Emerging technologies and work

Businesses across industries are using technology more and more to boost efficiency and gain competitive advantage. The likes of AI, robotics and other emerging technologies are being used across all the different business functions, not just to automate simple, repetitive tasks and back-office processes, but increasingly to make complex decisions via predictive algorithms more quickly and accurately than their human counterparts.

Technological advancements are affecting how we work, from the design of our workplaces to the make-up of our workforces. Emerging technologies are also increasingly being used to improve how we manage people.

All this presents new strategic challenges for employers, who must consider how they can benefit from emerging technologies in their own business. As well as financial investment in the technology itself, there will be considerations to be made around organisational structures, people, strategies, and processes. Complex transformations such as these cannot be successful if done reactively or on a whim – only as the result of solid strategy and careful continued management.

Our research into the impact of emerging technologies on work, the workplace and the workforce is focused on providing organisations with practical, tangible action they can take to successfully implement technological transformation in their business. We support organisations to:

  • Understand how technology can support and enhance recruitment processes and the HR function,
  • Plan for and implement automation initiatives, taking into account employee engagement, data security, ethics, permissions and access,
  • Plan their workforce of the future, incorporating new skills in coordinating machines and managing the interface between humans and technology,
  • Understand how emerging technologies can benefit or harm the employee experience and performance,
  • Use technology to encourage and enable flexible working.

Agile working

Organisations have long looked for ways to manage their workforce more flexibly and efficiently, using arrangements such as numerical flexibility (temporary and part-time contracts), functional flexibility (multi-skilling and deployment across a range of tasks), and time and spatial flexibility. Agile working aims to achieve these flexibility advantages, while at the same time reaping the benefits of allowing employees some degree of choice over their working arrangements. While driven by business needs, it is used by employers wanting to help their employees achieve a more satisfactory work-life balance.

Our research in this area focuses on the design and implementation of agile working practices, encompassing flexible work and job design, and labour market flexibility in emerging markets.

Our faculty are active in research and policy debates about agile working, and have worked collaboratively with the Agile Future Forum set up by the UK Government to consider how UK businesses can put it into practice. We have also developed case studies of successful agile working practices to help business schools introduce the topic into their curriculum, and as resources for use in executive education programmes.

Having worked with the likes of Cisco, KPMG, Lloyds Banking Group and ITV on agile working in their businesses, we are well placed to assist organisations interested in exploring for the first time, or further developing, this way of working. Our faculty can:

  • Undertake research to examine agile working issues in your organisation, industry or sector,
  • Assist with the design and practical implementation of agile working practices,
  • Creating development programmes customised to agile working in your organisation.

Flexible working and work-life balance

Discussions about flexibility and flexible working are happening more and more in the business world, due to a combination of shifting employee expectations over the longer term and the more recent impact of the global disruption from the Covid-19 pandemic.

Flexible working arrangements involve changes to when (flexitime), where (remote working) and how much (percentage of full-time) work takes place. Organisations that offer their employees flexible working arrangements do so in order to help them achieve a more satisfactory work-life balance. Allowing employees some degree of control over the way they work can yield significant business benefits, including improved performance, more positive employee attitudes, and better employee well-being, and can assist with retention and recruitment (especially among those who might not otherwise participate in paid employment).  

At Cranfield School of Management, we have considerable expertise on the topic of flexible working, developed over more than 20 years of research with major employers and campaigning organisations examining:

  • The implementation of flexible working arrangements,
  • Outcomes from flexible working, including the benefits for organisations, individuals, and teams,
  • The difference between formal and informal arrangements,
  • Achieving part-time working for professionals,
  • The impact of flexible working on team collaboration,
  • The impact of flexible working on careers,
  • The impact of flexible working on other people’s management practices.

Having worked with the likes of Citigroup, Centrica, KPMG, Microsoft, Pfizer, Rolls-Royce, Working Families, WM People and the Recruitment and Employment Confederation, we have built up considerable knowledge and practical expertise. This enables us to inform public policy debates about flexible working, with our research having been used as evidence to support changes in legislation and policy guidance. We can also:

  • Examine flexible working issues in your organisation, industry, or sector,
  • Assist with the implementation and uptake of flexible working, and the achievement of work-life balance,
  • Create development programmes customised to flexibility and work-life balance issues in your organisation.