Writing this article together, in both London and Dublin, separated by 300 miles and the Irish Sea, we noted that technology allows us to collaborate in a way that would have been next to impossible a few years ago.
And we found ourselves wondering that if the pace of change were to continue, could this column be written eventually by robots!
There could be advantages. We are both busy and are looking forward to a break at the end of the year. It would be nice to have the option of escaping from the dark autumn days of Northern Europe a little earlier rather than having to worry about meeting tight deadlines.
We remember reading twenty years ago about a world of unlimited leisure time promised by automation. That promise has not yet been kept. Most of us feel we are busier than ever.
That may change with the latest wave of technology. The recent opening of Singapore Changi’s Terminal 4 provides one glimpse of the future. Highly automated check-in, security, immigration and boarding aim to provide a seamless service – without any people.
Technology is increasingly able to perform what were previously seen as skilled and expert activities.
Should we embrace this level of technological change or be anxious and fearful? On the one hand, there will be painful disruption as traditional roles disappear; on the other hand, we know from previous experience that ultimately new jobs will be created and exciting new opportunities will emerge.
We see the key to successful change as ensuring people feel as much as possible in control:
- Involve people and listen to them. The Insurance group AVIVA has asked its UK staff whether a robot could do their jobs better. Those who answer ‘yes’ are retrained for new roles. Engaging people in the selection, design and implementation of new systems develops ownership and understanding and a sense of being in control.
- Encourage people to take personal responsibility for learning. Acknowledge working lives are bound to change: flexibility, adaptability and new skills will be needed. Ensure teams keep up to date with developments and support them in making time for learning and relearning.
- Prioritise technology, which empowers people. We should design systems that facilitate people to do what people do best: meaningful work, which requires judgment, co-operation, creativity and the ‘human touch’. We need to say ‘no’ to automation, which creates a form of indentured slavery, with excessively tightly controlled duties and unrealistic deadlines.
A balance of automation and autonomy should allow us to have more time in the sun.