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Now & Next: Is Your Job Safe- collaboration, automation, annihilation?

Posted on 04 March 2019

The world of work is changing beyond all recognition. From unprecedented surveillance of staff in offices to globe trotting nomads and robots that can do people's jobs—how, where and why we work will be radically different in the future.

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Is Your Job Safe – collaboration, automation, annihilation?

This is the workforce of the future. Technology is transforming the world of work beyond all recognition, creating ground breaking opportunities.

Joseph Kamau
It’s an amazing thing to be living in this digital age.

But it’s also eroding the rights of workers.

Max Dewherst
Courier
 
It creates a kind of dog eat dog world.

Some even fear it a dystopian jobless future.

Technology today could lead to 45% of current jobs disappearing.

But are these anxieties overblown?

The future is about the collaboration between humans and these technologies.

How we react to this brave new world of work today will shape societies for generations to come.

NOW & NEXT
WORK: IN PROGRESS

For some people work is where the Wi-fi is. In the past two years, Samantha and Justin have lived and worked in more than 20 countries.

Justin Bosco
We started this year in South America. We lived in Peru, in Santiago, Chile, Bariloche, Argentina.

Samantha Horrock
Croatia, Innsbruck, Austria, Portugal, Italy, Norway.

Justin Bosco
Which was really pretty.

Samantha Harrock
And then we were on Reunion Island for two months.

Justin Bosco
Off of Madagascar.

Samantha Horrock
Yes and when we were there everyone was, like, “How in the world did you find this place?”

Justin Bosco
“How did you find this place?”

But throughout their travels, Justin and Samantha have each been holding down a job.  He runs a digital creative agency and she works for a California based start-up.  They’re a very modern carnation of a very old idea. They’re digital nomads.

Justin Bosco
Thank you.

Today, people working remotely around the globe like this number in the millions.

Justin Bosco
A lot of people that define themselves as digital nomads move around very, very frequently. But we typically move around at least once a month.

The couple say that extraordinary recent advances in digital technology allow them to keep exploring the world without compromising their careers.

Justin Bosco 
We rent an apartment, we set up an office, we’re not on vacation. We live pretty normal lives and so it gives us the opportunity to kind of integrate and become locals and try on different flavours of life.

There are downsides to this liberating grand tour of new cultures and horizons. Digital nomads sometimes have to be more nomadic than they might like.

Samantha Horrock 
Just out of curiosity I wonder what the Visa policy is.

Location independent workers as they are also known often travel on tourist Visas and are usually restricted to a maximum of a few months in each country.

Justin Bosco  
So Fiji, we need to go to so that we can get out of New Zealand before we violate their Visa policy.

Samantha Horrock  
Yeah.

But some countries are going out of their way to attract this new breed of global worker. Estonia is about to launch a special Visa, allowing them to stay for a year.  With other countries set to follow suit, some predict there could be a billion location independent workers by 2035.  For those with no ties, it all points to an increasingly borderless brave new world of work centred around the digital revolution.

Justin Bosco  
And it sounds extravagant but we don’t need much to be able to work and be productive. If you’re smart about it, I think that travel can be a long-term sustainable lifestyle and it’s not that crazy.

[Voice-over on historical video]
Of the more than 60 million Americans who work over 50 million are employees. They work for somebody else.

In the middle of the 20th century many workers in the rich world expected a job for life in one place. But today frequent job changes are not unusual and 70% of professionals around the globe do some work remotely.  These seismic changes are leading to continual reinventions of that most traditional workplace, the office. In San Francisco, entrepreneur Frank Boulier is starting his daily journey to work.

Frank Boulier
Entrepreneur

Have to move from my room, go down the stairs to my office space. I would say it’s a dream commute, yeah.

Frank’s part of an emerging trend, living and working with other people in the same place.

Frank Boulier
Entrepreneur

When I move from one space to the other space, I switch from living to working.

The space, run by a company called Roam includes meeting rooms, relaxation areas and even a cocktail bar. It caters to the more exclusive end of the global co-working market.

Frank Boulier
Entrepreneur
 
You get to meet amazing people from all across the world and I find that exciting.

The vibe is less office, more professional commune and the residents are glad at the chance for some digital detox.

Resident of Roam
We’re all tethered to our cell phones and we’re all tethered to technology and I think that what’s unique about Roam is that it builds community and it builds a communal living style that allows us sort of to unplug at times.

This kind of communal living might have niche appeal right now but 2.3 million people worldwide already share co-working spaces and there are signs these make for more productive workers. The Harvard Business Review found that nearly 9 out of 10 co-workers felt happier than in their previous place of work and over 80% felt more engaged and motivated.

Resident of Roam
I’ve never been more productive even though I do less hours. Would I ever go back to traditional corporate nine to five? No.

Technology is also changing how people work and live in poorer countries. Kibera, Kenya, Africa’s largest slum. Work here is scarce.  The average wage is less than two dollars a day. Joseph Kamau grew up here.

Joseph Kamau
This is my first computer.

Two years ago he was scraping by as a street hawker selling food but today, Joseph is making a new living as a paid up member of the global gig economy, the labour market where self-employed workers are paid to do short-term freelance tasks.

Joseph Kamau
For me, a person living here in Kibera how would I have gotten a job for a person in America?

He gets up to 10 part-time jobs a week entering data for clients based all around the world.

Joseph Kamau
It’s an amazing thing to be living in this digital age.

Joseph works in arguably the fastest growing segment of the gig economy known as The Human Cloud. Some of the jobs that used to be done by white collar workers in wealthier countries are now broken down into individual tasks. These are advertised online and carried out by remote workers scattered across the globe. This Human Cloud industry is worth an estimated $50 billion dollars a year.  Now the Kenyan Government is training one million young people for this new digital workforce and helping them is the outsourcing firm Samasource.

Philip Chikwiramabomo
CEO, Samasource

Brands have included Google, eBay and Microsoft.

Freelancers here work on a range of digital services including image tagging for artificial intelligence.

Employee
We’re training cars to drive themselves.

Philip Chikwiramabomo
CEO, Samasource

I now right?

Employee
Yeah, it’s funny.

Philip Chikwiramabomo
CEO, Samasource

I don’t even have a car but we are working on projects on self-driving different cars.

Employee
I know.

Some fear that the flow of digital service jobs from rich countries to poorer ones could push down wages globally. But for many people here the new opportunities offer a way out of poverty.

Philip Chikwiramabomo
CEO, Samasource

I mean, someone sitting in the US might say a job like this is not paying a living wage but for us it really gives us an opportunity to be able to bring some of these young people into the digital age and the digital economy.

Since working in The Human Cloud, Joseph has been able to move his family out of the slum.

Joseph Kamau
I’m gonna join university next semester.  I’m gonna do computer science, my dream course and, yeah.

In wealthier countries, some workers see the gig economy as less of an opportunity and more of a threat.  Max Dewherst is a delivery cyclist for a British courier firm who campaigns for workers’ rights.

Max Dewherst
Courier
 
How many jobs and I going to do today?  Am I gonna do 18 jobs or 30?  jobs?  On days when it’s very slow we’re not going to make enough money to live.

Many online platforms, those intermediaries between customers and gig workers don’t cap the number of freelancers that clock on each day. This can flood the market, ramping up competition and slashing earnings.

Max Dewherst
Courier
  
It creates a kind of dog eat dog world and a very competitive world amongst the workforce

Some competition between workers is health for consumers but Max has a more fundamental complaint, that basic employment rights such as sick pay and job protection are denied to most gig economy workers.

Max Dewherst
Courier
   
They don’t have any ability to set the price of their labour.  They don’t have any ability to negotiate with the client. They have zero protection. Of course people like flexibility but that shouldn’t come at the expense of everything that’s ever been fought for for the last 200 years.

Activist
Those people have money.  They have millions in their accounts.

Max continues that fight as Vice President of The Independent Workers Union of Great Britain.

Max Dewherst
Courier

 And I said, well, it’s only impossible until we win.

The union is mounting legal challenges against large companies operating in the gig economy.

Max Dewherst
Courier

We’ve taken a number of courier companies to Tribunal from City Spring, eCourier, Addison Lee and Excel and now we’re taking on Deliveroo as well.

To critics like Max the lack of rights offered to workers in the gig economy by big contractors is rapacious capitalism that will increase inequality.

Max Dewherst
Courier

There are loads and loads of people on these bogus contracts.  We see it more and more spreading into other sectors, cleaning, retail, banking and that’s very worrying.

Amid heightened concerns about job security some workers are facing new pressures to become more efficient and productive. But what lengths is it acceptable for companies to go to to achieve this? In Boston, Massachusetts, workers at this firm are being closely watched. Their every conversation is analysed. Their every move monitored.

Alexa Lightner
Senior Customer Success Manager Humanyze 

This is our Humanyze sociometric badge.

Their employer, Humanyze has designed surveillance technology to gather data about how they spend their time at work.

Alexa Lightner
Senior Customer Success Manager Humanyze 

 So, it knows if I’m speaking or not speaking.  It knows if I’m moving, whether I’m walking around or just sitting at my desk during the day. It knows generally where I am in the office and it also can tell my proximity to other people wearing badges.

Information from employees’ emails and calendars is integrated with data collected by their badges.

Ben Waber
CEO, Humanyze

We have a number of sensors in them, Bluetooth that’s able to do location in the office. Microphones look at how much I talk. Motion sensor to look at posture, overall activity levels.

The company says it uses this data to improve the productivity of its workers and their work environment.

Alexa Lightner
Senior Customer Success Manager Humanyze 

I see interactions within my team, how many of my teammates did I interact with in a week or a month? The same gender or the other gender. I can see my dominance in conversations. The green is my speaking time versus the blue which is when I’m listening. I use this data as a way to optimise my work experience.

Humanyze sells its surveillance technology to companies around the globe and with more than 10,000 people now wearing it’s badges worldwide, business is starting to boom.

Ben Waber
CEO, Humanyze

Because now we have all this quantitative data coming in, we’re able to understand at an unprecedented level.

This kind of surveillance technology is raising fears about workers’ welfare and rights to privacy. A British report found that 70% of workers believe workplace monitoring will become more common in the future. Over 60% believe it will fuel distrust and discrimination. Humanyze says it anonymizes and aggregates data and doesn’t record the content of conversations. But other tech companies are developing ever more intrusive ways to monitor workforces, including micro chipping staff and photographing them at their desks using webcams.

Ben Waber
CEO, Humanyze

I mean there are legitimate concerns around this kind of data when it comes to, for example, could your boss look at what you are doing minute by minute in the organisation. Can they look at what you’re writing in emails and things like that?  At some point someone will do the wrong thing with this kind of data.

But in the minds of many people there’s an even greater threat to the workforce of the future and it comes from a new breed of worker, one that is relentlessly efficient, works round the clock and never complains. Robots and artificial intelligence are increasingly part of many industries. Machines will soon take the wheel from truck drivers and companies are turning to new types of robots for mass production of food.

Connell McShane
 New worries about robots taking jobs.

Automation is set to cause mass disruption to working lives.

Reporter
 As artificial intelligence and automation grow by leaps and bounds.

Interviewee
Could lead to 45% of current jobs disappearing.

But how justified is this wave of automation anxiety sweeping across the world?  Are hundreds of millions of workers really heading for a jobless future?

In a warehouse in Southern England, the dystopian vision of a fully automated future appears to have arrived. This swarm of robots is packing groceries for British firm Ocado, one of the world’s most technologically advanced online retailers. Here, collaboration is key.

Paul Clarke
Chief Technology Officer, Ocado Limited
 
These robots are being orchestrated by a sophisticated piece of machine learning. It’s a bit like an air traffic control system. They collaborate with one another, so if a robot wants to pick a bin that’s fourth down in a given stack of bins, it just gets three of its friends or colleagues to move the top three bins out of the way and then it grabs the one it wants.

But the robots here aren’t working together to replace humans, they’re working with them. The robots take containers of products to pick stations where people put the orders together.

Employee
I think the job is a lot less taxing on us physically.  The robots themselves are very efficient so they take a lot of the grunt work out.  They’re our little helpers.

What’s more, Ocado say these robots have actually created more jobs at the company than existed before.

Paul Clarke
Chief Technology Officer, Ocado Limited
 
None of the 13,000 people that work for Ocado would have a job, myself included, if it wasn’t for what we do with technology and automation. As we’ve found new ways to automate processes, the number of people working for Ocado has only ever increased because of the ongoing growth of the business.

A growing body of research suggests artificial intelligence and machines could create at least as many jobs as they displace. One report estimates that while 75 million jobs will be lost globally by 2022, there could be 133 million new ones.

Paul Clarke
Chief Technology Officer, Ocado Limited
 
We are on a journey to go on finding ways to add automation but it’s about teaching people to be more adaptable in terms of their jobs and their skill sets because the future is about the collaboration between humans and these technologies.

Disruption to working lives is inevitable and insecurities will persist.  How bosses, workers and Governments respond to these challenges will determine whether this new working landscape lives up to its enormous promise.

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