When automation transformed the manufacturing sector across the Western world during the 1980s and ‘90s, many white-collar workers were nonplussed at the wave of job losses. But now artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning technologies have come knocking for their jobs – and managers and skilled workers alike will need to fashion new tools to survive.
With new technologies increasingly able to perform complex cognitive tasks, office managers will face a glass half full or half empty, depending on your view. Some only see job losses, while others see opportunity. Like or it not – the office of the future is changing today.
Engaging with customers
Managers will have to learn to approach their customers in entirely new ways. AI and machine learning are taking over many functions once performed by humans, like staffing showrooms and call centers.
This requires evermore sophisticated algorithms, business models and engagement tools. So, while the old jobs may go, new ones will emerge to supply the technologies, processes and insights needed to keep businesses running.
In particular, the nuances of human behavior will need to be captured and coded. For example, how does a robot show compassion? Or respond to a customer’s frustrations? How does it detect a customer’s humor or the meaning of vocal inflections? Managers will lead this learning.
Communicating with customers has always been at the heart of the sales process, but now it needs to be much more finely tuned. Building customer engagement will also become a more precise science.
Creative thinking will be another essential tool for the managers of tomorrow. Being flexible, responsive and adaptable to changing technologies will keep them fresh and open to new challenges and opportunities.
‘Innovation’ is the key word here. Managers who can spot a gap in the market, develop a solution and then realize it will become indispensable in tomorrow’s offices. Along with creativity and a clear vision of the path ahead, good leaders will need to encourage innovative thinking among staff to ensure their businesses become the disruptors – not the disrupted.
Technology in the workplace almost always helps cut costs and increase margins. While the short-term impact of technology might mean a drop in prices, low prices often fuel demand. This means that it all evens out in the end. Knowing where to find savings and create new demand then, is another tool for tomorrow’s manager.
For all the doom and gloom about technology taking our jobs, there is equally an argument for technology replacing our jobs with better ones. On the cusp of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, the outcomes of three other revolutions suggest this will indeed be the case.