This article was first published in the May 2019 UK edition of Accounting and Business magazine.

Most conversations about the modern workplace are tinged with excitement and fear. Our sense of what work is and what it can accomplish is changing at a pace not seen since World War II. The driver is no surprise: technology.

Employers are racing to make technology a key aspect of their products or services, and many in work are concerned about the impact technology will have on their role. Everyone is either trying to future-proof their business or themselves.

Speaking at ACCA UK’s annual conference in March, Rohit Talwar warned that the key to future-proofing a business lies in focusing on a human approach, rather than throwing everything at technology.

A healthy fear of technology is legitimate, but to ignore it would be foolhardy, as it is ‘rewriting the future of every sector’, says Talwar.

Equally though, we have been sold something of a myth about technology – it has yet to deliver a net improvement in productivity. And there are clearly ways that technology can harm businesses as well as improve them. This, says Talwar, is where the human approach comes in: organisations need to understand that technology can enable them to outperform other businesses, but a company can only win by being more human – by making sure that its employees understand technology and by being certain that its customers are provided with clarity, access and trust.

Talwar talks about future-proofed organisations working on three horizons. The first is between one and 12 months and is about operational excellence – what do we need to deliver in the short-term? The second is based around the next one to three years – companies should think about their digital capabilities and search for growth through these. The final horizon is between four and 10 years away – businesses should consider ways to innovate within their current business model and concepts, challenging the ways they work and what they provide.

Engaging the workforce

This is only one strand of making the business fit for the future. Talwar also stresses the importance of managing people through these changes. Companies will only be able to deliver the operating systems that tomorrow’s customers desire if their employees understand technology and do not constantly feel that they are about to be replaced by machines.

Companies need to focus on the human and engender curiosity in their workforce. This will enable their employees to explore and share ideas about technology and its impact, and make them feel like they are upskilling.

Above all, organisations need to be thinking about the effect of technology on their products, services and workforce morale. Talwar’s advice is that slowing down will help organisations speed up. Rapidly and thoughtlessly integrating technology – no matter how useful – into the business will likely have harmful ripple effects. Carefully thinking about the place and impact of technology in the workplace – across systems and people – is essential for ensuring companies are fit for the future.

Felicity Hawksley, journalist