Technology is already radically altering how we work. Today’s seamless experience, from mobile to laptop to the workplace, means we’re able to work anywhere and in whatever way suits our lives.
Employees’ expectations of the workplace are also transforming. People are changing jobs more frequently and are demanding more flexibility around the projects they work on. Employees want to work on projects they care about, rather than those the organisation asks them to care about.
To cope with this businesses need to be more agile in order to embrace technology disruption. But there’s also a huge opportunity here too: businesses that are curious about technology and willing to experiment will be able to drive competitive advantage through workforce modernisation.
We’re at an important stage where we need to decide what can and should be automated, and which jobs we’d like to reserve for human employees. There are some obvious roles where it makes sense to use robots, such as when we need to operate in conditions hazardous to human health. But not all instances will be that clear cut; we need to ensure that we are seizing the opportunities of emerging technologies such as Artificial Intelligence (AI) and robotics with a social conscience, keeping in mind the needs of individuals and society.
For me, the key to successfully integrating AI into the workforce is to think about people first. We should consider not only how we can use technology to innovate, but also how it can be used to create new roles that people will want to do and which will allow them to fulfil their potential.
If we can concentrate on automating the repetitive and unfulfilling jobs, we can free workers to concentrate on tasks that are more intellectually challenging. With the rise of automation, therefore, we need to plan carefully to ensure we use the tech in a way that’s right for businesses and workers alike.
When it comes to assessing the potential impact of automation and robotics I like to pose a thought experiment: What would it be like to have a robot as team leader? How would that feel? This is where technology is really going to change the workforce. For some, it will be a good thing: I’ve heard people say it will be a leveller because AI won’t have the same cognitive biases as people. Management by robot will be rigorously data-driven and therefore objective and fair. For me, that’s a very good thing.
So, will robots replace the workforce? Ultimately, I think they will—but only where we want them to. Overall, I believe AI will help create a more exciting and satisfying workplace where people can pursue the things that really interest them and develop in the ways they want, with the business itself driving huge efficiencies from the automation of low-level jobs.
I believe the future of the workforce won’t come down to a binary choice between humans and robots; it’ll be an empowering mix of the two.