What’s Digital Media Doing For Your Workforce?

I’m going to go far out on a limb and say that digital media has drastically changed the way we work.

The ways in which technology has transformed and benefitted the workforce are too many to mention here, and are fairly self-evident anyway.

Participants in a recent Willis Towers Watson and World Economic Forum study acknowledge as much.

In Shaping the Future Implications of Digital Media for Society, the organizations polled more than 5,000 employers and individuals between the ages of 18 and 69. Overall, 56 percent of these respondents said that digital media has indeed altered the way they work.

At least to me, the only somewhat surprising thing about that figure is that it’s not higher. Really, whose job hasn’t been affected in some way by digital media?

In my mind, the more interesting finding from this study was how individuals’ view of digital media’s impact on their jobs varied greatly based on where they live.

For example, roughly two-thirds of respondents in Brazil and China said they think digital media has improved the quality of their professional lives. Just over half of the participants from South Africa (52 percent) felt the same way, while just 24 percent of those from Germany and 23 percent of respondents from the United States reported feeling that digital media has enriched them in a professional sense.

(About 1,000 digital media users from each of these five markets were polled, according to the report.)

A Willis Towers Watson summary of the findings doesn’t delve into why these U.S. and German respondents may feel this way. But Ravin Jesuthasan, a managing director of the organization’s talent management practice and co-author of the study, offers some insight into how technology may actually be limiting some workers’ opportunities, particularly those in low-skill positions.

“Despite the productivity gains and opportunities of digital media to actually bridge economic gaps and reduce inequality, potential downsides still exist,” says Jesuthasan.

For example, he says, digital media and related technology may drive near-term inequality as innovations such as talent platforms “increase the productivity and rewards of highly skilled workers while simultaneously cutting the cost of low-skilled work.”

In addition, digital media “has the potential to diminish work effectiveness and productivity,” continues Jesuthasan.

The multiple platforms and vast qualities of information and content at employees’ disposal “may distract workers and disrupt work,” he says. “In addition, as more people work remotely, valuable face-to-face time is reduced, which can weaken understanding and collaboration, and potentially hinder innovation.”

Considering that digital media’s role in the workplace is only going to expand—seven out of 10 respondents agree on this point—Jesuthasan urges employers to consider initiatives using technology to “more accurately match an individual’s skills to a specific business need.”

Rather than thinking solely in terms of “traditional jobs,” he says, companies should take a “more nuanced approach to how work should be conducted; using social media tools to build communication and engagement within the organization; sourcing and building digital skills; and developing digital leadership.”