By "robots," we mean all forms of automation technologies, including those that conductphysical tasks, intellectual tasks, or customer service tasks (which mix elements of both physical and intellectual activities, but which constitute a distinct category in the age of the customer). Indeed, some impressive new technologies are becoming incredibly useful in a variety of organizational settings. Take, for example, Rethink Robotics' Baxter robot, seen in the video below. Unlike traditional industrial robots, it's safe for workers to be around Baxter -- and it's imperative, too. Because software engineers don't program Baxter; human colleagues simply move the robot's arm to teach it new actions, and it learns in real time.
AR and VR technologies aren't new. Virtual reality first experienced a boom of interest in the early 1990s, spurred by the 1991 book Virtual Reality by Howard Rheingold. In 1995, Angelina Jolie starred in the movie Hackers, which introduced mass audiences to head-mounted VR display technology. But the early promise of the technology fell apart due to underperforming graphics, attention-jarring lag times, outlandish hardware requirements, and the lack of an application ecosystem. No VR market emerged (outside of niche categories like military usage) until Facebook acquired the Kickstarter startup Oculus for $2 billion in March, 2014.
You've probably heard about the Quantified Self (QS), a movement that aims to capture, analyze, and act upon data from the human body in the interest of better health, fitter athletes, and sharper minds. Today, QS is giving way to QW -- Quantified Workforce. A variety of technologies -- devices, software, services -- can quantify the health, fitness, mental acuity, timeliness, and collaboration of workers. Many of these services are ready for prime time, but present some challenges in implementing. These challenges aren't primarily technological; they're related to privacy, workers' rights, and human resources policies. Done right, though, quantifying the workforce can drive both top- and bottom- line growth in your company's business.
I've analyzed this trend in a new report, Smart Body, Smarter Workforce. Here are just a couple of examples of how quantifying the workforce can drive better business outcomes:
Lower the company's insurance rates. In January, 2014, Forrester predicted that insurance companies would offer lower rates to individuals who donned wearables -- and we are now seeing that response. In April, 2015, John Hancock announced an opportunity for buyers of its term and life insurance policies to earn up to 15% discount on their insurance rates by wearing a Fitbit, sharing the data with the company, and meeting certain activity levels.
This weekend, I’ll be heading off to Las Vegas for the 2015 Consumer Electronics Show (CES). Infrastructure & Operations leaders should – and do – keep tabs on the news coming out of CES. In this era of consumerization, bring-your-own (BYO) technology, and Shadow IT, CES announcements affect the I&O role more than ever before. I have three tips for how to think about CES 2015:
Look at consumer technologies through a workforce lens. So many smart, connected products quickly migrate to the workforce. Sometimes these technologies enter via BYO and segue into company-owned, as tablets have done over the past few years. In other cases, vendors that target consumers immediately see the value their products can bring to workforce scenarios. For example, I recently spoke with Jonathan Palley, CEO of Spire, a wearable device that tracks not just activity but also state of mind (tension versus calm, focus versus distraction, and related states). While the product was launched to the consumer market just about a week ago, Jonathan made clear that “workforce is a huge part of our strategy as well.” Imagine helping workers remain in a more productive, less stressed state of mind via wearables.
When Satya Nadella assumed his role as CEO of Microsoft, he shared a profound statement in a companywide email: “I truly believe that each of us must find meaning in our work. The best work happens when you know that it’s not just work, but something that will improve other people’s lives. This is the opportunity that drives each of us at this company.” Nadella’s message speaks to the importance of employee satisfaction in driving organizational success.
Research demonstrates that psychological and social fulfillment directly influences an employee’s commitment to staying with a company and contributing to the firm’s overall success. For example, a report by Deloitte shows that corporate teams that foster a sense of diversity and inclusion among employees outperform others by more than 80%.
Even in business, feelings are facts — employees’ feelings about their company are a corollary to their productivity. And when it comes to the Asia Pacific workforce, those strong emotional connections that yield employee engagement vary greatly across the region. Forrester’s Business Technographics® data shows that India has the largest share of “engaged employees,” while Japan has the smallest:
Voice-controlled intelligent assistants offer a tantalizingly productive vision of end user computing. Using voice commands, users can extend the computing experience to not just mobile scenarios, but to hyper-mobile, on-the-go situations (such as while driving). With wearables like Google Glass, voice command promises even deeper integration into hyper-mobile experiences, as this video demonstrates. And voice controlled intelligent assistants can also enable next-generation collaboration tools like MindMeld.
In spite of this promise, there remains a lurking sense that voice control is more of a gimmick than a productivity enhancer. (As of the time I posted this blog, a Google search for Siri+gimmick yielded… “about 2,430,000 results”). To see where voice control really stands, we surveyed information workers in North American and Europe about their use of voice commands.
Information workers’ use of voice control today:
In reality, many information workers with smartphones are already using voice commands – at least occasionally. Our survey revealed that:
As I sit at my kitchen table enjoying the quiet of my house before my kids come home, I know that I will move to my office and shut the door once that tranquility is shattered by their arrival. Then later this evening, once the house is again quiet with the monsters nestled in their beds, I might just take a few calls propped up on pillows in my bed. Yes, I do that regularly. Heck, they call it a laptop, right? This is the "home" scenario. On the road, workplaces and spaces vary even more. I really work best from a hotel room, or the hotel bar if I have a good headset on. None of this is new for me; I have played the role of an itinerant worker for years. But for a long time my employers continued to put my name on a door or cubicle. For me, that has now changed. No more nameplate for me. Employers are increasingly waking up to the fact that many employees (or "information workers," ugh... hate the term) just don't need or even want a fixed office or space. And, likely more importantly, the employers don't want that either. An empty office is an under-optimized asset. Both demand-side and supply-side forces converge to drive workplace and space diversity.
We hear a lot about empowered employees these days, and the changing nature of work and the workforce. Forrester's Workforce Employee Surveys investigate trends among information workers such as device usage, collaboration practices, workplace preferences, and attitudes about their employers. And, the signs are clearly indicating that the demand for workplace diversity and choice is on the rise:
For our Forrsights Workforce survey, Forrester annually surveys information workers.* I’m leading final preparation of our Forrsights Workforce survey focused on end user hardware and aimed at five major markets – the US, Canada, the UK, France, and Germany. By end user hardware, we primarily mean PC/Macs, tablets, and smartphones, but we may also focus a bit on peripherals. And we hope to mirror some of the questions from the Forrsights IT Hardware survey, which we develop after this one, so that we can compare results from this information worker survey to what IT buyers report in their survey. Analyst Heidi Shey is working on the other half of the survey, which will focus on security issues.
Below are the hypotheses and topics we plan to explore in the survey. Please give them a quick read, then post or email feedback by Friday, April 12 (Tuesday, April 16 at the very latest). If you are a Forrester client and would like to see a survey draft, please email your account rep and me.
These are statements of ideas we are planning to test in the survey questions, which are designed to confirm or disprove the idea. But we probably can’t fit all of these, so please help us prioritize – especially if you are a Forrsights Workforce client!
Have multiple devices used for work, including many that are personally chosen and/or owned; they spend significant money on devices used regularly for work; and they expect to continue doing so.
Often blend work and personal tasks on the same device, despite employer policies to the contrary.
Tablets drive worker productivity in part due to their hyper-portability, as I argued in a recent blog post. Workers can (and, we showed with data, do) use tablets in more places, places where they wouldn’t (and don’t) take their PCs.
The top question I’ve received about tablet hyper-portability is this one: “Tablets are very portable, sure, but are people using them as creation devices or as (mere) consumption devices?” The general assumption behind this question tends to be that “creation” activities are equal to “productivity,” while “consumption” activities are not. I believe this is a false dichotomy, however. Consuming the right information at the right time can increase worker productivity in and of itself. Let me offer a few examples showing how that can work:
Retail sales associates using tablets with customers. Retailers are equipping sales associates with tablets to use on the retail floor, creating richer interactions with customers – and driving higher sales.
Physicians conducting patient rounds with tablets. Physicians can gain rich, immediate insight into their patients’ health records – saving time and driving more accurate diagnoses in less time. They also use the tablets to show patients results (like x-ray images), creating a better patient experience.
Technology’s value to a business derives at least in part from its ability to increase productivity. The 1987 Nobel Prize winning economist Robert Solow demonstrated that technology increases the productivity of both capital and labor to create economic growth.
Some technologies radically reshape productivity. Take, for example, the cotton gin (1792), which fundamentally transformed labor. A quote from Wikipedia claims: “With a cotton gin, in one day a man could remove seed from as much upland cotton as would have previously taken a woman working two months to process at one pound a day.” By profoundly increasing worker productivity, the cotton gin revolutionized both the textile and agricultural industries.
We’re living through several technological revolutions of our own right now – in, for example, cloud services, mobility, and big data. One technology that leverages all three to some extent is the tablet, a device I follow very closely.
Tablets drive worker productivity through a variety of vectors. One of those vectors is portability. In our Forrsights Hardware Survey, we asked IT decision-makers who either support tablets today or plan to support them soon why they would do so. IT decision-makers’ #1 answer, at 62%? Because tablets are a “more portable form factor than the traditional laptop.” This response eclipsed end user preferences, ease of use considerations, and other possible answers.