In the age of robots, hell is other people

Will the massive arrival of robots in our private and professional lives mean more dehumanized lives ? Should we expect a legitimate mistrust movement about this change ?

These are legitimate questions in a world where more and more people fear the disruptions led by technology, don’t want a dehumanized word, fear about their privacy and job.

Teamwork : a factor of painful work

The digitization of work rhymes with social. What we do with and for others. We can see it everywhere around us, from social business which is nothing more that synergies between businesses, employees and customers, to collaborative consumption, including the sharing economy. A digital world is a world that brings us closer and allows us to do more together. It even uses the power of global platforms to reinvigorate local relationships.

In this context many have been surprised to see that the recent french law about painful work conditions considered teamwork as a painful work factor. One should always read and double-check things before sharing or retweeting : it was not about teamwork but teams alternating night shifts. What is not the same at all.

However, if one tries to be of bad faith and pushes the reasoning forward, it leads to some questions that are not that stupid.

First, it’s not because teamwork is desirable for businesses that it meets the interests of employees, has an added value for them and does not come with extra problems. Then, from an employee perspective and as what relates to connectedness, we must distinguish between what’s chosen and what’s suffered. For many people, one-shot collaboration to solve a problem is ok but continuous interactions are stressful because of the number of interactions to manage…not mentioning “working out loud” that many see as a way to be not under the scrutiny of a managers but under the scrutiny of the whole company. We should also not forget that collaboration is an unstable state of human relationships : it’s a balance that’s very hard to keep collectively and is harmed at every second by lots of personal micro-events. As a matter of fact I know many collaboration advocates who prefer working from home when they need to perform a work requiring calm and focus.

We should not also forget that teamwork is about any kind of work,not only white collar’s. Teamwork is not the same for people in an office, a kitchen brigade and teams on a building site.

More, teamwork and collaboration do not always mean the same.

Anyway. Working together is not always the Heaven that’s often described.

Now that I’m done with this aside, there are still some more tangible elements that should give us food for thought.

Better than a manager : a robot

A recent study shows that humans prefer to take instructions from robots instead of human managers. Surprising ? Not that much. In the line of what I wrote above, robots are dispassionating work relationships. They have their own rationality, don’t make judgement based on who people are, don’t show favouritism, don’t take the credit for anything and make less judgement mistakes. This study is about manufacture workers and I suspect that, one day, respondents will complain that they don’t have shoulders to cry on anymore but we can see the need to “neutralize” the human relationship to make it objective and task-oriented.

Most recent surprise to date, a survey conducted in France shows that French see the arrival of robots in their day-to-lives very positively and are even enthusiastic about living with robots.

© Odoxa-Syntec Numérique-01Business

Before going further, we should have a close look at the different use cases proposed and approved. Assistance to housework, to day to day activities for poorly autonomous people and replacing humans for arduous, technical or dangerous tasks.

The delivered service outweights the human (or not) nature of the relationship.

If in some cases robots are filling an empty gap we could have expected more mistrust when it comes to helping an elderly person in the place of a professional human. But that’s not the case. In the end and despite of fears for their jobs, the only use case respondents are not welcoming is the self driving car.

Beyond the importance of the service delivered, what surprises me is what looks like the disappearing of the human factor as a criteria for choice. All things equal in terms of service, humans bring something robots don’t : warmth, listening, socialization….and it seems that such factors aren’t taken into account anymore when it comes to make a decision. Is it because we want to protect ourselves from the growing complexity of human relationships in favor of a cold effectiveness ?

I’m curious to see if the results of what’s nothing more studies will be confirmed by facts in the future, once robots will be parts of our day to day lives. But one thing is sure : something’s on its way. For what results ? We’ll see.

Image credit : Hate Colleagues by Diego Cervo via Shutterstock


Head of People and Business Delivery @Emakina / Former consulting director / Crossroads of people, business and technology / Speaker / Compulsive traveler
Head of People and Business Delivery @Emakina / Former consulting director / Crossroads of people, business and technology / Speaker / Compulsive traveler

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