreeing that technology will better facilitate interaction and collaboration, and 69% believing that communication barriers will be removed due to real-time translation technologies. Being aware of the possibilities may be the first step to understanding the technologies when they do arrive.

  • Out with the ‘open plan’: The office of tomorrow will no longer adopt the ‘traditional’ open office floor space. Instead, offices will comprise smaller spaces and customised working environments for specific groups of employees according to 66% of survey respondents. Coupled with this shift, new technology will support an even greater collaboration culture.  This means office architects and designers will become important partners for organisations.

  • Wearables on the one hand, handshake with the other: While the workforce sees the huge opportunity in workplace technologies such as wearables, robots, and augmented reality, 74% of respondents agree that no virtual application will ever replace face-to-face connections for relationship building. Organisations will need to ensure that technologies are carefully selected to enable greater collaboration and higher efficiency, while allowing people to interact in person when it matters most.

By embracing the technological and societal trends that are already beginning to shape our future, organisations will be better placed to face the challenges to come. Yet, the inevitable corporate culture shift cannot happen in isolation; external forces will increasingly affect organisations, and it will take more than a decision in the boardroom to ensure that the full potential of technology can be leveraged throughout the organisation. Governments, educational institutions and individuals must realise the massive changes to come and prepare for a societal transformation driven by rapid technological advancements.

“Organisations will need to play a more active role in the wider societal and policy debate when it comes to transformational change in the next 10 years,” Mr Usui says. “Technology is transforming our offices and our lives, and as a company, Epson is dedicated to facilitating a positive technological shift by developing solutions that will make workforces more efficient and more productive. Our core technologies – wearables, robotics, visual imaging and printing technologies – are poised to deliver new possibilities for the corporate workplace. Yet, regardless of how the workplace evolves, change will be far greater than the sum of its parts, and the influence of technology will affect every individual. It is how we take ownership of this evolution that will define our roles in the next 10 to 20 years.”


About the study

The two-phase research project was conducted by FTI Consulting. Phase one consisted of qualitative telephone interviews with 17 global futurists and European experts from various sectors from 22nd September-19th October 2016 to gain insights and develop hypotheses on the future of the workplace and the changing roles of the workforce leading up to 2025. Phase two consisted of a quantitative online survey conducted by FTI Consulting’s Strategy Consulting & Research team from 2nd-13th December 2016. Respondents included full-time employees across five major sectors (corporate, manufacturing, education, healthcare and retail) in workplaces across the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Italy and Spain in their local languages.

A total of n=7,016 full-time employees completed the survey. The breakdown of the respondents who completed the survey in each country are as follows: United Kingdom (1,329), France (1,308), Germany (1,427), Italy (1,526), Spain (1,426). The breakdown of the respondents who completed the survey in each industry sector are as follows: corporate (2,051), manufacturing (1,519), education (1,090), healthcare (1,215), retail (1,139).

The n=7,016 completes yields a 3% +/- margin of error with an industry standard 95% confidence interval. Please note that the standard convention for rounding has been applied and consequently some totals do not add up to 100%.

For further information on the research methodology or FTI Consulting’s market research services: Market.Research@fticonsulting.com

Global futurists and European experts interviewed

  • Jonathan Reynolds, Academic Director of the Oxford Institute of Retail Management (OXIRM), Associate Professor in Retail Marketing and Deputy Dean at Said Business School

  • Howard Saunders, Retail Futurist, Twenty Second & Fifth

  • Dave White, Head of Technology Enhanced Learning, University of the Arts London

  • Russel Stannard, Education Technologist and founder of www.teachertrainingvideos.com

  • Professor Darwin Cadwell, Research Director, Italian Institute of Technology in Genoa and Chair of the IEEE Robotics and Automation Chapter (UKRI)

  • Professor Alain Bernard, Research Director, Laboratoire IRCCyN; Vice-President, AFPR; Vice-Chairman, WG5.1 of IFIP; and member of CIRP Council in France

  • Clive Hickman, Chief Executive, Manufacturing Technology Centre

  • Christopher Barnatt, Futurist, ExplainingTheFuture.com

  • Gerd Leonhard, Futurist, The Future Agency

  • Ben Hammersley, Journalist, Technologist, Futurist

  • Brice Le Blévennec, CEO at Emakina

  • Clinton Wingrove, HR Futurist

  • Dr. Bertalan Mesko, Futurist, Founder of The Medical Futurist

  • Giuliano Noci, Professor

  • Richard Webber, Professor

  • Dr. Tobias Gantner, Healthcare Futurist, HealthCare Futurists GmbH

  • Mariano Corso, Scientific Officer