Companies hastily converted to the digital workplace due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and many employees have preferred the switch. Technology enables seamless collaboration and accessibility for geographically diverse teams, and organizations that were previously opposed to technological developments in their workplace are no longer in the position to fight the change; they have been forced to function digitally.

As countries begin to see lockdown measures ease, companies are finding themselves at a juncture. It is a pivotal moment to consider the future of work, whether companies decide to turn back to the traditional office or toward contemporary remote work, facilitated by technology. The learning and development (L&D) industry, in particular, has felt the shift to digital, with growing numbers of organizations shifting to virtual delivery. If predictions of a more remote workforce come to pass, so will the interdependence of business and technology.

Further integration of technology may not cause as negative an impact as many assume — perhaps quite the opposite. As other sectors evolve, we all must adapt accordingly. We aren’t the first workforce to encounter technology-driven change, and we can familiarize ourselves with this quote from writer William Arthur Ward: “The pessimist complains about the wind; the optimist expects it to change; the realist adjusts the sails.”

Building Trust

Using modern devices and technologies will allow for far-reaching and long-term success. If remote work becomes the norm, investing in digital learning methods with enable L&D professionals to collaborate and provide training more easily and broadly than ever before. Implementing new technologies in the workplace, however, calls for a renewed focus on existing processes and values regarding communication. Consulting employees about the impact of advanced technology in the workplace can make a vast difference.

In a recent Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) survey, only 20% of employees who had not been consulted about technological change felt positive about how it would impact their job, while 70% of employees who had been consulted felt positive. These figures demonstrate the significance of employees’ attitudes to new technology and how important it is to create trust and involve them before implementing automation.

The Need for Continuous Learning

Businesses must keep up to date with ever-evolving technological developments and address the simultaneous need for employee learning to accommodate the skill gaps that will inevitably follow. Leveraging new technologies to support employee learning ensures greater accessibility and improves involvement. There are stark differences, however, in what researchers have to say about skill gaps in relation to technology. For example, a survey by Enhancv suggested that “there’s no single skills gap for tech workers,” while CIPD and PA Consulting’s report “People and machines: from hype to reality” found that in the U.K., “61% of employers that have introduced AI [artificial intelligence] and automation said employees need more skills and knowledge as a result.” These differing findings may suggest that businesses need to find a middle ground regarding reskilling and upskilling, to ensure training and development is continuously available for employees whose job roles are significantly affected by advancing technology.

An Optimistic View of the Future

A common worry is that the dependence on and advancement of technology will result in job losses. While in some industries, automation could take over jobs, the CIPD “People and machines” report suggests otherwise: In organizations that invested in new technologies in the previous five years, AI and automation created slightly more jobs than they eliminated. Employers looking into adopting more automation into their workplaces need to ensure that incorporating such technologies enhances their employees’ roles rather than eliminating them.

There are many discussions about the future implications of technology on workplaces and broader society, yet we must not ignore the importance of human interaction. As the Pew report “The Future of Jobs and Jobs Training” states, experts told researchers that there are human talents that “machines and automation may not be able to duplicate [and noted] that these should be the skills developed and nurtured by education and training programs to prepare people to work successfully alongside AI.”

Technological innovation has changed, and undoubtedly will continue changing, our work environment — but computers cannot replicate emotional intelligence and human connection.