New thinking - The future of work

New thinking - The future of work

The Digital Life

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

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With the increasing use of artificial intelligence (AI) and digital technologies, such as robotics process automation (RPA), trying to figure out the future of work has been a source of anxiety for many.

Truth is we can't know for sure what will happen. However, as Australian futurist Ross Dawson advises, we should focus less on whether the predicted future will occur as imagined and, instead, plan for what is expected. We can apply that thinking to the human resource function in the future of work.

Digitalisation, AI robotics and RPA are three technologies which are having a tremendous effect on how businesses operate and are, in fact, a signal of what the future of work could look like. Digitalisation, as distinct from digitisation, is the conversion of information from a physical format into a digital one and uses digital technologies and information to change business processes.

To illustrate: Scanning a physical application form which a prospective employee completed and submitted would be an example of digitisation. However, having the application process exclusively online – including an option to upload degrees and certifications – would be an example of digitalisation.

AI, robotics and RPA explained

AI is the science of making intelligent machines and involves the development of computer systems that can mimic human intelligence, such as visual perception, speech recognition, decision-making and language translation. AI in human resource, on the other hand, includes chatbots – computer programmes designed to simulate human conversations, which help with pre-screening/pre-selecting applicants or reaching out to a recruit as soon as an offer is made.

Robotics is the discipline of designing, constructing and using robots. In contrast, robotic process automation (RPA) is a platform service, which includes software robots that mimic a human worker in performing especially high-volume repeatable business tasks. The American behemoth Walgreens increased its human resource shared service efficiency by 73 per cent through RPA. The company also automated many labour-intensive, transactional tasks that were being performed by team members, which freed up the employees' time and bandwidth to offer more value-added services. The future of work will have technology at its core. But the future of human resource is about technology and a change in current thinking so that organisations are prepared for what the future will ask of them.

New thinking will drive development of tech solutions

Many thought leaders on the subject posit that right now human resource leads are being asked to think like data analysts. They are using payroll data, such as overtime payments, to help business leaders figure out how to staff a particular department; or reassess the productivity tools and conditions that may be impacting overtime payments in the organisation.

They are also being asked to think like marketers and brand builders to come up with different ways to describe the job function so that the job posting that goes out can attract the right talent, because talent expectations have changed. Companies are no longer just hiring an accounting clerk; they are also hiring a brand ambassador.

Technology will help to deliver the solutions that will come from new thinking. It is the new thinking that will lead to change. This is one of the reasons we will still need humans in human resource. There is machine learning; and yes, the AI can learn to operate outside of what it is commanded to do. But, with the human condition, there are always [elements] that only another human can do.

In the future, human resource managers and machines might be engaged in 'co-botting', which means “humans working alongside collaborative robots”. This was already happening in the automotive industry. In such scenarios there are some parts of the work that machines/robots will do and some parts that humans will do. Some experts have said that this scenario is paving the way for Industry 5.0. Yet the irony of Industry 5.0, which is fuelled by automation, is that it is intended to put the “human touch” into work.

This is not a case of technology vs human resource professionals, but rather a case of exploring and defining how human resource professionals can work with and leverage technology to their advantage in preparation for the future of work. The future of work starts with a change in thinking. And maybe when the technology has taken care of all the non-human elements, we get to be more compassionate, more creative, more communicative, more collaborative, and better critical thinkers.

Tamique Hines is a senior manager, software engineering at MC Systems, a member company of the Jamaica National Group.

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