The Future Of Work Is Here To Stay – Now We Need To Understand What It Means

Introducing automation in the workplace is more than just a lever to increase productivity.

Machines, by design and intent, are more productive than the human race. They do not exhibit human emotion, aren’t limited by exhaustion, and are engineered to relentlessly execute their purpose, repeatedly, until the moment of malfunction.

Given that we measure economic growth based on Gross Domestic Product (GDP), when considering the existence of machines and the role they can play in the global economy, it would be a logical outcome to replace entire sectors en masse with robots. This would not only lead to greater productivity gains, but also significantly higher output across the board.

The question about whether we should replace humans with machines, however, is not so simple. How do workers adapt and prove their value as contributors in a future where machines offer greater returns in production? The answer lies inside the workplace itself, not the state of both national and international economies.

Humans’ roles and worth in the workplace can, and should, be measured by alternative means. The value that the human race contributes to the world of work is precisely that – being human.

We are not just delivery engines. Our contribution to the workplace cannot be judged on mere inputs and outputs alone. We can experiment, play, create, explore, innovate and, most importantly, push the boundaries of what is scientifically and factually achievable, unlike our robotic counterparts.

Humans are not hard-wired to think and make judgements in a pre-calculated way. We are responsible for implementing the functionality and coding, the DNA that enables machines to perform their roles and teaches them to learn new tasks.

The US-based National Academies of Science Engineering and Medicine recently produced a report suggesting that not only has the process by which automation is introduced into the workplace barely begun, but the approach we are taking to measure the effects that technology is already having on the workplace is both inadequate and ineffective.

The report stresses that if policy is driven by the data we collect, and if governments and businesses around the world are making decisions based purely on that data, then focusing merely on jobs and economic growth figures is not enough.

Given the lack of long-term information about the changing skills required in particular jobs, as well as data about how effective educational practices are at preparing workers for the evolving digital business environment, it is no surprise that our ability to respond appropriately to technological change and its effects on employment is being undermined.

The way we work has changed. Governments, businesses and employees must all accept that. Conventional means of measuring of GDP, productivity and the unemployment rate do not, and will not, tell the full story of the state of the workplace in 2017 or the decades to come. Globalisation has drastically shifted the economic needle, yet we haven’t responded to it by adjusting the way we view and assess the future of the work.

Digital technology is having a profound effect on the human side of the business community, impacting where, when, and how employees work. A recent Deloitte Future of Work survey highlighted that C-level executives view the ways in which new technologies will shape their organisations to be of critical importance.

Nearly two-thirds (65 percent) of those surveyed say it is a strategic objective to transform their organisation’s culture with a focus on increasing connectivity, communication and collaboration. Coordinating work between humans and machines in harmony with each other is critical to create maximum value for the company and its employees.

Global IT decision makers must now focus on using IT automation in new ways to achieve business objectives. Without doing so, companies will not be able to overcome the budget, skills and time constraint challenges that plague businesses every day.

Technology has changed and continues to change the way we work for the better, and companies are now starting to acknowledge the importance of implementing an overarching digital strategy to align to their wider business objectives.

Data on many of these trends however remains elusive. Despite our interconnected global society and economy, gaps still exist in the statistical infrastructure.

Until we can fully understand exactly how the world of work has changed, we must not take an alarmist stance about the necessary rise of machine labour and its impact on human productivity. Instead, we must look beyond the numbers and adopt a more unified stance on the opportunities it has to offer.

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