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The workplace revolution will not be brought to you by Tech, Facilities or an obsession with risk

February 13, 2017

Regular readers of my missives will not have to be coloured surprised to read that I continue to react with dismay at the hysteria that prevails within the respective echo chambers of our established tribes in the modern world of work. My normal personal cynical setting will always be tuned to the ‘follow the money’ principle to understand anything in modern business life. It works when you apply it to Trump, British Politics and the exchange in power bases that took place when the trade unions were replaced by the denizens of big business as an elite. I’ll apply it here.

 

Before I start can I say that the damaging thing here is that we are in danger of being distracted from focusing on the right thing by the glitz and glamour of our Facilities and Technology tribal screams for attention. And that right thing is focusing on the Sociology Of Work as the clear and obvious big bang for the buck when it comes to our efforts in driving positive change in the world of work.

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" The sociology of work and employment is concerned with the social relations, normative codes, and organizational structures that inform the behavior, experience, and identities of people during the course of their working lives"

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First up, for as long as I can remember, we’ve been bombarded with wave after wave of influential lobbies of workplace designers and architects peddling everything from intelligent chairs, altering room temperature at the flick of an eyebrow or installing the new age lift that orders your frappucino at the flick of a sensor. We’ve reached a saturation point that like the proverbial parental problem for that overly demanding generation we must deliver on the building environment promise or risk losing the workforce of the future. 

 

And then there’s the IT promise. Spawning a small army of Enterprise Technology sales guys in their all too shiny nylon suits offering us more workplace gizmos for appeasing the childlike qualities of our distracted workforce of tomorrow. The kool aid of automated features with marvellous names such as Machine Learning, Artificial Intelligence, the Chat Bot to the fact that even IBM humanised the new big blue and called it Watson. Important advances ? – of course. The main event ? – doesn’t come close  but given the multi-billion dollar industry it is, the now undue influence of Silicon Valley and the plethora of HR Tech products to market off the back of SaaS technology, then expect it to shout loudly that IT is the true saviour of the future of work.  Buy now to avoid disappointment.

 

More recently, the PR machine has yanked the dystopian lever to keep Technology front and centre of our limited HR enterprise budgets but this time it’s the distracting narrative of millions of lost jobs and the replacement of our Friday night drinking buddy with Metal Mickey. Look deeper and the facts aren’t stacking up yet. We bought 250k robots globally last year in the workplace, which is exactly the same number Barack Obama grew the American job economy – each month. There are advances but Machine Learning does not amount to building real intelligence – the sort that can handle non-routine cognitive and manual tasks. Nor can Machine Learning recall episodic memories or do unsupervised learning. Anyone who tells you otherwise or that it’s an inevitability should be sectioned immediately or scorned for not realising that said intelligence is dictated by us biased and flawed humans.

 

Why do our friends in IT and Facilities have to peddle so hard to push their big hitting silver bullets? Quite simply our obsession with business risk is holding back our ability to innovate and stay ahead of the curve. Statistics indicate that investment in capital expenditure has decreased in recent years from 5% to 3% of revenue and our short-termism in business that McKinsey calls ‘quarterly capitalism’ is a real danger to near term advances on productivity. If past dictates the future, companies will want to stay flexible, keep their cash in the bank, and take on staff only as and when. Get out the champers because the recruitment agency world’s future looks rosy as we pursue labour utilisation instead of an innovative new working dawn instead.

 

Given its multitude of diverse people tribes and the fact that Zuckerberg is a bigger draw and has more followers and clout than the CIPD’s Peter Cheese, we are left with the fact that the most important part of our coming workplace battle remains its most understated and that is a worry, especially up against the razzmatazz of the IT and Facilities ‘silver bullet’ pitches. Creating brilliant new jobs in humane workplaces requires a relentless focus on the way we structure and organise, the skills we need, the way we lead, the respect we are owed, the engagement we crave, the belonging we want and the sheer humanity required to deliver the Future of Work. 

 

Until next time. Put people before IT and Facilities.

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