It may seem counterintuitive, on the surface, to make workplaces more friendly to humans through introducing new technology. In industry, robots replace factory workers. In retail, self-checkout stations replace checkers. This is even happening with online customer service, as chatbots using artificial intelligence (AI) are beginning to take over basic customer service roles.
There’s even a researcher at the University of California Santa Cruz developing AI that will eventually enable machines to create and narrate stories. Eventually, even bloggers like myself will become obsolete.
The machines are stealing our jobs!
These dangers of new technology are common themes in science fiction. Author Arthur C. Clarke’s 1968 book 2001: A Space Odyssey warned of the dangers of artificial intelligence. Meanwhile, director James Cameron’s 1984 film The Terminator foresaw an apocalyptic world where the still yet to be named Internet of Things (IoT) allowed machines to nearly taking over the world.
So, how could machines ever create a more human-friendly workplace?
Technology is Not the Enemy
The difference is in perception. As humans, we’ve always used tools to make our work easier. The wheel. Steam power. The telephone. Radio. The computer. The Internet. All these things created greater efficiency for workers.
Technology is not inherently evil.
Machines in factories ensure workers don’t have to do repetitive tasks, which then results in fewer injuries. Besides lowering fraud and errors, self-checkout allows workers to focus on customer service and ensuring store shelves are stocked. Chatbots allow basic communications with customers during hours when employees are sleeping, or as a stop-gap during busy periods.
AI replacing bloggers… I’m still inclined to call that anathema.
Yet machines replacing writers probably won’t happen in my lifetime, if ever. Besides which, new tech makes it easier to detect plagiarism and conduct research, which is a boon for those writers who take pride in their craft. Machines aren’t yet capable of original thought, nor can they disseminate ideas in a manner that humans can understand.
So, my job’s still safe.
That said, I can’t imagine my job without technology, which is similar to that used in offices worldwide. I have a PC and high-speed Internet connection that allows me access to a wealth of knowledge to which I wouldn’t have had access to 30 years ago. It also allows me to communicate almost instantaneously with people anywhere on the planet and has opened new opportunities I’d otherwise not have.
Millennials & Technology
Times change and, as often happens, it’s the younger generations leading the way. Especially when it comes to technology. A 2016 survey by Dell found 82% of Millennials consider workplace technology when contemplating new work opportunities.
Growing up with the Internet and other ground-breaking technologies makes Millennials – born between 1981-1996 and currently the largest segment of today’s workforce – and Generation Z – those born between 1997-2018 – intimately aware of new tech outside the workplace. It also makes them more open to new technology and new ways of doing things where they work.
Business agility demands that employees allow some leeway when it comes to workers and their use of tech. Management techniques that encourage employee creativity are what gives companies an edge over competitors. Though incorporating new technology is always a challenge, the advantages generally outweigh the risks.
When it involves actually adopting technology, however, you’ve got to consider your employees, especially those with the most experience. While younger generations are quick to adapt, older employees can easily become frustrated with business software that isn’t easy to use. In fact, 46% of tech workers over 40 would consider changing jobs if faced with this problem, according to a study by Industry and Financial Systems.
When integrating new technology, businesses can polarize employees and reduce efficiency if they’re not properly training them to use it. Removing proprietary boundaries and utilizing more open source software will help businesses flatten the learning curve when incorporating innovative technology into their systems. Allowing employees to innovate and create their own fixes can also help empower workers, and lead to novel solutions.
Creating a Smart Workplace
Touching on just a few aspects that have emerged in the modern workplace, it’s important when contemplating new technology to understand how it will affect how your employees will work together.
During the 2020 lockdowns, many offices went fully remote in order to continue functioning while keeping their employees safe. Prior to this, 43% of Americans surveyed in a New York Times poll stated that they perform some work remotely.
Software that protects internal processes and promotes workflow management while advocating security can make working from home as safe as working at the office. Apps that allow people to see and speak with each other at online meetings allow workers to keep connected. Messaging apps that allow employees to collaborate on projects only serve to further dissolve the traditional workplace.
The Internet of Things & Smart Workplaces
IoT is about creating efficiency and connecting people to their workspace. It can help identify people approaching a building, ensure the most efficient solutions in factories, assign parking spots closest to the entrance, dimming or brightening a room, and even handle routine tasks such ordering refills of soap or toilet paper in the employee restroom, and vending machines in the break room. In manufacturing, it helps ensure the most efficient solutions.
Many people aren’t even aware of how AI and machine learning has worked its way into many workplaces. Its scale and impact are often hidden, but here is a list of tasks AI performs regularly:
- Automated image sampling and classifying
- Automating calendar entries
- E-mail classification apps
- Language translation software
- location-based app suggestions
- Location-based apps
- Predictive text
- Suggested delivery routes
- Virtual assistants
- Voice search
- Voice to text apps
AI emerged in the workplace as an addendum to robotics, basically designed to handle mundane tasks like gathering and transcribing data. Such applications help employees focus more of their time on more productive actions, such as dealing with customers, while reducing the need to do repetitive actions.
As a business owner, the technology you integrate into your business should serve a specific purpose. Embracing technology just for the sake of it is madness, and will only serve to frustrate employees. Look at integrating technology that contributes to greater efficiency, and ultimately higher profits and growth.