It´s been decades since elevator and switchboard workers. Nowdays receptionists are being replaced by machines and energy consumption is being monitored remotely instead of inspectors coming onsite. Service work transformation is not new. The potential of robots replacing people has been discussed since a long time. What is new is the pace.
If not entirely replacing humans, technology and robots can and will support people in their work by conducting e.g. repetitive, strenuous or unsafe work. One profession may include several tasks. Thus some tasks may be replaced or be supported by technology but the profession or what it generates as such may not entirely disappear. What elements modify our scope and choice of work? What does a future service worker do? What is the logic between human skills vs technology?
Researcher Eveliina Saari, research manager Jokke Eljala and journalist Jarmo Laitaneva discussed transformation of work in YLE podcast “Arjen tulevaisuus”. Some considerations of the discussion elaborated below.
If robots can perform our work in the future, what would be our own choice what to do? What work do we value? Person´s basic needs cover job security and its meaningfulness. One also needs the social interaction that work provides through a network of co-employees and customers. Thus, work will not only be about speed, productivity or efficiency but it is a wider context of elements that contributes to the meaning of life.
Technology can also bring new opportunities of consuming services. Could virtual reality provide value and desired experiences to e.g. senior citizens who want to enjoy their day? Go rowing virtually during a rainy day. If we value certain experiences, can services be provided that make their consumption easier?
How many people still go physically to a bank? We don’t because it´s easier to take care of financials online. We even have a service to conduct an online meeting with a bank representative. If people feel they get service faster or easier, they do it increasingly themselves.
Technology is however only one element. Interaction, feeling of safety and empathy play a big role. Not everybody wants to do everything online. A personal encounter may make a difference. A professional can help make things more meaningful. Example is a doctor, who may have somewhat better analysis of a disease and provide empathy. This combination can be more attractive than self analysis.
A complex and demanding surgery may be done later by robots, who might provide a safer option than a real person. Will people choose a real doctor or a robot? Will people choose a lawyer or a robot? Will people choose a financial advisor or a robot? What are the ingredients that influence our choice?
Emotional intelligence will play a bigger role in the future than before in managing customer relationships once the interactions become more meaningful. Facilitating a virtual meeting requires different skills than facilitating a face-to-face meeting. We face new type of interactions where old behaviours are not valid.
A service worker and a customer can build new approaches by working and contributing together. How one performs on-the-job may be influenced more independently than earlier. Out of the box thinkers can bring new ideas that customer welcomes and begins new consumption behaviours.
An increasing number of experts are conducting service design. They help navigate services, make them logical and easy to find. If you enter an airport, pay attention to how easy it is to find check in, security, your gate and an empty cafeteria.
Companies have emerged providing professional services for freelancers to easily get hold of entrepreneurship. They provide accounting and taxation services in order for freelancers to be able to focus on the work itself. The challenge may be lack of job security – there is no guarantee of work continuation. The bonus of course is a low barrier to starting one´s own company. Will search for self management increase so working on your own feels more rewarding than working for somebody elses company even if more risk included?
If you enter working life today, it is most likely you will not retire from the same job. Therefore what keeps you competitive is continuous learning. One builds proactively one´s own work by learning about things one values and is interested in. Thus one can influence the future work. Generalists may do better in the future since they build skills in understanding a wide variety of things and be receptive to learning new and working in multi-cultural or multidimensional environments. Talking about improving our intelligence, there is of course a limited capacity. Learning is continuous, but we cannot assume a person can absorb an unlimited amount of new things. Knowing your history is a good platform for understanding the new. Curiosity can complement what a person lacks in a position today.
My future job description?
What could robots do in my marketing work? Collect customer understanding from various sources automatically? Plan and choose topics relevant for customers? Link offering that matches customers´ needs? Conduct activities at customer interface that are in right places at right time? Discuss with and make recommendations to customers online? Evaluate results and optimize? Most likely all of this in the future. Coming back to the emotional intelligence part, maybe with more challenging and meaningful tasks even customers still want to engage with real people. Perhaps I become a concierge linking people either to robots or other people. Planning marketing-as-a-service.