Is Technology Good Or Bad For The Future Of Work?

Russell Porter

Rachel Botsman, a keynote speaker at the upcoming Australian Human Resources Institute Convention, recently talked with AHRI about the evolution of trust.

We used to put our faith in institutions like banks and government, but that trust is shifting to complete strangers. Uber and AirBnB are great examples of this.

When I read about this, I wondered, what’s next? How will trust evolve as technology continues to be infused into our lives? And then I was reminded of Isaac Asimov’s musings on what the future might look like if robots lived among us.

Would you trust a robot?

When I was a kid, my dad enjoyed reading science fiction books, and his favourite author was Asimov. I used to stare in amazement at the fantastic front covers, which featured futuristic scenes with flying cars, spaceships, and robots.

Some of those futuristic visions are now becoming reality with technology like driverless cars and flying vehicles. Drones and robots are becoming commonplace and easily available for purchase.

Would you put the same faith in Uber if the car was driverless? Would you feel comfortable taking delivery of your online shopping from a flying drone? How about taking medical advice from a robot doctor?

Will a robot take your job?

The Future of Work study by the Oxford Martin School looked at the likelihood of jobs being automated by a machine within the next 20 years. They found that some jobs, like accountants and auditors, are more than 90% likely to be automated away.

Depending on the role, HR administration and training jobs have a 30% to 90% chance of disappearing as a result of automation.

Another report predicted that by 2021, robots will have eliminated 6% of all jobs in the U.S., starting with customer service representatives, then truck and taxi drivers.

There’s already a range of intelligent virtual assistants like Alexa, Cortana, Siri, and Google Now. You can ask them (simply by speaking) to do simple things like access your calendar, play music, control the lights, or make purchases.

I recently demonstrated Alexa’s ability to fetch and read back to me my leave balance and outstanding approvals from the SuccessFactors HR solution. We call this kind of interaction “conversational HR.”

What does this mean for the future of work?

I think the biggest impact of these changes will be the need to digitally transform organisations. That means asking questions like “If we were to start from scratch today how would we design our organisation?” As the taxi industry has discovered, if you don’t, someone else will—and they’ll have the latest technology and no organisational “baggage” to slow them down.

If we were to start from scratch today, how would we design our organisation?

There’s also a need to plan for new kinds of roles and skills. For example, when ATMs became commonplace, financial institutions shifted the role of tellers from accepting deposits and dispensing cash to selling financial services and delivering great customer service – a very different set of skills.

We can’t know for sure what the future holds, and I think technology can be good or bad, or even both at the same time – depending on your perspective and whether you benefit from it or not.

No matter what, we should all be informed about how these forces might impact the organisations we serve.

What areas of your organisation do you think are most at risk of disruption? What can you do to help the leaders of those areas prepare for a potentially very different future?

For more insight on the Future of Work, see The Future Of Work: How The Workplace Is Changing In 2017.

Russell Porter

About Russell Porter

Russell Porter is part of the Business Transformation Advisory team with SAP SuccessFactors. He partners with HR and business leaders to help them identify, deliver and realise the value of innovative cloud-based Human Resources solutions – so that organisations can optimise their workforce and achieve their strategic business objectives. Based in Sydney, he provides industry thought leadership, strategic solution advice and expert consultation across the Asia Pacific region.