The rise of IoT, RFID and other technologies has created a connective tissue that ties in aspects that were otherwise kept separate. Greater connectivity has touched numerous aspects of our lives, from smarter cars to connected homes to smart factories. One area of connectivity that has been impacted is the way we work. Humans have always had to work in some form, whether it was hunting for food or sitting behind a desk. Moreover, today’s working environment has drastically changed from those early days, let alone a generation ago.
Hyperconnectivity allows for greater freedoms, but does call for always-on access. We often overlook it, but our mobile phones are a great example of a personal IoT device. It was not too long ago that many work IT departments mandated company-issued BlackBerry devices to access email on the go. At that time, digital access was heavily regulated by IT groups. 2007 marked a tipping point, when Apple introduced the iPhone and suddenly every executive wanted the device and the flood gates opened. The BYOD practice became the norm. This new open connectivity truly changed the way we worked.
Since then, the idea of working remotely became truly viable. People could access email anywhere they had a connection, and soon were able to access shared files via these portable devices. Rather than having to commute to an office, the office was in your hands. This created greater freedom, but also changed how we viewed the work hours. The 9 to 5 quickly became 24/7 since employees were always connected. So, while this connectivity has given many of us greater flexibility, it has also changed the notion of when we are at work. Our devices mean people are always a click away from a colleague’s email, a bosses’ Slack message or a connected calendar telling them where to be.
Connectivity has meant our work parameters have been redefined, but what about the work itself? Smarter machines, smarter devices and smarter infrastructure all powered by greater connectivity has sparked a rising fear of jobs being lost out to these smarter machines. These connected robots will start showing us pink slips as they take our jobs. Or will they?
Machines have been intertwined with work since the wheel was invented. The great industrial revolution associated with the steam engine and mass production saw an outcry that these great machines would replace the human laborer. In some cases, it did. In other cases, it created new opportunities and opened new jobs. This has opened a world of debate. The future may include trucks driving down the highway without human drivers, conductor-less subways, supermarkets delivering groceries with zero human interaction whatsoever and the list goes on. Some people believe the future of work is just early retirement, thanks to our connected machine overlords.
Although it appears technology will be increasingly taking over more and more jobs, there will always be a need for working humans. The connected machines are merely helpful tools. Companies like GE are using these connected machines to do better maintenance in dangerous places such as rail yards, wind turbines or oil rigs. These robots can navigate these hazardous locations to assist the humans in charge of maintenance to do their job safer and more efficiently. Perhaps one day technology will significantly change the tasks required of most human jobs — but there will always be employment.
Therefore, how we work will continue to evolve. Connectivity is just another phase in this evolution. However, it is a helpful tool that humans can use in their work. Work is not going away, it is simply adapting to the connected world around us.
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