It’s been reported that by 2030, one in five jobs in the UK will be at risk of automation. But is this necessarily a bad thing for the world’s workforce? By automating mundane tasks, surely human workers’ time can be freed up for doing what we’re good at – thinking, creating and problem solving.

The capability of machines to replicate many human functions is increasing constantly. Machines are taking on tasks we never considered they might: design, journalism and customer service, to name but a few. Machines are cheaper and tireless. Unquestionably, mechanisation makes companies more profitable.

The human edge

For all their advances, humans still carry a number of advantages over machines. From flexibility to adaptability and creativity, we are capable of original thought. We are warm, and empathetic - sometimes at least.

Well, people talk a lot about ‘automation’ – machines directly replacing people, but perhaps a better way to think about this is ‘augmentation’; whereby machines allow every person to do more. With our research showing that 70% of us are currently working more than our contracted hours, perhaps embracing a faster pace towards this step change could work in everybody’s favour. Perhaps we shouldn’t fear it, but take advantage of the opportunity to do more rewarding tasks. To free up our time for more creative thought. To strive for a smarter ‘worklife’.

Certainly, in much of the conversation surrounding ‘future of work’, we’ve lost the connection between ‘outputs’ and ‘outcomes’. Outputs are the everyday churn and support the old way of thinking – encouraging people to do ‘more of the same’. Real outcomes happen when we stop relegating people to ‘the churn’ and start re-engaging them in true business challenges that need human bandwidth to deliver results.

Humans should be allowed to focus on delivering their highly valuable and uniquely human capabilities.
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Because optimising a business based on churn doesn’t work anymore. Rather than consider how much we can get done, we must assess how much creativity we can deliver. Insead of seeing humans as machines, we need to see humans as humans - letting them do what they do best: think, create and problem solve.

Placing greater value on human skill

When you look at tomorrow’s workplace in this way, it becomes clear that every human in the organisation is going to become more valuable. Their unique skills more sought after. It also becomes clear that the nature of the work that humans do is likely to change. If every person in a business is highly valuable, and machines are cheap, then the desire is for the machines to do everything possible. Humans, therefore, need to do everything possible to stay relevant - re-engineering their skillsets for future success.

The human skills that businesses will increasingly be hiring, developing, and relying upon in the workplace fall under three categories: curation, creation and communication:

  • Curation - humans are great at discovering things, and qualifying their use and value. Sometimes that is information, sometimes it is products, and sometimes it is what is missing. Finding and filling those gaps, in knowledge, skills, products and services, is crucial.
  • Creation - humans can create without restriction, without parameters – or at least they can challenge the parameters they are set. They can do so across a range of media turning their hands and heads to today’s challenges.
  • Communication - humans can enthuse and excite, convince and compel. They can also listen and understand, and show empathy. Without these skills, the things we discover and build will remain ideas and never reach the customer.

Moving forwards, it is for the application of these skills that we must develop the workplace environment.

For much of the last century we have expected many – perhaps most – humans in a business to act like automata, repeating the same processes over and over again.
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If you look at many corporate facilities, it’s clear that they have been designed around this idea of human robots – sterile, uniform and mechanical.

And environments like this are unlikely to extract the maximum value from tomorrow’s workforce.

Creating human-centric spaces

Instead of uninspiring offices, we need places of texture. Places that recognise the variety and inconsistency in a day of discovery, creativity and interaction – quiet places of contemplation and information absorption; bright places of expression and loud places of dynamic interaction.

The humans in tomorrow’s workforce are valuable because of their uniquely human characteristics - unmatchable by machines. But for all the changes the future human is likely to incur, one thing will always stand true – we need to be rested, happy employees in our environment to deliver. Only then can these, our most celebrated human characteristics, be fully capitalised upon. When we’re operating as part of a well workforce - one that is secure, nurtured and, importantly, inspired. 

As a result, the most successful businesses of tomorrow will be those that build workplaces to amplify and augment these valuable, uniquely human skills - rather than attempting to replace what is actually irreplaceable.

To discover more insights into how the workplaces of today could help shape the work spaces of the future, download Rethinking Workplace: Part I

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Rethinking Workplace: Part I
Tom Cheesewright Applied Futurist Full bio and articles


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