Are you ready to manage holograms of your employees?
AUGMENTED REALITY IS SET TO TAKE REMOTE WORKING TO A NEW LEVEL AND IS SET TO CHANGE THE ROLE OF THE MANAGERBy Jermaine Haughton
Laptops, smartphones, VPN’s and Internet connectivity have made working-from-home a common feature of working life for UK employees, but companies could be about to go one further.
The introduction of online bots is set to enable employees to complete more work activities from remote locations, futurists predict, with bots potentially attending meetings and automatically handling requests.
“My digitally-engineered persona might be interacting with clients and employees and customers around the world simultaneously,” says futurist James Canton, CEO of the Institute for Global Futures. “I can direct it and it can have a certain degree of autonomous decisions.”
Unsurprisingly, small-scale workplace holograms have emerged from Silicon Valley tech start-ups, such as Meta, which in 2016 raised $50m from the likes of Lenovo to develop augmented reality headsets that overlay images onto the real world. The headsets allow users to manipulate 3D images in real-time and have been trialled by architects, designers and automobile firms. For Meta’s founder, holograms enable employees to “close the latency between imagination and creativity.” He predicts it will take ten years before the use of such wizardry is widespread, paving the way for managers and teams themselves to interact as holograms.
THE CHALLENGES OF MANAGING A HOLOGRAM
The prospect of empty offices and more disintegrated teams, however, threatens to intensify several challenges already experienced by managers with current remote working practices.
Difficulties communicating and working with remote staff, monitoring work performance and productivity and dealing with emotional and psychological impact to individuals has led to multinationals such as Yahoo and IBM returning their staff to the office.
In 2015, Harvard Business Review (HBR) wrote that poorly-structured remote working schemes can create significant performance issues for employees, as many companies incorrectly “focus too much on technology and not enough on process. This is akin to trying to fix a sports team’s performance by buying better equipment.”
More recently, mental health organisation A People Business found poorly managed nomadic working practices are likely to worsen work-related stress, depression and anxiety over the next decade, costing UK organisations more than £100m a year.
This is largely because infrequent and impersonal contact with colleagues can make it harder to talk about issues, with some employees reporting an increase in loneliness and detachment. Experts fear the introduction of augmented reality to remote working could further exacerbate the issue.
“For some people, (telecommuting) is not a good fit – the lack of informal interactions with co-workers throughout the day wears on them,” says David Ballard, a doctor at the American Psychological Association. “Or the lack of structure, when they’re left to their own devices at home or in a remote setting. It’s harder to stay organised.”
HOW CAN MANAGERS PREPARE FOR THESE CHANGES?
With empathy and soft skills development, studies suggest.
The addition of Augmented Reality will mean managers will still need to explain complicated ideas and instructions to staff, but from a virtual setting rather than a physical one. The ability to think critically, understand the feeling of others and appropriate share key messages effectively to colleagues will be even more valuable to employers.
HBR explained a study in which an individual described an image to a colleague over the phone, prompting the person to repeat the description of the image via email. The study found that often the interpretation of the image was less than accurate.
Already, one third of UK employers say regard soft skills as more important than academic achievements and the HBR suggests that managers will need an even greater grasp on those skills as remote working expands.
Furthermore, socially skilled managers are more likely to be more approachable to remote workers struggling with mental health and stress. The CMI’s Quality of Working Life survey found that more open, empowering management styles are connected to lower levels of stress, higher job satisfaction and greater personal productivity than more ‘command and control’ styles.
In making our organisations future-proof ahead of the arrival of bots, we need to optimise our ability as managers, to lead people.