In many ways, the workplace is always a kind of a public agenda barometer. Even though professional settings don’t always exactly mirror the real world, it certainly paints an apt picture about how people are thinking. All this is to say that when a paradigm shifts inside the workplace, one can rest assured that it’s probably shifting everywhere else too. Even though last year is in the rearview mirror now, it was a year of big work changes. Here are just three ways tech will collide with work this next year.
Knowledge Work Automation
Knowledge Work Automation is defined as: “the use of computers to perform tasks that rely on complex analyses, subtle judgments, and creative problem solving.” Basically, this is everything we’ve been made to think that machines don’t do very well. But that’s changing, and rapidly. Tech will collide work for HR professionals who can now use AI to sift through millions of applications, resumes and cover letters. Food retailers can use AI, and not humans, to handle complex, yet very precise customer orders from anywhere quickly. Of course these new technologies haven’t accounted for systemic bias’, and a myriad of other practical or ethical concerns yet, but there is no walking them back now.
Interestingly, given the current state of technology, McKinsey reports that less than five percent of the jobs on the planet could be fully automated. Yet, somehow, more than 65 percent of Americans believe that in 50 years robots and computers will do a lion’s share of the work that humans do today. At the same time, 80 percent of Americans also think that their job and profession will go unchanged in the next 50 years. This illustrates not only a lack of imagination but also the contradictions in our thinking as we continue to elevate the idea that most work is quintessentially human. Some of it is, but maybe not most. We live in an era where humanity is finding new ways to automate well beyond the assembly line. It’s likely that 2019 could begin to see more than low skill and menial workers being phased out by AI.
Tech Will Collide With Work in the Continued Collapse of Physical Retail Locations
Retail used to be, and in many ways still is, the holy grail of easy entry ‘learn-on-the-job’ work. But, in 2019, it’s hard to say how long it’s going to remain a viable option for the everyday worker. This change seems strangely contradictory on the surface too. While the US economy is on the up and up, and unemployment is at an all time low, why have Payless and Toys ‘R’ Us filed for bankruptcy? Why did Sears close 63 stores and 150 of their other locations (namely KMart’s) last year?
The answer is simple enough. Unlike vetting potential job candidates for a headhunting firm, it is really easy to teach a computer how to ring people out at the grocery store. Automated check out lines have been in supermarkets for decades. Today, the result is that more humans are being phased out of retail work by Automation in retail. Consider the fact that 64 percent of American households have an Amazon Prime account. An even greater share of Americans (79 percent) now claim to shop online. Amazon even now owns Whole Foods, and that means more groceries potentially being delivered by drones and bought online. To make up for this, a lot of supermarkets and other large scale retailers, are adding online shopping (Walmart needed a new website why?) incentives and electing to spend less on in-store employees.
The Customer Isn’t Always Right Anymore
For a long time, in the spirit of making money — the main thing that businesses do — it was believed that accommodating the customer at all costs was always the best move. The only problem with that mentality is that events, social issues, and the sentiments that propel them forward, are way too visible in 2019. Thus, companies like Reddit, Twitter, and Facebook that got their start as digital-free-for-alls are now coming to grips with the need to ‘correct’ or ‘check’ the behavior of their own customers. These new rules for consumer conduct are effectively one of the only barriers between people online and unfettered hate speech and peddled misinformation.
Facebook is one of the most popular companies in the world, and their effort to look at their customers and effectively say “We’d rather you not shop here” is huge. It’s that kind of effort that inspires other companies to accept the simple fact that some censorship in this case, doesn’t mean profit purgatory. There is just as much money in standing up against certain types of bad behavior as there is in creating a space where it’s totally unregulated.
Article by Raz Robinson, journalist and freelance writer, based in New York City and Philadelphia. You can connect with him on LinkedIn, email at razrobinson9(at)gmail(dot)com, or follow him on Twitter @razrobinson.career advice, technology, Workplace Changes