From flat hierarchies to the home office, there are five areas in which companies and employees benefit from digitalisation – and hence from the new mobile phone technology.
In a large number of work contexts – in knowledge work, in the service professions, even in industrial production – work tools will change. More and more, conventional tools will be replaced by digital instruments. To take one example, an adjustable wrench was previously essential for any automotive mechatronics engineer when troubleshooting. Nowadays, any such engineer will be equipped with a digital diagnostic tool capable of searching for errors in the vehicle’s on-board computer and forwarding these directly to the computer in the workshop. It is becoming more and more common for production workers to use tablets to control and monitor production facilities. Others use drones for facade engineering. Still, others work with robots and 3D printers. Helped along by 5G, the trend will continue. This new mobile telecommunications standard speeds up digital processes, thereby making many work processes simpler and easier.
One thing is clear: these new technologies need to be speedily integrated into production processes. Employees should be given the opportunity to learn how to handle the new resources safely. And because these areas are developing fast, everyone involved in them needs to keep learning – and to remain inquisitive about getting to grips with new instruments, processes and software solutions.
5G technology provides a high-performance infrastructure and creates a new basis for flexible working. Employees can, for example, assume that, among other things, videoconferencing will function without interruption in sparsely populated regions and that networked ways of working will be possible in real time. If such potential can be combined more and more with new flexible organisational structures over the coming years, the result will be new ways of working that will not only fine-tune work that is not dependent on time and location, but will also do the same for the controlling of production processes in entire factories. For example, there will no longer be any need to have people permanently on-site in a production facility. Consequently, there will no longer be any need for some factory complexes and office buildings to be maintained at their current level.
Thanks to 5G and digitalisation, structures in companies are changing too. The hierarchical structure prevalent in some work contexts will give way to virtual and agile collaboration. This is beneficial because classic top-down management is largely replaced by problem-oriented work in expert teams, giving employees greater autonomy and more of a free hand. This generates new synergy effects, opening up a collective approach for the accomplishment of tasks and leading in turn to corresponding changes in the parameters that determine which person carries out a specific task. Who eventually controls the excavator or monitors the delivery drone then depends on technical expertise or the price – not on local availability or other rigid factors. For all of the above, the precondition is a fast, stable, secure and efficient Internet connection – which is what 5G guarantees.
As well as making it easier for people to work together, 5G technology does the same for interactions between people and machines. The possibilities are wide-ranging, from controlling machines to collaborating with them.
Self-learning robots and systems based on artificial intelligence (AI) are becoming capable of handling more and more tasks in our day-to-day professional lives, entirely independently. The more extensively these technologies are deployed, the more important they become for the entire production process. All the same, these robots require regular maintenance, updates and spare parts, which creates new fields of work.
For managers, this presents major challenges. In the future, their teams will consist of people and robots, so they will have to decide which activities are allocated where or to whom and how to structure the cooperation to be effective and people-oriented. Collaboration between man and machine is not fundamentally new – in fact, it has been established practice since the first industrial revolution. Aided by network technologies such as 5G, people will in the future operate alongside ever more “intelligent” machines. As such, one of the most exciting challenges of the coming years will be to find meaningful ways of bringing together human intelligence and artificial intelligence with “machine intelligence” restricted to specific areas of responsibility. The major plus point here is that the equipment – supplemented by AI – will relieve people of onerous, expensive, monotonous and dangerous tasks. In particular, robots will take on structured and automatable processes requiring little or no human interaction. The emphasis here must be on the need for people-oriented AI, in accordance with the Federal Government’s AI strategy.
The use of machines generates so-called automation effects, especially in the area of production. For example, machines are already taking over large portions of production lines in the automotive construction industry. Does this present a threat to people’s jobs?
According to the Institute for Employment Research, one employee in four could be affected by automation over the next few years. As a result, many employees will need to reorient themselves professionally.
However, not everything that is theoretically capable of automation is actually being automated. This is determined by a number of factors. In particular, if human work is more efficient or flexible or of higher quality, or if there are legal or ethical obstacles to such a substitution, then generally speaking automation does not take place. Furthermore, even where activities are substituted, this does not automatically mean the disappearance of an entire profession. Rather, job descriptions are adapting as digitalisation increases. In respect of Germany, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) assumes that for over 35 per cent of all occupations, the activity profile will change fundamentally by 2030. There will also be new jobs created by the transformation – in manufacturing new technologies, for example – so overall employment is not necessarily under threat. As to which sectors and regions will in the future see jobs being created or cut back, this information is available to read here in the skilled-workforce monitoring projection from the Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs (BMAS).
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