In a recent post, I looked at the future workforce where humans and robot colleagues work together. Where your robot colleague would take on the more monotonous, repetitive tasks or those deemed too dangerous for people to carry out. Yet, despite the benefits of man and machine working harmoniously alongside one another, much has been made of the fear that robots could be set to take over. Ever since the Industrial Revolution, we’ve seen a level of nervousness surrounding machines… but if we look at some of the traditional working practices, it would seem the workers of previous generations acted more like robots than those of today!
Escaping the daily grind
Clocking in and out at the same time each day, wearing the same uniform, doing the same tasks and working in perpetual homogeneity is the quickest way to kill innovation. Yet, this is exactly how businesses of old in the 1900s operated, measuring productivity by counting the number of feet under desks, rather than assessing actual output.
A well-oiled business machine was a tidy workspace manned by men and women in smart business attire. The working day was truly 9-to-5, with a mass exodus beginning as the clock struck five and businesses grinding to a halt overnight. Staff sat in the same office cubicle day in, day out, essentially being ‘programmed’ to complete their tasks in 35 hours each week. This was fine when the speed of business was dictated by the pen and paper world, but the digital era isn’t limited by the time in Chicago or Bangalore, and it doesn’t care how many hours you’ve worked or what you wear.
Dress codes, strict working hours and expectations of long days in the office are all relics of a bygone era. Today’s digitally-native workforce are results-driven and the world is their workplace. Given the capacity of mobile devices to provide 24/7 connectivity, they see no reason to be tied to their desks. According to new research, 85% of workers want the opportunity to work from home, with 32% of those surveyed in Germany wishing to work from cafés. Outputs, not inputs, matter; and quality, not quantity, matters. Managers need to be comfortable with having a hands-off approach, giving their employees a task and letting them decide when, where and how to work on it, as well as providing the creative space and freedom for out-the-box thinking.
Giving humans super powers in the workplace
Businesses may fear the threat of machines taking over, yet in reality, bringing robots into the workplace can help to augment human working practices. We already see co-bots working side by side with 4,000 factory workers in Ford’s Cologne site and research shows that productivity surges by 85% when robots and humans team up. When machines take on the more menial, simple or heavy-exertion tasks, the human workforce can focus on innovation, creative thinking and team building – all attributes that were stifled by the old ‘robotic’ ways of working.
I am not dismissing the fact that many jobs, or at least parts of jobs, will be replaced by Artificial Intelligence. Technologist, Kai-Fu Lee predicts that this could be as many as 50% of all jobs in the next decade. He goes on to say that Artificial Intelligence is the wave of the future and refers to it as the “singular thing that will be larger than all of human tech revolutions added together, including electricity, [the] industrial revolution, internet, mobile internet. However, nothing can replace human-to-human interaction; touching one’s heart with your heart is something that machines will never be good at.”
In response, employers must start investing in retraining staff today whose roles may be under threat tomorrow. New jobs are emerging all the time in areas such as cyber security and data analytics for which employers can prepare now to ensure their workforce is fit for the future and can continue to follow meaningful career paths.