The future of work has become a catch-all buzzword representing everything from automation to remote work.
But fundamentally, the future is about breaking jobs down to their core duties. That’s according to Ravin Yesutasan, global leader of transformational services at consulting firm Mercer, who has written several books on the future of work.
“It’s basically a much more granular level of analysis than just this thing called work,” he told Insider.
Jesuthasan works with technology leaders and other business stakeholders to find opportunities for innovation. Thinking about work on a task-by-task basis leaves more room for innovation, according to Yesutasan. In his eyes, understanding the core duties of a job can best help stakeholders decide whether artificial intelligence, automation or another form of work is best for the gig.
Jesutasan said the foundation of innovation is leading with work, not technology.
Jesuthasan’s role in the process is first changing the way the business looks at work, then connecting internal stakeholders to make that change happen. According to Yesutasan, when companies view technology and work as a binary relationship, businesses are missing out on a much greater opportunity for how technology can augment work.
“They also miss where the particular technology can potentially transform an entire process or workflow,” he said.
For example, workplaces don’t have to choose between automating a process and hiring a worker to do it. Instead, management can use a combination of the two options by automating repetitive tasks along with a worker hired for parts of the role that technicians cannot perform. It is a combination of technology and human work, not a choice between one or the other.
This process transcends each individual department to connect technical leaders with other parts of the organization such as human resources. HR is largely responsible for guiding future work principles that business technology leaders can help implement, such as where technology can improve productivity.
The future of work also goes hand in hand with digitization, Yesutasan said. Digitization includes everything from automation to technologies that improve transparency. He said digitally enabling the entire business model is critical to sustaining the workplace of the future.
Innovation doesn’t always mean buying and implementing the hottest technology on the market. According to Yesutasan, technology leaders can help businesses solve problems innovatively by using already available resources.
This is where he works with technology stakeholders to drive innovative approaches to work. These stakeholders include those responsible for relationships with third-party vendors, those responsible for enterprise applications, and business partners for specific functions.
“Given the proliferation of options around robotic process automation, machine learning, natural language processing, IT has a real sense of where we’re using maybe some of these solutions in other parts of the organization,” Yesutasan said.
Large companies tend to have a disconnect between departments and where they use suppliers. Jesuthasan helps leaders in companies, including technical, solve work problems by connecting these departments.
For example, if one department is already using a third-party automation product, it may have enough additional capabilities to solve a problem in another department. Jesuthasan prioritizes working first with the technologies businesses already use to better tailor innovation to their needs.
“The concepts we’ve developed are great, but we need to make sure they work for this particular organization,” he said.
Sometimes a prototype or introduction of a new technology will be necessary for innovation if there is a bottleneck in the process, a shortage of talent or an opportunity to reduce costs, Yesutasan added.
And in these cases, however, work comes first.
“When they lead with technology, they miss where technology can really replace human work,” Yesutasan said.