In many ways, the workplace has always been a kind of an agenda barometer. The way things are in a professional setting doesn’t exactly mirror the real world, but it certainly paints an apt picture about where people’s heads are at. 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 2018 is in the rearview, it was a year of big changes to the actual way people work. Here are three ways tech will drive workplace changes in 2019.
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, everything we’ve been made to think that machines don’t do very well. But that’s changing, and rapidly. HR professionals can now use AI to sift through millions of applications and cover letters. Food retailers can use AI, and not humans, to make complex, yet very precise orders from anywhere at the drop of a hat. Now, these new technologies haven’t accounted for systemic bias’, and a myriad of other practical concerns, 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. Hilariously, 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 the continued elevation of the idea that most work is quintessentially human. We live in an era where humanity is finding new ways to automate a whole lot more than an assembly line. It’s likely that 2019 will see more than low skill and menial workers being phased out by AI.
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. The change seems strange on the surface too. The US economy is on the up and up, and unemployment is at an all time low, so 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. The result is that more humans are being phased out of retail work by AI. 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. Hell, Amazon even owns Whole Foods, and that means more groceries delivered by drones and bought online. To make up for this, a lot of supermarkets and other large scale retailers, are pushing for more 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. Thusly, 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 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 asa 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.