Will the future of work be automated or augmented?

Thoughts about the final video in the series The Changing World of Work

Reading time: 4mins

If any work activity that can be automated will be automated, what can you bring to table that a robot or algorithm can't?

Initially, the focus of automation will be on efficiency. However, efficiency is not the only key organisational value in a globalised, volatile and dynamic business environment. When machines have removed the routineness of work, what is left to create value are those human qualities unable to be algorithmically programmed – empathy, imagination, curiosity and creativity.

Unlocking creativity

Increasing computerisation will mean that doing things fast is less significant than doing the right things. Organisational effectiveness will need to be powered by engaged and motivated employees that are enhanced by technology and their environment.

The best potential breeding ground for empowered employees are workplaces that foster a creative space. People are not their job title. Everyone has personal creative abilities outside their role. A creative workplace culture can unearth hidden capabilities by allowing individuals to bring more of ‘themselves’ to the office, providing connection to a more meaningful work experience. Organisations that can find a way to unlock this, to allow the space and time for the creative impulse, can harness the true potential of their employees.

Unblocking flow

The concept of ‘flow’ is described as a mental state where a person has an energetic focus, is fully involved with and enjoying what they are doing. This cognitive concept is where the intellectual and emotional qualities of an individual are aligned for a time to achieve a purpose, to be 'in the zone'. Flow exists somewhere between motivation and total immersion and has a recognised impact on achievement in the workplace.

Unfortunately, we have become dependent on the technology systems that threaten to overwhelm us. The friction between being enabled or disabled by the abundance of information is one of the major challenges for the future of work. Digital notifications, messaging, email, can bring us out of that concentrated state, where we are in tune with what needs to be done. Taking us out of a state of creative flow.

“We have lost the ability to create cognitive space for us to sit and think because the tools make it so easy, compelling and engaging.” – Dave Coplin Microsoft UK

Distraction is a flow killer. Some studies report that it takes about 20 minutes to re-engage back to the level you were previously at. One helpful technique to combat distraction is to cultivate mindfulness. It supports the sustained process of deep thought, helping to reinforce focused attention.  But how do we stay mindful and on track while still benefiting from information technology systems?

Understanding context

The answer may lie in a concept called contextual intelligence. These are personally curated information systems that automatically emerge at the right time and place. A combination of filtering, machine intelligence and pattern analysis that augments rather than distracts. Think of it as an intelligent filter that learns how you work, understands what you are working on and creates the optimal information environment to operate in.

Filtering particularly is essential to coping with information abundance. Our brains do this naturally 24/7 to not overwhelm us with all the information in our physical environment. So sophisticated cognitive systems will do the same and allow us to zero in on what matters most at the time we need it, providing a kind of technological space for creative work.

Unveiling possibilities

The human story is intertwined with our relationship with technology. Captured perfectly in the opening sequence of the film 2001: A Space Odyssey, when the thrown bone tool transforms into a spacecraft.

Technology is a medium for design, one that not only builds new things but allows us to create new ways of doing things, to co-create the future. Now more than ever, it’s part of who we are and what we can achieve. Currently, it allows us to offload memories and extend our senses and information processing, what will the future hold? 

When embraced intelligently and used to augment our empathy, imagination, curiosity and creativity, technology will provide the enhance capabilities indispensable to the future of work.

Photo credit: jurvetson via Foter.com / CC BY