The next wave of digital technology, or “smart technology,” has the potential and power to help us rehumanize work. Rather than doing the same job faster and with fewer people, smart technology creates an opportunity to redesign tasks and reorganize workflows to allow people to focus on the parts of the job that humans are particularly good at. well suited, such as relationship building, intuitive decision making. , empathy and problem solving. But it will require organizational leaders to make informed and careful strategic decisions to ensure that technology is used to enhance our humanity and enable people to do the kinds of relational, empathetic and problem-solving activities that we do the best. This article offers some initial steps to start introducing smart technology into your own organization.
The Great Resignation was not created by the pandemic but supersized by it. Workers’ reluctance to rush into cubicles, behind counters, on assembly lines and behind the wheel is a direct result of work cultures that too often lack suspicion, rigid schedules and unrealistic workloads. The virtual and flexible working arrangements necessitated by the pandemic have been eye-opening for many people, but have not freed them from the 24/7 onslaught of tasks, back-to-back meetings and emails. created by still-active cultures and technologies. But the next wave of digital technology – what we call “smart technology” – has the potential and power to be different and reverse these trends. Instead of dehumanizing us, smart technology can actually help rehumanize work.
In our book The intelligent non-profit association, we define “intelligent technology” as AI and other advanced digital technologies that automate work by taking over tasks that only people could do before. Smart technology makes decisions instead of and for people. While some believe that workers’ interests are at odds with smart technology – that humans and machines are in direct competition – we believe this is an ill-informed, unimaginative and just plain wrong false dichotomy. . Smart technology and humans are not in competition with each other; they are complementary, but only when the technology is used well.
There will be parts of jobs that will lend themselves to automation, but few, if any, can (or should!) be completely replaced by smart technologies. What automation can change for the better is the work experience. Rather than doing the same job faster and with fewer people, smart technology creates an opportunity to redesign tasks and reorganize workflows to allow people to focus on the parts of the job that humans are particularly good at. well suited, such as relationship building, intuitive decision making. , empathy and problem solving.
Businesses will make many automation choices over the next few years. And those decisions will influence how employees, customers, and other stakeholders perceive your business in the future. For example, will your company choose to institute:
- Bossware – a technology lurking in the background of screens watching employees all day to catch, and presumably punish, anyone who takes an unscheduled break?
Organizational leaders will face many smart technology choices in the near future. Business applications using smart technology are available off-the-shelf for every department, from communications to accounting to service delivery. This will require informed and careful strategic thinking to ensure that technology is used to enhance our humanity and enable people to do the kinds of relational, empathetic and problem-solving activities that we do best.
Take the case of The Trevor Project, an organization that provides crisis counseling to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning (LGBTQ+) young people. The Trevor Project is an example of what we call a “Smart Nonprofit” – an organization that has cautiously and wisely embarked on automation by understanding “cobotting”, the combination of smart people and technology that brings out the best of both. They created Riley, a chatbot that helps train counselors by providing real-life simulations of conversations with potentially suicidal teens. Riley greatly expands the training capacity of the organization by always being available for a training session with volunteers. But The Trevor Project also knows that staying human-centered and making sure teens are always talking directly to another human being is key to fulfilling its mission. Riley does not subtract from the human experience; it adds to it.
Cobotting goes beyond working with chatbots. For example, Benefits Data Trust (BDT), a Philadelphia-based organization focused on poverty alleviation, incorporated smart technology into its application process. Call center staff help clients navigate and complete applications for public benefits. The computer system was trained on thousands of interactions between call staff and customers to make recommendations among dozens of possible public benefits. The system also pre-populated forms for customers, which saved staff considerable time. The problem they were tackling was the enormous amount of time and paperwork required for clients to apply for and receive public benefits. As BDT’s Chief Data and Technology Officer, Ravindar Gujral, told us: “Ultimately, our role… is to create a human connection.
Cobotting can also tackle another stressor in the workplace: inclusion. For example, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation uses automation to streamline the administration of patient encounters, where scheduling, diagnosis, medication orders, and patient care take place. For example, if a doctor orders a colonoscopy for a patient during an examination, the prescription for compounding drugs is automatically sent to the prison pharmacy staff and the 48-hour liquid diet instructions are automatically sent to the prison staff. food service. This is just one of many patient encounters that can be tracked at any correctional facility in the system. In addition to this type of automation, visually impaired employees can “hear” on-screen information through voice-reading interfaces and use text-to-speech tools to enter information on screen.
Cobotting takes time and careful implementation to work well. However, the benefits of reducing staff overload are enormous. An October 2021 survey conducted by Salesforce among 773 automation users in the United States found that 89% are more satisfied with their jobs and 76% say they are more satisfied with their level of work stress thanks to the use automation.
So how do you start introducing smart technology into your own organization? Here are some initial steps you can take:
- Identify key pain points to determine the right use cases. These should focus on areas where smart technology can support rote tasks that can streamline unmanageable workloads and reduce worker stress. Describe exactly what tasks and decision-makers will retain and what tasks will be automated when the system is implemented. This includes identifying how the automation will be overseen by someone with subject matter expertise.
- Choose the right smart technology for the job. Make sure the product or system you choose will create the right balance of cobotage. Make sure the assumptions built into the smart technology align with your values. And make sure that tasks that require empathy and intuition will be assigned to people, while tasks such as data entry or analysis of huge amounts of data will be assigned to smart technology – and not the reverse.
- Create a virtuous cycle of testing, learning and improving. Tread carefully and slowly, as it can be difficult to fix the harms of automation once smart technology is in place. Pilot test the new system and workflow to make sure your hopes and assumptions are correct.
Smart technology and automation can make work and workplaces more fulfilling and less exhausting. But to do this, leaders must dig deep into the implications of automation and make smart, ethical choices about using technologies that enhance our humanity and make work better, healthier, and happier for everyone.