Future of work? But the future of whose work? People, humans of course! Are you so sure? Because when you look at it, it seems that work is most often designed for robots and executed by humans.
Of course we will look at this through the trends that are shaping the future of work in 2022.
On the face of it, it has nothing to do with the subject. But the less blind businesses have taken advantage of it to learn things if they didn’t know them before.
As we have already seen, on this occasion many leaders asked themselves for the first time this question: “how are the people doing“.
Surprising or even shocking as it may seem, it was an opportunity to learn that “people” were not robots performing tasks mechanically but beings endowed with emotions and that these emotions had a major impact on their lives and the functioning of the business.
But we already knew that, right? Yes. But now it was no longer possible to be in denial.
Forced remote work has also made many managers very uncomfortable because they can’t see people working and therefore can’t do their job. Or what they thought was their job.
This was (or could have been… depending on the case), an opportunity to recognize the specificity of what we call knowledge workers, their operating modes, the material they manipulate, transform and how they create value. And therefore to say once and for all that the current operational and managerial models were not adapted.
There, on the other hand, one often closes one’s eyes and prays for a quick return to normalcy, i.e. a return to the office.
In both cases, this was an opportunity to fully or partially overcome a form of denial. It remains to draw the consequences.
Even if it’s a quick shortcut, the slogan “there’s an app for that” has never been so true. There are apps for everything and especially to simplify life. Unconsciously we have entrusted to applications, algorithms, robots, a large number of laborious and often administrative tasks of our personal lives.
For what reasons? In order to free up time to do what distinguishes humans from machines: live, be creative, devote ourselves to our passions.
The logical parallel in the office would be to use, among other things, technology to simplify work so that people do what makes them unique and what allows them to create maximum value. Let them focus on tasks where their creativity and problem solving skills are not undermined by the burden of peripheral and worthless tasks.
Its role here is key in terms of the perspectives it offers.
I used to say that “jobs were designed for robots but since there were no robots, they were given to humans“.
But this is nothing new: several centuries ago, factories, to name but one, were full of humans. Then they were gradually replaced by machines driven by various energies until the arrival of electricity which amplified the phenomenon.
Technical progress then allowed the advent of machines capable of replicating gestures that were thought to be reserved for humans.
The same thing was done in the service economy and, above all, the knowledge economy.
1°) A Taylorian model is applied to activities that do not fit it… but it is the only known model. Sequencing, division and specialization of tasks. tasks.
2°) In the absence of robots that would be ideal to perform these tasks, the tasks are entrusted to humans.
3°) We are in 2022, robots are partly here but we are struggling to draw the consequences on a large scale.
And when we talk about robots here, we are of course talking about artificial intelligence but not only: sometimes a good old rule engine does the job perfectly.
What work are we talking about? All those repetitive and non-value added tasks that prevent people from really devoting themselves to what is valuable, what they are irreplaceable for.
Again, it’s a lose-lose game: the employee spends less time on value-added tasks, his business pays him to waste his talent and the employee is frustrated.
During the pandemic, an Oracle study showed that employees trusted robots more than their managers to reduce their mental load. Many people have read it too quickly, limiting themselves to the title without going into details.
It is not a question here of replacing the manager by a robot to take care of people (although sometimes…) but especially of using robots to free them from routine and non-value added tasks.
For about ten years now, I have been hearing fears about the great replacement of humans by robots. Some see it as a danger, I see it more as an opportunity.
For the jobs we are talking about, the robot will replace the human on repetitive, tedious, unskilled tasks and this is an excellent thing because humans complain about having to perform these tasks. Once again, these tasks have been designed for robots and given to humans, so we might as well give them back to those to whom they belong.
For value-added tasks, not only will humans have more time and attention for them, but they can be helped by technology. Helped, not replaced. Experience shows that the most efficient solution is not the man or the machine but the man who knows how to use the machine and collaborate with it.
Today everything is there or almost there to give to robots the part of the work that is designed for them, and leave to humans what is their own. On condition that we do not think of this part of the work as if it had to be done by machines too…
The evolution of society and economy
Not much to say here except that there is a fundamental trend towards a search for purpose. An employee does not see purpose in an accumulation of tasks without added value, but he does see meaning in the accomplishment of tasks that require him to mobilize all his talents and show if not his uniqueness at least his abilities.
Moreover, it cannot be denied that, compared to the first half of the 20th century, the overall level of education of the population has increased significantly. We will see in the bottom line that this is a major fact to be taken into account.
The transformation of service activities and knowledge work
This echoes a bit of the technology section.
When I say that work has been designed for robots I mean two things:
1°) The content: basic and repetitive tasks with a division of labor pushed to the extreme
2°) The process: a strictly defined sequence of tasks to be followed in the right order and with no possibility of deviation.
For all activities that are appropriate for this, it is urgent to entrust them to robots as industry has done in the past.
For others, it is urgent to get out of denial and admit that it doesn’t work. We pretend to live in a world where things are black or white (in or out of the process) while employees live in the grey by adapting the rules to their daily lives. We are happy with it as long as it works, only to reproach them if one day they make a mistake and take the necessary freedom from the rules.
It is time to rethink the relationship of the individual to the process and to design the work so that the process is a guide and the individual enriches and improves it. And this in an “official” way so that the benefits are widely spread.
The legacy of the way the work is conceived is to “replicate perfection ad infinitum“.
This is based on the assumption that there is only one right way to do things, that it is immutable, and that the person who executes is not able to imagine it, unlike the person who designs and organizes the work.
Relevant in 2022? I leave it to you to judge.
The economy has evolved. But we continue to apply rules valid in the industrial world to the world of services and knowledge.
We are also still in a model where there are those who know how to prescribe and organize things and those who do not. For a long time, the level of education of employees was a limit to their autonomy, at least until the middle of the last century or two. Today, the so-called executor sometimes has things to teach and ideas to give to the one who organizes his work.
The feedback loop that has allowed the industry to continually improve from the ground up is not limited to this type of activity.
I am convinced that the future of work lies more in the way it is conceived and organized than in what is peripheral to the activity of production. In this perspective, admit that :
1°) Everything that is easily replicable and without added value must be entrusted to robots
2°) A human being does not look for simplicity but to realize ambitious, complex things, where he will show his singularity.
3°) A human becomes less efficient over time in a routine
4°) A human being experiences a kind of sensitivity in relation to his work: the way in which the latter allows him to express himself or not influences the way in which he feels perceived, valued, his motivation, satisfaction and engagement.
5°) The separation between those who know and those who do is less and less relevant
6°) What distinguishes humans from machines is creativity and adaptability.
Therefore, it is urgent to review the way in which work is conceived and organized when it is entrusted to humans.