Cyrus Gilbert-Rolfe, EMEA MD SocialChorus, discusses how tech and the digital economy is transforming the workplace

The digital economy has expanded boundaries and driven a fundamental shift in the nature of business meaning the 9-5 work life has changed dramatically. It’s almost unrecognisable.

The World Bank recently published its World Development Report for 2019 on The Changing Nature of Work – a study of how work is changing as a result of advances in technology. While the report addresses the impact of technological progress on the workforce – finding that life expectancy has gone up; basic health care and education are widespread, and that most people have seen their incomes rise – it also looks at the future of work and how it is being driven by the competing forces of ‘AI’, automation and innovation.

Interestingly, it found recent evidence for Europe that suggests while technology replaces some workers, it also raises labour demand. Overall, technology that replaces routine work is estimated to have created more than 23 million jobs across Europe from 1999 to 2016.

These findings coupled with the fact that the digital economy has expanded boundaries and driven a fundamental shift in the nature of business means the 9-5 work life has changed dramatically. It’s almost unrecognisable. In 2018 the Office for National Statistics reported that the UK national unemployment rate had fallen to 4.1 per cent, its lowest since 1975 and the UK gig economy has now grown to an estimated 5 million self-employed people. According to this shift correlates with a huge boom in self-employment and freelance employment, as part of a much heralded decline of the conventional job, following the 2008 financial crisis. The professional services sector has been a major driver for growth with the number of freelance workers reaching 2 million since 2001.

These ‘gig’ or freelance workers are also likely to be part of the over 2.7 billion people known as ‘deskless workers’, spanning industries such as agriculture, education, healthcare and retail to hospitality, manufacturing, transportation and construction. And businesses appear to be embracing this new approach to resourcing and servicing their requirements. Why and how? They’re adopting the technology and mobile computing platforms to reach people with the right skills, in the right place and at the right time.

The way in which people can work hasn’t just changed, it’s ‘who’ is actually working has also evolved. There’s no doubt that millennials have had a huge impact on how businesses operate, calling for greater transparency, flexibility and demanding that organisations make themselves more attractive to the workforce. And businesses are also finding a new wave of worker too, the 70+ which has increased 131 per cent in the UK alone over the last decade thanks to pensioner poverty.

Diverse workforce

Never before have businesses faced a more diverse workforce and with it these employees come with very specific needs and wants. The advent of social media, messaging and smartphones has made some industries, such as retail, get smart on how to capture their target audiences. People want that personalised, consumer experience to transcend into their workplace. They are no longer just a national insurance number; they are as unique as their DNA. So how do businesses go about addressing these needs?

It’s an employee engagement predicament, if ever there was. Business leaders are facing a variety of challenges from the tight job market, to “fake news” and “digital water coolers” running rampant in the enterprise, to digital distractions inundating employees with information. It’s never been more difficult yet critical to keep employees aligned and informed. Gallup have looked at employee engagement over the years and most recently cited that over two-thirds of employees today are classified as not engaged, costing businesses 21 per cent less profitability on top of productivity, retention and customer engagement.

The best internal communicators understand their audience and support employee engagement that drives desired business outcomes. And a more connected workforce is a catalyst for improved business results. Different employees consume content differently and with today’s diverse workforce the needs are going to vary greatly. Some employees will check email regularly, others only have access to their smartphones or tablets during work, some may prefer a phone call or a notice on the company intranet. One method of communication will not be enough. Businesses need to meet employees where they are, and this includes having a plan in place in case their primary means of communication is not available.

One area where companies are continually failing is in spamming their employees and assuming that one size fits all. This observation breaks down into a few key areas. Content should be bite-sized and varied as the data from a recent SocialChorus study showed that employees use their company app for around two minutes at a time. That doesn’t necessarily mean the content should be shorter, but it does need to be broken up with headlines, photos, links and other content that is easy to scan or read on smaller screens. The way in which it is presented should all be mixed up. A variety of visuals ranging from photos to infographics will help employees to grasp your communications more easily.

There is no doubt that companies thrive and win when their workers feel informed, valued and engaged. The technology and the devices now exist to drive employee engagement and help both the business and people who are the driving force to flourish. In today’s cut throat environment businesses really can’t afford to keep doing the same old newsletters and emails knowing that no-one is reading or interested. An engaged workforce is a loyal one.


About the author

Cyrus Gilbert-Rolfe has been working on the adoption of emerging technology for decades now. He spent the early nineties at investment bank Lehman Brothers in a succession of jobs leading to the rollout of what was credited in the Financial Times as the first intranet in the City of London. He moved into the tech arena with Internet pioneer Netscape, where he lead their commerce division across Europe. Since then he has worked in a series of early stage tech start-ups focused on eprocurement, XML, webservices, RFID, and mobile location analytics based in Boston, San Francisco, London and Portugal. He has also worked for some of the industry giants, including Microsoft and EMC. Today, Cyrus leads the international growth strategy for SocialChorus, based in the London HQ but responsible for all of the European, Middle Eastern, and African markets. Cyrus lives in Brixton with his wife Clemency, and is father to two grown up children.