08 August 2017

Why speed will determine winners and losers of the digital economy

Around the world, the traditional working practices that we have all been accustomed to are being scrapped in favour of methods that have emerged out of the need for an increasingly flexible workforce.

Technology is redefining the very nature of work, whilst challenging the structure of the traditional 9-5 role and raising questions of the requirements of a central office space. Digitalisation is creating an increasingly interconnected world whereby the obstacle of distance fades further into the past with every passing year. Our workforce and hierarchical systems must therefore reflect the changing landscape that we see around us and adapt to a new world in which work is no longer defined as a place but rather an activity that can be carried out from anywhere with an internet connection.

Wim Janssens, a UX designer at Monkeyshot in Antwerp understands this changing dynamic more than most and is calling on large corporations to embrace some of the more flexible employment structures which flourished so successfully at many of the world’s most innovative startups.

One such ideology which is increasingly gaining traction is “Agile” which aims to remove the traditional parameters which defined hard work such as attendance and time spent at the office. Agile instead to focus on a more target based approach which prioritises the completion of goals regardless of where and when they are completed. One of the most prominent adopters of this approach has been Unilever which in 2012 set about its mission to free itself from the constraints of what they believed to be the outdated working day. The company encouraged workers to instead complete their objectives more on their own terms which has helped to foster an environment of greater efficiency as success now revolves around the number of tasks completed rather than the amount of (often inefficient) time spent on each one.

Janssens views this increasingly speed and efficiency based approach as crucial to the success of a company in the modern economy. He cites companies such as Google which employ the idea of the Design Sprint (whereby employees are given 5 days to find a solution to a complicated problem) as an example of a company which is leading the charge with regards to innovation thanks to its prioritisation of speed.

Speed is what will ultimately separate the winners and losers in the modern economy. A vivid example of future economic patterns can be seen in the case of FinTech companies which are challenging the banking establishment with innovations that have lowered the barriers of entry into the financial sector. There is a clear need for corporate structures to question their own value as faster and more flexible startups eat into their marketshare.

Janssens questions the ability of large corporations to adapt to the changing tide of an increasingly digital economy, stating that “When 3000 employees have been doing the same job for 20 years, it’s extremely difficult to tell them that everything has to change. People are such creatures of habit . "I see a lot of big companies adopting more lean and agile methods, but it takes a while for this to spread throughout the whole organisation”. The big players in the global economy must therefore change their culture or risk seeing an increasing number of startups pull from their margins in the blink of an eye.