The conventional wisdom today is that technology will make us more productive and that it will improve all of our lives. In many cases, this is true. But several recent news articles show that the conventional wisdom may not be entirely correct.
In this blog, I will look at the following three topics from the news last week and apply a counter-intuitive view:
Does technology always make us more productive?
Do we need a technology solution for everything?
Will technology take the “human” out of human resources?
We May Need to Collaborate Less
A recent Vox article, “The productivity pit: how Slack is ruining work,” pointed out that:
“On average, employees at large companies are each sending more than 200 Slack messages per week, according to Time Is Ltd., a productivity-analytics company that taps into workplace programs — including Slack, calendar apps, and the Office Suite — in order to give companies recommendations on how to be more productive. Power users sending out more than 1,000 messages per day are ‘not an exception.’ ”
In an effort to increase collaboration, what companies are seeing are productivity declines because their employees are having to devote an increasing amount of time answering their Slack chats.
Slack was supposed to reduce email and speed up communication. It seems it did not succeed in either case.
“Productivity software should be something you use less than the thing you used before,” Sarah Lacy, founder of tech site Pando and Chairman Mom (a members-only community for working women) told Recode. That hasn’t been the case.”
We May Need to Realize That Technology Does Not Answer Everything
Applying a technology solution to every HR challenge does not guarantee a better result. Case in point: IBM recently announced that it had a predictive attrition AI tool that could predict with “95% accuracy” whether an employee would be planning to resign shortly. IBM has also promoted that, along with predicting turnover, the AI tool will prescribe recommendations on how to engage the flight risk employees.
I do not think any investment in AI is needed to predict turnover if your company culture stinks, you pay below the market, and you have not given out any bonuses in three years. It does not take Watson to predict that your turnover will be high. Also, why not take the money that would be spent on this AI tool and spend it on making the employee experience better? For an excellent editorial on this, read Kris Dunn’s "Should We Really Trust IBM as an Expert in the World of HR?”
We Have to be Careful to Keep the Human in Human Resources
The Verge had an article last week “How Amazon automatically tracks and fires warehouse workers for ‘productivity’ ” that detailed how Amazon has a system that “tracks the rates of each associate’s productivity, and automatically generates any warnings or terminations regarding quality or productivity without input from supervisors.” To be fair, the article does say that Amazon supervisors can override the process.
The net result? It is reported in the article that roughly 300 full-time Amazon associates were terminated for inefficiency based on the automated system.
I get a chill when I think that technology tracking tools, rather than advancing the human condition, have taken us back 100 years to the sweatshops of the early Industrial Revolution.
Technology can make lives better, but humanity still needs to rule.