Our must-read articles on the world of work this week consider robotic process automation, how to prepare for future roles from automation ethicist to interactive chatbot designer, and what the Fourth Industrial Revolution means for HR.

#1. Can today’s startups be as employee-obsessed as they are customer-obsessed?

“If employee well-being and company culture aren’t as equal a measure of success,” writes Jaime Schmidt, former CEO and founder of Schmidt’s Naturals, “then it begs the question: Have you created an environment that encourages the pursuit of profit, in spite of the human costs?” The question arises because of the scandal surrounding Away, the luggage company that replaced its CEO amid reports of a toxic working culture. Schmidt considers whether the startup world’s determination to be ‘customer obsessed’ can create a poor environment for employees. This is an interesting read filled with examples from Schmidt’s own experience.

Photo by Bethany Legg on Unsplash

#2. Trends 2020: Five Robotic Process Automation predictions for the coming year

The robots are coming! At least that’s the argument from the analysts Forrester, who expect the market for Robotic Process Automation (RPA) to reach $2.9 billion by 2021. If that’s going to happen then we should expect to see a sharp rise in the adoption and implementation of RPA in 2020, and this article offers some predictions of what that might look like. Author Neelesh Kripalani, of Clover Infotech, says that we should expect to see RPA emerge as a complementary technology that can automate inefficient workflows and integrate with existing technology. It’s also more likely to be a collaborative technology for human workers, rather than one that threatens their jobs.

Photo by Louis Reed on Unsplash

#3. Study provides insight into future of people and work in 4IR

Of course, you know what 4IR means: it’s the Fourth Industrial Revolution, sometimes known as Industry 4.0. It’s the digital revolution and it represents a fusion of technologies that will blur the lines between physical, digital and even biological realms. As you might imagine, it has significant implications for HR and people strategies. A new report, developed by a partnership including the World Economic Forum, Saudi Aramco, Unilever and Willis Towers Watson, looks at the steps businesses and governments must take to prepare for the coming challenges. Those include developing new leadership capabilities, managing the integration of technology in the workplace and building an agile and personalised learning culture. It offers plenty of real-world examples for anyone still trying to get to grips with 4IR and its impact.

Photo by Riccardo Annandale on Unsplash

#4. Three Steps to Effectively Retraining Your Employees for New Technology

Here’s a good article that builds on themes mentioned in the previous two – automation and integrating new technology. It won’t be long before you need to hire an automation ethicist, an interactive chatbot designer, or a 3D printing technician, according to the author. So how do you prepare your workers for what will likely be new and complicated roles? First, by not rushing them to accept change; second, by upskilling in a smart way; and third, by being smart about the skills you hire – particularly soft skills. If the 4IR study (above) is a deep dive into these issues, then this is a good cheat sheet.

Photo by Angelina Litvin on Unsplash

#5. What Happens After Prisoners Learn to Code?

Finally this week, this piece in The Atlantic looks at what happened when Slack, the Silicon Valley company that makes collaboration software, hired two former prisoners as engineers, as part of its Next Chapter scheme. “It’s a huge paradigm shift—going from living in a 6-by-9-foot cell and having very little decision-making power in your life to all of a sudden being part of the 21st-century gold rush,” says one prisoner, about the challenges he faced after leaving prison. As the article notes, there are plenty of obstacles that still remain for previously incarcerated individuals but Slack and its partners on the initiative are laying promising foundations.


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