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the future of work

The future is here. Virtual reality and the Internet of Things are changing the way we play and live. When it comes to adopting new technologies and trends at home, I am always open to experimentation. Personally, I cannot wait until my fridge re-orders milk when I am getting low.

However, if you live in Canada, it's not unusual to hear that when starting a new job, you are given only an aging desktop computer. If you are fortunate, it's a basic laptop with a VPN key.

That's why our expectation of how quickly our workplaces adapt differs from our need for the latest gadgets at home. According to a new survey by research firm PSB for Dell and Intel, more than four in 10 Canadian employees think their workplace is not "smart" enough and more than one-third say the technology they use at home is more cutting-edge.

Only 39 per cent of employees expect to be working in a smart office over the next five years, lower than the 57 per cent of global employees who expect the same. The 300 Canadians among the 3,801 respondents in the survey were more conservative about embracing new technologies at work than their global peers and expressed less of a willingness to use virtual and augmented reality products at work. In fact, nearly half favour office perks such as Ping-Pong tables and food over high-tech perks.

Canadians have a reputation for being a few years behind other countries, particularly the United States, in adopting new technologies. However, it's time to put this reputation to rest before we get left behind.

"Being conservative and late in adopting new technologies in the workplace such as Internet of Things, virtual reality, augmented reality or using tech solutions for better workplace collaboration will impact the ability of Canadian companies to compete and be innovative on a global scale," warned Carolyn Rollins, chief marketing officer of Dell EMC Canada.

Not only that, employers who are slow or complacent about adopting new technologies will also find it challenging to attract and retain top talent, Ms. Rollins said. The study reports 61 per cent of millennials say that a new job's technology impacts their decision to take the role. Over half of millennials also said they would embrace artificial intelligence at work, believing it would make their job easier.

"Canadian millennials are the ones pushing the envelope and driving the next workplace evolution, therefore employers should take note about the expectation of this group when it comes to integrating the latest technologies into the workplace," said Ms. Rollins.

The notion that we don't expect more from our work also says something about Canadians' relationship to their jobs. It may be that we just don't care enough if our workplaces are technologically advanced. The study showed that more than half of Canadians identify their job as "something they do to pay the bills" and almost three-quarters say that their life begins at the end of the workday.

This isn't the first time Canadian companies have been warned that they aren't adapting quickly enough. In 2015, a Deloitte report warned that Canadian companies weren't prepared for the disruption to come, including artificial intelligence, advanced robotics and collaborative connected platforms, the Internet of Things.

Of the 700 Canadian business leaders surveyed, the Deloitee study found 35 per cent of firms wholly unprepared for technology disruption. That means the companies didn't understand the changes to come, did not have a corporate culture that provides incentives for innovation, nor did they have the ability to rapidly deploy new systems.

But not everyone feels that Canadians are slow to adopt new innovations.

"Just because innovation may not look like it does in the U.S., doesn't mean it's not successful. Real innovation is visible and making an impact every day in companies and organizations right across Canada," said Allen Lalonde, a senior executive at IBM Canada Research & Development Centre.

He cites healthcare specifically as an area in which Canada is demonstrating advances in cognitive computing. For example, researchers at the Movement Disorders Clinic at Toronto's University Health Network along with the analytics team at the Ontario Brain Institute are using IBM's Watson (a supercomputer that utilizes artificial intelligence) to learn how to repurpose readily available drugs to treat Parkinson's disease. It will expedite the work needed to analyze 31 million sources of relevant literature, enhancing the researchers productivity.

In the financial sector, he adds, businesses are increasingly turning to the power of analytics to help manage client experiences and make them more secure.

But these are only a few bright points in an otherwise dismal report on how Canadians are once again acting "conservatively" and how those inhibitions about embracing new technologies will keep us behind. As an entrepreneur who has straddled both the startup world and corporate Canada, my only advice is to drop those inhibitions quickly. While you are at it, throw out the Ping-Pong table.

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