Navigating the Cognitive Era


As technology transforms the workplace, human needs and preferences come to forefront.

Picture this: a workplace embedded with smart sensors and speech recognition software that can not only transcribe meeting notes but also schedule conference calls and take care of routine emails.

This soon could be a typical scenario.

Chris Congdon

The offices of the future will feel more like a person, a colleague or life coach, who guides you toward your best self, or at least your best working self, says Chris Congdon, editor of 360 Magazine, which is published by Steelcase. Steelcase specialises in architecture, furniture, and technology products.


“Today’s companies are adapting spaces to align with human needs and the constantly changing workplace demands,” Congdon said. “Tomorrow, organisations will be able to manage buildings, desks, and computers as never before, supporting employees by giving them greater control over their environments.”

Congdon gave further examples of how rooms can become personalised to software habits and preferences, so they “know” which platforms, news feeds, and applications one gravitates toward. And in the same way that a Fitbit reveals how many calories are burned and hours slept, augmented rooms and surfaces will track behaviours through data pulled from devices and bio-informed sensors. These can adjust lighting, visual privacy, acoustics, and temperature with algorithms conceived according to personal preferences.

Digitisation and automation are transforming today’s work environment. Another catalyst is the globalisation of markets, and it is also worth noting that today, millennials and Gen Zers make up the majority of the workforce in many sectors. For these workers, 9-to-5 is a thing of the past, with millennials confessing to being online and working almost constantly. They hold different work values and attitudes that have significant consequences for work culture and leadership.


Max Fellows

For businesses to embrace the shift toward technology and attract and retain millennials and workers in Generation Z, Max Fellows, director of client services at MCI Experience, said companies will need to bring what he terms the “employee experience” into focus. Rather than diminishing the role of people, the Cognitive Era will have people at the forefront, working with and realising the benefits of new technologies to achieve more than was ever possible before.


“A positive employee experience will result in a positive employer brand, a perception which is becoming just as important as the customer brand,” he said. “The cognitive era is just as much the human era. It is a time when work can be a more rewarding experience for employees.”

The employee experience is ultimately about people, and while it can be characterised in countless ways, Fellows outlined its three basic elements: “These include an overall set of employee perceptions across time and touch points; a collection of environmental factors such as cultural, technological, and physical; and a broadening of traditional HR functions that recognise the correlation between employee engagement and customer experience.”

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