The new world of work: why the Daleks have it nailed

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The last few weeks have convinced me that we just aren’t coping with the realities of the new world of work. And the longer that goes on the more I fear for the future.

Last week I attended an interesting session on digital transformation. It confirmed all the thinking Chiumento has been doing about how to change the way we deliver outplacement solutions. Consumer expectation has changed for good and we will be responding by launching a very different solution later this year. However not everyone is reading the writing on the wall…

The Blockbuster story is hardly new – but the harsh reality is consumers will no longer troop down to the High Street in the pouring rain to hire DVDs. Not when those nice people at Netflix, Amazon etc will pipe the same content directly in to your nice warm front room.

How many other businesses will fall into the trap of the Blockbuster analyst who wrote that “investor concern over the threat of new technologies is overstated”? That was a year before Blockbuster declined to buy Netflix. No doubt his opinion was based on the fact that change was just too inconvenient and customers could be persuaded to stick to the “traditional way of doing things”.

As our speaker pointed out, the traditional music industry spent their energy trying to get the earliest music sharing sites like Napster shut down. While instead, Apple put their budget into developing iTunes – sharing the same content, but addressing the copyright issues. No prizes for guessing which was the right strategy! When it comes to changing customer expectations, the Daleks have it right: resistance is useless.

You can’t stop evolution. Let alone turn the clock back. Yet that’s exactly what some organisations are trying to do.

Our EU (at least for now) partners in France have decided to empower people with the “right to disconnect” from technology after work. So, let’s just think that through….

As our digital strategist reminded us all, consumers increasingly want instant gratification. They don’t switch off at 5, stop buying at weekends or on bank holidays. To thrive, no matter what you do, your customer experience has to be outstanding – acceptable response times to queries are increasingly measured in minutes not hours, let alone days.

If I was a Belgian, French speaking business I’d be rubbing my hands with glee. Suddenly those nice people in Paris have given me a competitive advantage. I’m open for business when those people over the border log off at 5.01. And don’t log back on until 8.59 the next day.

And that’s just the start of it. Other humans are the least of your problems…

Last week the TUC released a report saying Britons did £33.6 billion of unpaid work last year. However, I’d like to suggest there’s another way of looking at it… Especially when you consider that productivity is probably the UK economy’s biggest weakness right now. UK workers (according to the Guardian) are 35% less productive than their German counterparts and 30% behind the US.

That probably explains why UK businesses are increasingly switching to a view that people are employed to achieve outcomes. Not paid to work a set number of hours irrespective of whether the job gets done or not. The salary is to achieve the outcome. In accepting a job, you agree to a fixed amount of money to achieve the outcomes required. Or you walk away.

Those who are highly productive will achieve the outcomes more quickly. Those who are slow will take longer – but can’t expect to be paid more (e.g. overtime) for taking longer to achieve the same results as their more productive colleagues.

Now we get to the real crunch. Productivity and flexibility are crucial to long term success and job security in a 24/7/365 world. Make labour too expensive or inflexible and Artificial Intelligence (AI) is waiting in the wings. Ready to pounce while the TUC and others are “doing a Blockbuster”. Head in the sand, trying to turn the clock back to the good old days of being paid by the hour and doing a 9 to 5 day. And presumably re-introducing half day closing on Wednesdays and shutting all the shops on Sunday.

On which note, a well-known retailer has been in the news for ending the practice of paying enhanced rates for Sunday working. Why is anyone surprised? You can’t charge more for beans or bread on a Sunday than any other day of the week.

As our speaker pointed out last week AI is an increasing reality. Demonstrated by Chatbots that are now answering customer queries 24 hours a day. Queries that would once have been handled by a human. Chatbots are getting better and cheaper almost by the day. That’s the new competition. Not off-shoring or near-shoring using lower paid labour. The competition is now no labour at all.

By making labour more expensive or inflexible the risk is you make Chatbots and their even cleverer successors more attractive. One recent report estimated 250,000 public sector jobs will be lost to technology over the next 15 years. Ah, but I hear you say, people want to deal with people.

Sorry, the research doesn’t back you up. One recent research report suggests 69% of consumers are now happy to engage with technology if it gives them the right answers more quickly. They actually love the sense of solving their own problem.

I’ve said it before: we have to accept that the world has irrevocably changed. We can’t, with our consumer hat on, expect instant service 24/7/365 and then with our employee hat on expect to go home at 5 and switch off. The two aren’t compatible.

Written by Ian Gooden, CEO of Chiumento Group



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