The day is coming--and it's probably coming sooner than you imagine--when you'll work with robots.
Already, many professionals rely on smart technology to help them do their jobs (even if, sadly this smart tech doesn't roll around the office chatting with you like C-3PO), but very soon, more and more of your workday is going to be spent interacting with AI.
There are lots of smart people currently trying to puzzle out what that means for the future of work, including architect Jennifer Magnolfi, who spoke on the topic at Google and whose talk I highlighted here. It also includes British business professor Monideepa Tarafdar, who recently took to the MIT Sloan Management Review blog to consider not how office spaces will need to change to accommodate robot colleagues, but how managers' skills need to evolve.
She outlines three major new skills leaders must develop if they want to thrive in the tech-enabled workplace of the future. Here they are in brief.
1. When to disagree with your robot colleague
Tarafdar gives this one the more prosaic title of "partnering with digital 'colleagues,'" but whatever way you want to describe it, it's a skill that will soon be invaluable. In the near future smart algorithms will assist with tasks as diverse as answering call center questions and diagnosing illnesses. The trick for their human co-workers will be learning when to accept their verdicts and when to question the wisdom of the bot.
"As the data become denser and algorithms get faster and more complex, there is a danger of 'runaway algorithms' that become disconnected from the reality of the phenomenon they represent, eventually leading to wrong solutions," cautions Tarafdar, adding:
"To prevent this, managers will need to retain their expertise and control over their tasks and processes. They should provide context for the decisions and recommendations of their digital partners by monitoring those decisions from time to time and re-calibrating them against their own experience, insight, and intuition -- even going against their digital coworkers if necessary."
2. How to achieve flow despite omnipresent tech
As tech invades more aspects of our lives, opportunities for addiction and less-than-mindful usage will only grow. After all, it's the fact that your current tech is seamless, multifunctional, and portable that makes it so hard to control. As tech improves in these areas, walling off work and life will only get more complicated.
Maybe we should just give up the fight to separate the two, Tarafdar suggests, and instead expect managers to get better at protecting their flow, wherever and whenever they find it.
"Managers should start thinking about cultivating a mindful relationship with the technology -- one that embodies their individual preferences about what constitutes such flow. Rather than being troubled about work-home boundaries, which perhaps cannot be maintained in the future, organizations will need to support employees in managing the possibilities of flexibility," she writes.
3. How to accommodate tech diversity
Right now your team members might squabble about excessive meetings or complain about late night email, but as tech weaves its way deeper into work, opportunities to disagree about workstyles and procedures will only multiply. It will fall to managers of the future to sort out these differences with tact and understanding.
"Everyone has different preferences and habits for using technology. Some may prefer to be contacted by text, others by email, still others by phone or face-to-face. Some may prefer the flexibility afforded by constant email connectivity, while others may favor allotted email time. A clash between preferences can break down communication between teammates and increase misunderstanding, conflict, and stress," warns Tarafdar.
What's the solution? "Going forward, managers need to not only be proactive about communicating their own technology preferences but also empathetic about their coworkers' choices," she concludes.
Check out her complete post for much more detail. It's part of a package in which experts weigh in on how technology is changing management that's worth examining in greater depth if you're fascinated by this subject.
What other management skills do you think will be at a premium in five or ten years' time?