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The new division of labor

How the workforce needs to adapt to survive in the new normal.

Tasked with the dual challenge of an accelerated digital agenda and creating a safe working environment post-pandemic, companies are looking to leverage technology to help workers, introduce flexible automation, redistribute the activities of their workforce, and reduce operating risk.

Today, driven by the rapid digitalization of the workplace brought on by the pandemic, we are moving toward a new division of labor that will profoundly affect the way businesses operate. Only those companies that embrace the available tools to transition to remote work and redistribute their workforce accordingly will survive—and thrive—over the coming years.

Please read: Take your workforce to the new normal

Pre-pandemic, business leaders were thinking about business continuity in terms of their disaster recovery plan—namely, is their IT infrastructure able to continue operating in the event of an emergency? The new normal expands on that question by asking: Can your workers continue to operate in today's distributed workplace? At the heart of this question is the employee's journey. By providing the right digital infrastructure and productivity and collaboration tools, an employee can continue to operate. And by using technology to redistribute worker tasks, businesses are better equipped to survive well beyond 2020.

Please read: The fundamentals of security incident response—during a pandemic and beyond

The challenge for many businesses, particularly those with a reliance on physical interactions within the workplace, is how to remain safe, productive, and operational. Because of social distancing requirements, fewer workers are able to return to work in an on-site capacity. This poses a real challenge. Accelerated digitalization, remote working, and flexible automation are therefore no longer the future but today's reality. The pandemic has shone a light on the challenges that were already facing businesses—namely, how to meet the demands of an increasingly digitalized world—and has strengthened the case for embracing the opportunities of the new division of labor.


Virtual and augmented reality, flexible automation

This division of labor goes beyond physically dividing remote specialists and on-site generalists. It is also a matter of understanding how the worker, whether specialist or generalist, can be helped with technology. To optimize their specialists, who are scarcer resources, companies may need to keep them working off site in a remote capacity and even look at better time-sharing their resources in support of their local on-site generalists.

Richer immersive media—virtual reality, augmented reality, mixed reality, and remote guidance—will also drive the changes needed to enhance the worker's skill set, improve efficiency, and provide business continuity. In practice, this could mean augmenting a worker with machine vision or using augmented reality to remotely fix a technical fault or direct a local generalist to do so. Understanding and embracing richer immersive media will go some way toward meeting the demands of the changed workplace.

The pandemic is also accelerating the drive toward a redistribution of worker tasks by leveraging automation. In the same way that rich media capabilities can augment the worker while minimizing the need for physical interaction, flexible automation has the very real possibility of being one of the differences between a company being fully operational or not.

Consider a car manufacturing plant. While much of a car's assembly is handled automatically, the quality assurance stage is typically processed manually through human visual inspection. By automating this process—using, say, video analytics at the quality assurance stage—a plant creates a more predictable and consistent quality assessment. This automation can further augment the entire manufacturing process by linking the quality assurance data back to the development phase, thereby catching mistakes before they happen again. With this flexible automation system in place, both the worker and the production process itself are improved in terms of consistency, quality, and safety.

A challenge facing all industries

While the example above illustrates the opportunities of flexible automation for the manufacturing industry, the need to reduce the reliance on on-site workers, augment workers, and leverage flexible automation is applicable to all industries. Beyond the physical walls of manufacturing and production, enterprises are no less immune from the realities of the new division of labor. Knowledge workers—programmers, engineers, researchers, architects, scientists, and financial analysts—have special requirements and need to interact with a variety of technologies. They may require access to intensive graphics such as huge CAD/CAM files or large datasets, analysis software with demanding algorithmic network bandwidth requirements, or highly classified intellectual property and data.

How do we ensure that the knowledge worker isn't left behind in the new division of labor? Again, the answer lies in the technology. The virtual desktop, for example, allows knowledge workers to view their desktops from any location and via any device while their data remains in a corporate data center. The process provides the right compute power for high-performance needs and improves employee collaboration by centralizing large, graphic-intensive applications for remote access.

Please read: Why VDI is finally coming of age

For both the knowledge worker and the business owner, this is crucial, as their core IP still resides within a secure environment. Similarly, the technology is there for remote crane operators, lab workers, clinical technicians operating MRI machines—all of whom may require access to isolated, air-gapped environments. Using mixed reality techniques and network access with bastion hosts, they can reach and operate their machines independently from their physical workplace. In the context of the division of labor and the changed working environment, richer immersive media is the means by which companies can adapt, survive, and perhaps flourish.

Seizing the opportunities of the new normal

The new division of labor, redistribution of worker tasks, flexible automation—these are big and potentially epoch-defining concepts. And they will profoundly change the way all businesses operate in the new normal. In times of uncertainty, the temptation might be to ignore the issue completely or tackle the problem in the here and now but ultimately see it as a phase or a strange footnote in history. The reality, though, is that the workplace has changed irrevocably.

For businesses to survive, leaders must treat the needs of the worker as a business continuity issue. They should be thinking about what their hybrid workplace will look like. Is the infrastructure in place to sustain and deliver business resilience? They need to consider employee services, tooling, acceleration, augmentation, connectivity, and security. We are living in an age of unparalleled technological advancements; the pandemic has underscored the importance of using the technology at our disposal.

Companies poised to thrive are those with worker redistribution and augmentation at the heart of their plans. Use this moment to drive digital transformation. Act decisively and put a plan together. The new normal is here, and it is the responsibility of the workforce to embrace it.

Embracing the new normal requires:

  • Connectivity. Companies with a resilient digital infrastructure are best primed to face future challenges.
  • Security. Those businesses with a zero trust framework and other best practices in place are better equipped to protect themselves against data breaches.
  • A borderless or hybrid workplace. Today, the boundaries in the workplace seem to be fading away. In a hybrid environment, the augmented worker must be able to work anywhere, anytime.
  • The ability to work smarter. Organizations must redefine and redistribute workers' tasks so they can operate no matter what.
  • The ability to navigate change. Organizations must help workers embrace change to drive innovation and increase productivity. Ensure they have the right knowledge and skills. Build trust and collaboration in the transformation process.

This article/content was written by the individual writer identified and does not necessarily reflect the view of Hewlett Packard Enterprise Company.