Cathy Mulligan is a technology leader – and then some. As well as fulfilling her responsibilities at Fujitsu, Mulligan is also a visiting researcher at Imperial College London, UCL’s DataNet CTO and a Fellow at the World Economic Forum, specifically sitting on its Global Fourth Industrial Revolution Council. In her 25 year career however no challenge comes close to Covid-19 and the effects of lockdown.
On our virtual interview, Cathy calls from her living room in front of a makeshift whiteboard. It helps the former engineer and now digital technologist concentrate on her work and get used to remote working. Not that she needed it.
“Personally, I’m adapting to remote working fine. As a technologist, my team and I are used to using remote technologies and Fujistu has a global presence so virtual meetings are also pretty common for us,” Mulligan said.
She stops short of saying remote working is completely positive, however.
“The biggest problem right now is the lack of spontaneous interactions. And I’m also seeing women take back up most of the house work as well as jobs they already have.”
It might sound strange – if pleasantly surprising – for such a senior technologist to cite social issues as the two main problems of remote working. But there is a growing awareness in the industry about the next evolution of digital technologies; Mulligan articulates it for us.
“We’re seeing a shift in digital technologies,” she explains. “Technology used to be a bunch of black boxes run behind the scenes and controlled by experienced, technically very skilled individuals. But today we have that base infrastructure – and even the base data.
“What that means is digital technology should now focus on the human; enabling human beings to be better, more productive, at what they do.”
Mulligan also reminds us that work is the largest social event in which we participate. Therefore any leader – technology or otherwise – has to employ pastoral care into their remit. That’s the future of work.
When technology leaders focus on the human-centric elements of work, she continues, that’s when you can enable the satisfaction of employee contribution. It’s an untapped resource. When employees feel or can see their contributions to the organization, they feel inspired to work harder.
“One of digital’s next challenges is working to create those interactions in a remote working context so individuals feel they have the capability to contribute.”
That’s a universal challenge; sector agnostic, if you will. Mulligan’s experience today stretches from industry to education to policy, with her work at Fujitsu, UCL and Imperial, and the World Economic Forum. Even though she is seeing the same challenges across all the three, the solutions will inevitably have to be different.
“As a lecturer, we need the remote experience to be two-way and immersive: learning is doing.
“We don’t necessarily need that level of interaction in retail, for example,” she adds.
The other challenge for technology leaders is what Mulligan calls the “hybrid workforce”.
“In the last three months we’ve had to transform to the same effect as the last two yeas. What was impossible suddenly became necessary; staff are now implicitly trusted to work from home. What does that mean for the future of work? It means some staff working permanently in the office, some permanently at home and still others a blend of the two.”
Organizations that can use digital to enable all those workflows all of the time will be able to conquer the future of work.
To watch the full interview and listen to Cathy Mulligan’s insights and experiences in full across all of her remits, click here.