Make way for ‘smart staff’

Every week there seems to be a new ‘smart’ product hitting the shelves: smart cars to smart phones, smart TVs to smart homes. For employers, though, the next smart trend is not about technology. It’s about people. Make way for the era of ‘Smart Staff’.

As the growth in single-person enterprises illustrates, new technologies and technology-driven services are providing individuals with hugely empowering business tools. Many tasks that required whole departments can now be done by one or two people: from data access and analysis to sales communications. Meanwhile the personal technology devices employees are using to navigate their lives outside of office hours are improving their skillsets in work-relevant areas. Interactive leisure, news, navigation and entertainment websites and apps are improving their knowledge-finding, networking, creative and communication skills in ways that can really boost efficiency and autonomy in the workplace.

So what does this mean for employers? It offers real opportunities for growth. Weekends spent navigating their lives via technology are like personal training courses for employees. Improved staff skills means improved efficiency, innovation, sales. Greater confidence means more individual and team-based responsibility.

The transition to a new way of working will not be easy of course: traditional workplace structures are geared to departmental hierarchies not autonomous employees. The shift will take real courage on employers’ parts. The courage to re-engineer traditional workplace configurations and create new ones. To offer indivduals more responsibility. To build team-led structures instead of departmental ones. To create BYOD schemes despite security fears. To find new ways to focus, monitor and reward workers.

But not showing such courage will lose you more than just opportunity costs. If competitors are enabling and empowering their Smart Staff, while yours have to switch off their virtual brains every time they arrive at work, that will drive down comparative efficiency levels – and thus profits – and drive up employee frustration levels. And that’s not something any employer wants.