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Why human value in the digital age is even more essential
The growth of digitalization is viewed with concern by many. Yet new technologies can boost productivity and flexibility. If managers know how to spot the right opportunities
“Human interaction is the first casualty of the digital age”. It’s the title that introduces an editorial signed by Vivek Wadhwa, a tech sector entrepreneur, Harvard professor and, among other things, an early fan of social media. Over time, like many others, Wadhwa changed his mind, coming to believe that digital media have done more harm than good to interpersonal relationships. In the same way, many people maintain that advanced digital technologies can reduce the centrality of the human element in the world of work. But is that true? A series of data and forecasts show how it’s possible to take countermeasures. And how the role of managers is key in this scenario.
Human relations: between relationships and connections
A survey by the World Economic Forum, carried out in 2016 on a sample of over 5,000 individuals across five continents, reveals a widespread perception that is in sharp contrast to Wadhwa’s fears. According to the majority of those interviewed, the use of social media has actually led to a greater ability to make friendships in the real world, to maintain relationships with existing friends and with one’s partner and, surprise!, also to develop greater empathy.
But all that glitters isn’t gold. If it’s true that on one hand digital media enables social interaction, often giving a voice to minorities, on the other hand there are risks, as the World Economic Forum itself highlights in the Digital Media and Society report: it’s possible that the development of online relationship skills doesn’t correspond to a similar improvement in offline social skills. In short, it’s a scenario with light and shadows, that we also see in the workplace.
Digital technologies are shaping the form and contents of the job offering. Among positive effects can be counted an increase in productivity and flexibility, in particular in the growing use of teleworking, or smart working, made possible by the development of increasingly fast network connections and of increasingly efficient digital communication tools. However, there are also plenty of doubts in this area. Indeed, digital media can lead to an increase in inequality, caused by the rapid evolution of the most highly sought out skills. It’s not unreasonable to expect a widening of the gap in the value (and thus also in the economic value) between employees with low level skills and colleagues with more advanced and valuable ones.
Exploiting technology, enhancing the value of humans
To avoid these risks, the figure of the leader becomes central. They must have “the knowledge and skills to recognize and anticipate digital trends, understand the implications for their business and use technology to their advantage to keep up to pace”, states the report Digital Media and Society. It’s up to the organizations, and therefore to their managers, to develop appropriate strategies to integrate digital media in the workflow, and to be proactive in tapping into the opportunities and avoiding the dangers their employees may face. Another report from the World Economic Forum, Our Shared Digital Future, shared further guidelines to thrive in the digital revolution: what is key is the creation of a network of responsible leaders that encourages the reskilling of employees. If it’s true, as suggested by the 2018 Future of Jobs Report, also prepared by the WeF, that by 2022 automation will replace humans in a significant percentage of their workload, it becomes fundamental to enhance those activities that artificial intelligence still can’t carry out: an apparent paradox, but the competitive advantage of companies and workers will increasingly depend on the ability to show themselves to be inimitably human. Despite digital innovation.