AI, the cloud and other disruptive technologies? Workplace impact will be subtle, not explosive

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AI, the cloud and other disruptive technologies? Workplace impact will be subtle, not explosive

Ian Phillpot is the vice-president of Box Canada.

There’s been a lot of speculation and anxiety about the impact that disruptive technologies will have on the future of the work force. The speculation is fair – technology will have a dramatic impact on the way we work, even 20 to 30 years from now, and nobody knows for certain what the future might look like. However, the anxiety around the impact, and rhetoric that goes along with it, is unwarranted.

The impact of artificial intelligence, the cloud, and other disruptive technologies will be much subtler than naysayers suggest. Technology will become our co-worker, not our overlord – supplementing our current work force and refocusing existing jobs. Instead of spending countless hours doing manual jobs such as data entry, people will be able to focus on thinking more critically and creatively. Canada, in particular, is reaping the benefits of the growing adoption of technology and is at the forefront of this generational shift. A 2016 report from the Brookfield Institute found that the technology industry contributed more than $117-billion to the Canadian economy. Demand for AI jobs alone has increased by 500 per cent in Canada, according to With all this exciting activity happening in Canada, now is the time to embrace technology rather than fear it.

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It’s no secret that a workplace culture that fosters openness leads to employees who are not only more engaged but also more capable of working closely together – bringing down silos and leading to great ideas.

The future of work is already here – and it is built on collaboration.

Driving work-force collaboration through technology

When we talk about disruptive technology, we often talk in massive terms, instead of focusing on the incremental and subtle changes that affect the work force. Rather than a dramatic upheaval, this technology is introducing a new generation of tools that’s changing the way employees are connecting with one another by enhancing their dialogue and simplifying their communication methods. We are already seeing how these tools are changing the way employees conduct their day-to-day activities.

Whether its document sharing, co-creation, or enhanced search through computer-vision technology, we are seeing how seemingly normal tools are being improved by combining cloud and artificial intelligence. Enterprises generate vast amounts of data, and these tools can make it easier to view and analyze this content. Employees will become more efficient by spending less time searching for files and become more productive by streamlining the editing process to cut down on countless rounds of revisions.

Having greater access and control over content will empower employees and keep them motivated, especially when their organizations are willing to commit to a system of innovation and collaboration. These are exciting and positive developments for any business, yet it’s not what comes to mind when most people think about discussing digital transformation and disruptive technology. These innovations are far less focused on taking away jobs, and much more so about improving people’s ability to get the job done.

A collaborative work force is a happy work force

The benefits of collaborative technology don’t simply end at increased productivity and efficiency, but extend to improve the overall well-being of the work force. A study by Deloitte recently found that collaboration tools, combined with a culture of innovation, led to employees who are 34 per cent happier than those working in an environment that does not support collaboration. They were also 17 per cent more satisfied when they had access to digital collaboration tools.

According to the report, digital collaboration tools are a key factor in improving productivity, transparency with a business, communication among employees and morale within an organization. Interestingly, more collaborative tools mean less back-and-forth, fewer face-to-face meetings and less travel for work. Instead, employees can collaborate directly within the content. The result? More focus on the task at hand and more time for the things that matter to them.

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In addition, encouragement of collaborative tools and an innovative culture makes employees feel valued and happy, perpetuating a belief that the business supports their professional development. Many employees working with collaborative tools also see their organizations as more transparent and supportive of a culture of openness.

The transformation we’re seeing as a result of this disruptive technology is an exciting development for our future work force. We need to put aside the negative rhetoric around the impact of technology on our enterprises. The future should not be feared. There are many opportunities for our work force, leading us to be better at our jobs, not losing them altogether. We must embrace change, look at how this technology can be used, and encourage a more innovative and collaborative workplace.

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