The 5G Pitfall

It has the potential to revolutionize work, but the new wireless network may create challenges for leaders managing employees.




A hologram beamed into the conference room. A virtual set of cooking instructions hanging above the kitchen counter. An engineer working at a factory in Los Angeles in real time without ever physically leaving his living room in Mumbai.

Thanks to fifth-generation, or 5G, networks, applications once reserved for science fiction are slowing turning into a reality. With 5G’s lightning speeds and greater bandwidth, virtual reality, augmented reality, and other technologies will be faster and more accessible, opening up a world of possibilities for organizations, experts say. That improved connectivity also could let some organizations allow everyone to work productively from anywhere. “You can allow your people to not be chained to the desk,” says David Barnette, sector leader for Korn Ferry’s Communications and Devices practice.

Yet, with all those possibilities comes one significant challenge: how to manage a workforce that never comes to the office. “If leaders focus just on the benefits, they may fall into the trap of not thinking through how they’re going to engage and keep employees productive,” Barnette says.

Right now, 5G is in its nascent days, but its potential for shaping the future of work is something organizations are thinking about today. Using 5G-enabled technologies will empower employees to work better and faster from just about anywhere, at any time, with less interruptions often common with less reliable wireless networks, experts say. “When you look at the 5G network, it will eliminate the physical need to be present to complete a task,” says Lisa Casper, sector leader for Korn Ferry’s Digital practice.

But experts warn that 5G could pose a similar management-related problem that Blackberry’s and smartphones did, or email before them: the blurring of a work-life balance. Some organizations that start to adopt 5G in the workplace may start to expect—if not demand—even more around-the-clock performance from their remote workers. “A lot of it is yet to be seen, but it’s going to be a big initiative a lot of employers will have to wrap their heads around,” Casper says. “Companies are going to have to adapt to how they engage with their workforce.”

Research shows that constant workday culture can deplete engagement and decrease productivity. This often happens when leaders fail to understand the needs and preferences of their employees, Barnette says.

After all, flexibility looks different for everyone. Some employees may prefer answering emails at 4 a.m., while others need to work within their set daytime schedule. Leaders who are thoughtful about managing their workforce will be able to engage and empower employees, increase productivity, and keep turnover low. “With 5G, we enable work to get done by people who work differently,” Barnette says. “It requires everyone to be on the same page with clear expectations and boundaries, and that starts by asking questions.”