Ongoing adaption to life with the Covid-19 pandemic offers an opportunity for reflection and improvement. Some previous trajectories will be altered, while others will be accelerated.
In the technology world, prior to the pandemic, an impending talent crunch was widely anticipated. The significance of this has now shrunk for the short term, as companies decelerate hiring campaigns.
Although internship programmes and recruitment strategy may not be top of mind for now, it would be unwise to relegate them too far down the list. We will likely see fresh digital business opportunities emerge as the peak of the crisis passes and it would be ill-advised to take the future supply of tech talent for granted. To prevent a future talent blackhole, the tech sector would be wise to continue the course towards inclusion & diversity it was already on before the crisis.
In terms of personality type, technology professionals are commonly stereotyped as maths-whizz introverts. Most of us will have seen at least one episode of the IT Crowd..! As with all stereotypes, closer inspection reveals a more nuanced reality.
Empirical research into technology personas though limited does seem to support the idea that more introverts are drawn to technology careers than extraverts. It also shows the picture is perhaps not as one sided as the stereotype suggests. One study into personality types in software engineering found from a sample of 100 software engineers, 57% were introverts and 43% were extraverts. Another study reported 67% of subjects were introverts. We can deduce from these findings that tech sector jobs are filled by people of all psychological types even though some are a little more represented than others.
Demand for top tech talent may be dampened in the immediate aftermath of the Covid-19 crisis, but in the longer term, as technology demand from impacted business sectors returns and as fresh digital business opportunities emerge from the current crisis, we could anticipate a burst of new technology innovation in a host of areas such as supply chain, buildings, health, environment, smart governments and cities. Forewarned is forearmed and the tech sector must be ready.
Mind the gap
If a future talent gap is not to seriously hinder competitive advantage, companies will need to take a fresh approach to sourcing, retaining and developing talent for the workforce of the future.
Including a wider spectrum of tech talent
One particular source of potential tech talent, companies are starting to tap into is the neuro-diverse community of people who have dyslexia, dyspraxia, ADHD, are on the autism spectrum, or have other neurological conditions.
Research by the University of Cambridge has shown people with autistic traits (although not necessarily autism itself) are more likely to be involved in STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and maths). Highly-focused concentration, careful attention to detail and out of the box thinking are some of the skills often associated with these traits.
A welcoming and healthy workplace for all
As employers attempt to diversify the talent pool to help plug potential future skills gaps, greater thought will be given on how to create welcoming cultures and healthy, enriching workplaces that nurture and support the full spectrum of talent as much as practically possible. Poorly planned workplaces could hinder cognitive performance and productivity, whilst also negatively impacting health and wellbeing.
Companies targeting neuro-diverse talent must consider the specific needs of this workforce segment. Open plan, noisy environments, strong smells and harsh lighting can prove a particular challenge for people on the autistic spectrum, depleting concentration and energy levels.
As the business community adapts to changing ways of working in the wake of Covid-19, flexible working strategies will become more entrenched – a trend that was already developing pre-pandemic. This could be a benefit to some neuro-diverse workers but will not necessarily benefit all. Some neuro-diverse (and non neuro-diverse!) workers may well miss the structure of actually ‘going to work’ and dislike the feeling of ‘going it alone’.
When it comes to the physical workplace, solutions which will particularly benefit this talent group might include light levels which closely mirror levels of natural daylight, air filtration, acoustic barriers in furnishings or noise-cancelling headphones to block out background noise and environments that incorporate a choice of private work spaces (to think deeply and problem solve) and open environments to collaborate with teams and be sociable.
Many of these solutions will of course also appeal to the entire workforce. In the wake of the pandemic, the value attributed to holistic wellness will be greater than ever. Workplaces which exude and authentically include health and wellness attributes such as exercise studios, access to healthy food, healthy air, lighting and noise levels will produce greater pulling and holding power.
Future Gazing - The appliance of Neuroscience!
If you haven’t heard this yet – look out for a growing appliance of neuroscience to future space planning.
The task of creating inclusive buildings, with the power to optimise cognitive performance of all personas and demographics will be ever more crucial for competitive edge. The potential benefits are massive but the reality of achieving this is a complex task and not to be under-estimated. The good news on the horizon is that it could become progressively easier in time with the appliance of neuroscience. Centric Labs, UCL, The Wellcome Trust and others have been steadily advancing knowledge and tools in this area.
Neuroscience for the unacquainted, is the study of the brain and nervous system, including its interaction with other parts of the body. A central focus of neuroscience is to understand how our biological system interacts with the external world. The study of people and their response to their environments will increasingly provide a scientific basis for the planning of inclusive buildings and cities.
New ground-breaking neuroscience technologies could transform the workplace design phase. The portable Magnetoencephalography system, created by UCL and the Wellcome Trust, if combined with other technology, such as Augmented Reality (AR) or Virtual Reality (VR), would have the potential to provide comparisons of brain activity of different personas within different environments.
What are the benefits? Chiefly, that companies would be better informed to create optimum environments that cater as much as practically possible for the full spectrum of talent within their workforce. Imagine possessing the ability to test neurological responses, as people virtually walk through a new building or campus before it is even built. Knowing how different personas or demographics will react to and experience a building in advance means adjustments can be made at an early, cost effective planning stage.
Given the speed of technology advances, it is conceivable that in just a few decades, developers may rely on the use of cognitive and biological data when planning buildings. Companies which have obviously considered the needs of their individual employees in the workplace will undoubtedly be repaid with high levels of innovation, creativity, productivity and loyalty from employees.
The more progressive technology companies we are collaborating with naturally have talent and diversity at the heart of their business agendas but increasingly recognise the important role that a more personalised approach to workplace solutions could have on optimising the performance of their employees in supporting business objectives.