It’s easy to feel frustrated or overwhelmed when working in the digital age. Yet it is important to realise that we all struggle. The digital age is about a fundamental renegotiation between what we do best as humans and what our technologies do best for us. We shouldn’t take our difficulty in getting to grips with such drastic change personally.
“Technology is neither good nor bad; nor is it neutral” Melvin Kranzberg.
We hear about social media, the cloud, the Internet of Things, new devices and apps. This post is not about any of the individual technologies. It is about the changes we face as professionals working in the digital age.
So please reflect on the following 10 changes which impact on your professional practice and work processes.
Shedding tasks better done by a computer
Your traditional workflow and processes are disrupted. The digital age fundamentally means recognising that a computer’s data storage and processing power both vastly exceed what any human being can do. You just think slower and less efficiently – we all do. Therefore remembering facts, processing simple information and applying simple “if/then” logic are all best done by a computer.
Recognising the tasks you do better than your computer
Identifying problems, insight to the problem, strategic thinking, incisive analysis, dialogue with other people, option analysis. All of these tasks are human strengths which add value to the outcome. These tasks are where you want to spend your time and energy.
Seamless collaboration between professions
The world is increasingly specialised. To gain insight to a problem and devise solutions we need to be able to collaborate with our colleagues and aligned professions. This means needing to be skilled at modern collaboration methods e.g.sharing files, project management processes, multiple modes of digital communication. It is critical to be able to enunciate your professional opinions in a way the rest of the team can comprehend regardless of the technologies in use on that project.
Managing the data deluge
The flow of information is a deluge in all spheres of society. RMA work is no exception and is very information-intensive. How we manage the data is vital. We need to know how to research the best information, filter out the irrelevant information and present the relevant information in a useful manner. This is difficult to keep up with unless you make use of automation and digital tools.
Staying connected / switching off
The digital age is always “on”. People in professions work to their own 24/7 schedules. This means that the communication never lulls. Being in control of your time and the pressures on your time (e.g. email, deadlines, statutory processes) is vital to operating as a professional in the digital age.
Supporting professional expertise with data
As with the “CSI effect” for jury members, the public expect data to back up professional advice. It is not enough to speak from wisdom, knowledge or experience. Communities expect data. You need to present the data in a way they connect with before your opinion on the meaning of the data will be accepted.
Operating with transparency and openness
We are in a society which values not only open data but transparency in its experts. Communities want to understand your assumptions and methodologies. The ability to explain the concepts behind your professional opinion are critical to your credibility and influence.
It has also never been more important to manage potential or perceived conflicts.
Further to the above point, any perceived lack of openness on an issue can be “outed” and “go viral”, becoming the focus of public attention in a wide area, even globally. Often the background, nuances and full context of an issue is lost in the shortened exchanges of social media. How do we avoid issues going viral, as this means the complexity of the issue is left unexplored and knee-jerk reactions become the norm.
Understand and illuminate the different viewpoints
Individuals now selectively join on-line communities of those with similar viewpoints to themselves. Therefore individuals are less exposed to people who hold different viewpoints than their own. Given our role in assisting communities to understand and engage with environmental decision-making we must be better at facilitating engagement with these groups. We need these groups to understand one another and recognise the different ways that environmental effects can be perceived and experienced.
- Fluency in communication tools
Finally, in dealing with different interest groups, we have the options in communication methods to content with. This increasingly is a matter of personal preference (or custom), and many individuals stick to only one or two of the options. To reach and engage with all interest communities we need to be literate across many of these new digital modes of communication and fluent in how and when to use them to best effect.
These are a few of the changes and challenges that our professions face as we adapt to the digital age. Do you have any others to add? Let us know in the comments.
If you are interested in these issues as applied to your day to day work flow, see post ’10 Signs your Work is Suffering in the Digital Age’.
 Kranzberg was a US academic who wrote on the history of technology and developed “six laws” of technology, one of which is quoted here.