Using technology to make work more humane


The next wave of digital technology, or ‘smart technology’, has the potential and power to help us rehumanize work. Rather than doing the same work faster and with fewer people, smart technology offers the opportunity to redesign jobs and redesign workflows so that people can focus on the parts of the job that people are best suited for, such as building relationships, intuitive decision making, empathy and problem solving. But it requires organizational leaders to make informed, careful, strategic decisions to ensure that technology is used to enhance our humanity and enable people to do the kind of relational, empathetic, problem-solving activities we do best. in his. This article provides some first steps to get started introducing smart technology into your own organization.

The Great Resignation was not so much created by the pandemic, but exalted by it. The reluctance of employees to rush back into cubicles, behind counters, on assembly lines and behind the wheel is a direct result of work cultures that all too often have suspicion, inflexible schedules and unrealistic workloads. The virtual and flexible work arrangements required by the pandemic were revealing to many people, but did not free them from the 24/7 onslaught of tasks, back-to-back meetings and emails created by always-on 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. Rather than dehumanizing us, smart technology can actually help rehumanize work.

In our book The Smart Nonprofit, we define “smart technology” as the AI ​​and other advanced digital technologies that automate work by taking over tasks that previously only humans could do. Smart tech makes decisions instead of and for people. While some feel that workers’ interests are at odds with smart technology – that humans and machines are in direct competition – we believe that this is a false dichotomy that is uninformed, unimaginative and simply wrong. Smart technology and people do not compete with each other; they are free, but only if the technology is used properly.

There will be parts of jobs suitable for automation, but few, if any, jobs that can (or should!) be completely replaced by smart technology. What automation can change for the better is the perception of work. Rather than doing the same work faster and with fewer people, smart technology offers the opportunity to redesign jobs and redesign workflows so that people can focus on the parts of the job that people are best suited for, such as building relationships, intuitive decision making, empathy and problem solving.

Companies will make many choices about automation in the coming years. And those decisions will affect how employees, customers, and other stakeholders see your business in the future. For example, if your company chooses to set up:

Bossware — technology lurking in the background of screens watching employees all day long to catch and presumably punish anyone taking an unplanned break?


Organization leaders will be faced with many choices in the near future when it comes to smart technology. Commercial applications using smart technology are available out-of-the-box for every department, from communications to accounting to services. It takes deliberate, careful, strategic thought to ensure that technology is used to enhance our humanity and enable people to do the kinds of relational, empathetic, problem-solving activities that we do best.

Take the case of The Trevor Project, an organization that provides crisis counseling to young lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgenders, queers and questioners (LGBTQ+). The Trevor Project is an example of what we call a “smart nonprofit” – an organization that has moved carefully and wisely into automation by understanding “cobotting,” the combination of people and smart technology that brings the best of both worlds. brings up. They created Riley, a chatbot that helps train counselors by providing real-life simulations of conversations with potentially suicidal teens. Riley greatly increases the organization’s training capacity by being always available for training with volunteers. But the Trevor Project also knows that putting people first and making sure that teens always talk directly to another human being is critical to fulfilling its mission. Riley does not subtract from the human experience; it adds.

Cobotting goes beyond working with chatbots. For example, Benefits Data Trust (BDT), a Philadelphia-based organization focused on poverty alleviation, integrated smart technology into their application process. Call-in center agents help customers navigate and complete applications for public benefits. The computer system has been trained on thousands of interactions between on-call staff and customers to make recommendations from dozens of potential public benefits. The system also pre-populated forms for customers, saving staff a huge amount of time. The pain point they addressed was the sheer amount of time and documentation clients need 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 address another workplace stressor: inclusion. For example, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation uses automation to streamline patient contact administration where scheduling, diagnosis, medication orders and patient care take place. For example, if a doctor orders a colonoscopy for a patient during an exam, the prescription for the prep drugs is automatically sent to the prison pharmacy staff and the 48-hour liquid diet instructions are automatically sent to the food service staff. This is just one of many patient encounters that can be tracked across all penitentiaries in the system. In addition to this type of automation, visually impaired workers can “hear” information on the screen through speech-reading interfaces and use speech-to-text tools to enter information on the screen.

Cobotting takes time and careful implementation to get it right. However, the benefits of reducing staff overload are enormous. An October 2021 survey by Salesforce of 773 automation users in the United States found that 89% are more satisfied with their work and 76% say they are more satisfied with their stress levels at work as a result of using automation.

So how do you get started introducing smart tech within your own organization? Here are a few first steps you can take:

Identify key pain points to determine the right use cases. These should focus on areas where smart technology can take over fixed tasks that can streamline unmanageable workloads and reduce employee stress. State exactly which tasks and decision-makers will be retained and which tasks will be automated when the system is implemented. This includes identifying how automation will be controlled by someone with subject matter expertise. Choose the right smart technology for the job. Make sure that the product or system you choose creates the right cobotting balance. Make sure the assumptions built into the smart technology align with your values. And make sure the tasks that require empathy and intuition are assigned to people, while tasks like data entry or analyzing massive amounts of data are assigned to smart technology – not the other way around. Create a vicious circle of testing, learning and improving. Step carefully and slowly, as it can be difficult to undo the damage of automation once smart technology is installed. Test the new system and workflow to make sure your expectations and assumptions are correct.

Smart technology and automation can make work and workplaces more rewarding and less tiring. But to do that, leaders need to understand the implications of automation and make smart, ethical choices about using technology that enhances our humanity and makes work better, healthier and happier for everyone.

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