guy with his feet up relaxing because automation is doing so much of his work?
PHOTO: Jj Mendez

There is no getting away from automation. Whether you believe it will create jobs or eliminate jobs — and there are strong arguments for both — there is no argument that automation will define the future of work. How it will change in the long term remains to be seen, but already there are many tasks and functions that are being changed and mutated with automation driven by artificial intelligence (AI) and machine leaning.

Uncertain Future of Work

Many research organizations and private companies continue to research the issue in order to assess the impact of automation on the workplace and on society in general. Recently, for example, Forrester outlined its position in a new guide called the Future of Work. With the rise of automation and intelligent technologies such as robots, AI, machine learning and others, the pragmatic search for margin is introducing a speed of change and uncertainty not seen since the Industrial Revolution.

Forrester’s data shows that job losses will exceed job creation by 2030. In blog post about the research, Keith Johnston, vice president and research director at Forrester pointed out that the entire process of automation is being driven by customer demand and is unlikely to slow down any time soon. He wrote, “Customers continue to demand more value, leaving companies in a constant state of transformation, compounded by the economy, tensions between globalization and localization, transparency, data security and ethics, and all multiplied by the acceleration of automation and intelligent technologies. “This puts employees, leaders and even robots themselves at odds. Despite a difficult transition ahead to redefine our humanity as a culture, at home and at work — humans can flourish.

The report itself outlines six different consequences of this:

  1. Automation must create the adaptive enterprise with an adaptive workforce.
  2. Automation influences and is influenced by the gig economy.
  3. Ultimately, automation fuels and is driven by shape-shifting organizations.
  4. Automation should assume the emergence of personal data twins (PDTs) and more transparent and balanced privacy rules.
  5. Automation must create new ways to deliver differentiated experiences and value.
  6. Automation evolves value.

Related Article: 6 Tips for a Successful Digital Workplace Roadmap

Disrupted Workplaces

These issues are already causing disruption in the digital workplace. Take marketing as an example. Stan Tan from Selby's, an event marketing company, said that from a marketer’s point of view automation is, indeed, disrupting traditional manual jobs. “Our company is building an ecommerce store. Previously, we had jobs to create and send out quotes to our clients manually and also create and send out invoices after the job is completed. The ecommerce store will reduce the amount of jobs required to create and send out those quotes; and create and send out those invoices because everything is done automatically via the software.

That said, he pointed out that the role of digital marketer is getting disrupted too and while automation and AI are welcome additions, it also requires changes in the digital workplace because:

  1. Google is constantly changing their search algorithm.
  2. Facebook is constantly changing their algorithms for their news feed and ad platforms.
  3. Email's future is unclear with the rise of platforms like Slack.
  4. Web design is getting easier by the minute because of DIY builders like Wix.

Change Is Not New

Forrester's report relates that automation will have a sensible, systemic, and acute impact on jobs, economic disparity, global markets, and how work is done.  However, similar kinds of arguments are not new, according to Jean Denis Bertron of Business Resilience Insights. The same could have been said of the automobile, the desktop computer, the telephone and any other disruptive technologies of the past. However, if these technologies didn’t result in major upheaval to the workplace, they did change it dramatically. Automation is the same. He sees three options emerging for the future of work, but not in the way they are generally perceived:

1. Improving Work

It is widely believed that human-touch, cross-domain knowledge work, teaching/explaining and digital elite work will see growth, while single-domain knowledge, physical and location-based work will shrink. Forrester projects overall job losses of 29% by 2030, with only 13% job creation, for a net loss of 16%. However, he argues that automation when it augments physical labor makes it more productive. Very rarely does it replace it completely and suddenly.

“What it does is change the mix of tasks that physical laborers must do, to their benefit. It's not difficult to see that automation is never designed to replace or improve on tasks that are pleasant to perform, therefore even if these predictions were true, they should be welcome,” he said.

2. Income Disparity

Another commonly expressed view is that automation will exacerbate income disparity, with the digital elite getting huge dividends and non-digital workers seeing their jobs eliminated. Being realistic about the limits of re-skilling and the possibility of guaranteed income and other government programs will be a central policy imperative in the coming years.

“The digital elite would earn dividends on what exactly? Their computers, education? Ask any 'digital elite' how much student loans they have accumulated and you'll find out quickly that these fictitious dividends have already made some universities very well off,” he said.

3. Outsourcing Disrupted

The final commonly held view is that technology will also disrupt outsourcing/offshoring, leaving previously favored low-income economies in the lurch. Automation will substitute low-cost manufacturing with less expensive localized automated manufacturing, while also replacing much low-skill knowledge work outsourcing.

He pointed out, however, that automation goes to where the productivity improvements can have the most impact, by making the workers more productive. If the work has been outsourced, it is because the productivity there matches the wage that is paid, and because the wage that would be paid here is not. By automating some tasks here, thus raising the productivity of those workers, the wages paid to workers using the automation would come back in line with the productivity that is necessary to keep the jobs here.

Related Article: What a Digital Workplace Is and What It Isn't

Hybrid, Automated Future

Vivek Lakshman, VP of products and co-founder of Chatlets.ai, a marketing company specializing in the optimization of micro-conversions, has three recommendations for companies that are looking to an automated future. He believes that the future will not be “with AI or without AI” but rather a collaborative hybrid future. “Human-AI collaboration is where it's at — the technology currently works best in hybrid structures that augment and allow humans to become experts in complex problem-solving, emotional intelligence and data analysis,” he said.

Preparing for this hybrid model will require agents who are skilled in both low- and high-level issue diagnosis and have thorough knowledge about their business' products. Implementing a strategy for AI adoption is, perhaps surprisingly, not about technology. Management will need to identify the impacted people, tools and processes and create a plan to address changes.

When talking about the automation at the workplace we’re usually concerned about losing our jobs. But, actually, that won’t happen. Yes, some jobs will be erased from the job market but new positions will be open too, said Max Chekalov, from appgeeks.org.

There are also jobs that can never be replaced, psychologist and doctors will be always needed, and customer support cannot be completely automated. A new era of work is coming, but that doesn’t mean that workers will become jobless. The new job market will emphasize more humane skills like imagination, empathy and emotional intelligence.