If you’ve been following technology news, then you know that robots and AI are here to stay. They route you home, book your hotel, and even vacuum your carpet while you are away. The smart machines, apps, and algorithms that manage our lives are only getting more pervasive, more intelligent, and more powerful.
The age of AI is just beginning
By 2019, more than 1.4 million new industrial robots will be installed in factories around the world, according to the International Federation of Robotics (IFR).
Robots currently in development can not only build cars and refrigerators, they cook and flip burgers, even repair and replace their own parts––a superhuman power enviable by doctors everywhere.
So the robots aren’t just coming. They’re settling in and making themselves at home. And, yes, they’re getting down to work. 76% of knowledge workers say that at least some of their job could be performed by a robot, AI device, or other technology.
Nobody’s perfect – not even the bots
Before you start imagining some kind of gloomy post-human dystopia, take a deep breath and look around. The robot revolution––from artificial intelligence (AI) to machine learning and countless other ways we’re automating life and work––is making things easier for all of us. Besides, it’s not like we haven’t had an economic upheaval like this before. Think back to your great grandparents and the industrial revolution, which entirely transformed their way of working and living. Today we are going through another shift where our world is and will continue to be filled with machines and automated services that can help improve the world around us.
The opportunity for employees and employers––heck, for all of us––is to focus on what our robotic friends don’t do. They don’t talk about our kid’s soccer game. They don’t sense we need to chat over coffee. They don’t laugh when you tell that same lame joke. They don’t question each other’s assumptions, offer counter-arguments, or give you input that sparks some cool idea.
For a little reassurance, try asking Apple’s Siri or Amazon’s Alexa how much wood could a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood? Or request either of them to make you a sandwich.
The task at hand for employers and employees isn’t how to fight technology. It’s how to let tech be tech and create a work environment where real people, flesh-and-bone humans, do what they do best.
Here’s a look at just three key areas in which managers and workers can harness the human capital at the heart of any business.
1. Think beyond the Google search box
Until now, businesses have tended to compartmentalize creativity, assigning it to certain people and departments––advertising and design, for instance. But now is the time to fire up creativity throughout your enterprise. That means challenging teams and managers, even those in departments not typically considered creative, to encourage discussion and that frightening but healthy thing called conflict.
Think of it the way Charlotte Blease, a philosophy fellow at University College Dublin, does: “The workplace of the future will require people prepared to ask—and answer—questions that aren’t Googleable.” Doing so begins by getting everyone outside of their comfort zones and into the creativity sandbox.
Start pushing the creative boundaries by hosting workshops and brainstorms with your team around big problems you are trying to solve together, such as product positioning or turning research your team has done into actionable insights. Bring other members outside of your core team that you work with to diversify the point of view and input in the room.
Pro tip: If you’re having trouble tearing down walls, try the Atlassian Playbook’s Disrupt Play to help generate fresh ideas.
2. Use tools to foster human interaction
The workplaces that effectively harness human brainpower are the ones with the tools and processes to do so. That may seem pretty obvious, but far too many organizations haven’t taken the time to consider how programs and systems enable collaboration and sustained human interaction. Now’s the time to take inventory. Establish a team of people who work together to improve how everyone works together (and don’t invite the robots). Explore the tools that foster a sense of community between coworkers.
Not all tools are created equally. According to a 2016 survey, tools that enable collaboration among employees are the most valued. Eighty percent of executives, up from 69% in 2014, said their companies use such tools for internal purposes.
Tools should be implemented with guidelines that reflect the culture––the humanity––of your organization. Use them to foster a greater sense of team and unity and support the way your teams work with each other across the company. Such tools offer employees a forum to not only exchange ideas and share thoughts on life’s celebrations and challenges, but to also provide feedback and enhance collaboration.
3. Train everyone to get along
When you acquire machines and systems to handle tasks, it feels as though you’ve achieved a singular business goal. But it’s really just one step in a fairly complicated process. Analysts say “people strategy” is a buzzword you’ll be hearing a lot––or should be hearing a lot––in the years ahead. And its meaning is pretty clear: Your company will need to put programs in place to improve human performance and acquire or train the right people to work alongside those machines.
Take time before you automate to get a strategy in place, not simply because it will enable a smooth transition when new tech arrives, but because it will also allow you to show potential employees they’re valued––that you still put humans first. Ask yourself: Which roles will be automated in the coming years? Will we need roles to manage the technology we introduce? What skills should we focus on when hiring new or training our current employees?
It’s important that teams think about filling roles with people who can adapt to changes quickly, are willing to learn, and are creative with their approach to solving problems.
Keep your eyes on the prize
As technology continues to improve, our world becomes a more efficient place. What makes it a better place is the successful blending of the exciting freedom automation offers with the qualities, skills, and connections that are inherently, beautifully human. By fostering creativity, encouraging collaboration, and developing a people strategy that connects people with your mission, you’ll not only survive this new age but thrive in it. And your people will too.
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For more ways to thrive as humans in the age of AI, check out the Atlassian Team Playbook – a collection of techniques we use to work more effectively together (and so can you!). You’ll find instructions, videos, and templates, all available for free.