Gaddings Dam

Is my job going to be computerised?

One of the questions I’ve been pondering during my work on the Productive Workplace has been the question of how many job types will still exist in the future with many being wholly or partially automated through computerisation. There’s no point in creating a workplace for an activity that’s been automated after all.

It’s clear that different jobs will be affected in different ways. Some things that humans do today can already be done more effectively by a machine; other things are more of a challenge to the machines.

Carl Frey and Michael Osborne from Oxford University have undertaken a study to try to predict what they impact might be:


(We refer to computerisation as job automation be means of computer-controlled equipment)

In this study they assessed 702 different occupations (in the US) and assigned to them a probability of being computerised. From this they estimated the number of jobs that would be affected by that probability. The headline result was that:

“about 47 percent of total US employment is at risk”.

The probability of computerisation is based on a number of current bottlenecks: perception and manipulation, creative intelligence, social intelligence.

Computerisation Bottlenecks

The higher the need for these skills the less likely it is to be automated. We need to be clear here that a bottleneck is simply that, it constrains entry, it doesn’t eliminate it. The other aspect of bottlenecks is that it’s not permanent and will be eroded over time. Technology is moving forward at a rapid pace and areas currently high in bottlenecks will be affected by other areas where bottlenecks are less impacting.

The results of this assessment for the US population are as follows:

Probability of Computerisation

This is a massive simplification of the work that they have done, but it’s enough to give clear indications of where the impact is heading.

Jerry Bowles has recently published on a utilisation of this study which assessed its impact in European countries (the original was US). This suggests a different impact for different European countries based on the mix of jobs and their susceptibility to computerisation.

As you can see countries in Northern Europe are less susceptible to those in the South because of the mix of jobs.

From a personal perspective, while my actual role isn’t defined in the appendix of the report similar jobs are, and they appear in the low probability section which would align with what I understand. Although, there is much of my current role that will be heavily affected by computerisation.

If you’d like more information you can, of course, read the study, alternatively you might like to watch this:

Sally's Cottages

Productive Workplace: Getting Out of the Office

Recently a holiday cottage company in the English Lake District decided to take their work out of the office, and up a mountain:

We decided to take our business to new heights this week by moving to the top of Blencathra to encourage Brits to get outside this summer.

Our team were fed up with looking at the lovely weather from inside our Keswick building, so we packed up and re-located our office equipment up the 2,850ft-high mountain. Desks, phones, lamps and computers were set up and staff settled in for business as usual.

This got me thinking about the times when we should really get out of the office to do work. When I say office here, I’m meaning the place where you do most of your work, that place that sees most of your time, particularity if most of your time is spent sedentary looking at a screen.

There are huge benefits to being in a different place; there is even more benefit if that different place requires some physical exercise.

A colleague and I occasionally go on walking meetings. These aren’t just wandering around meetings, we go on a walk around a reservoir or up a hill. The flow of blood that the walking creates really helps the mental stimulation and being outside changes the nature of the conversation.

We all recognise the saying:

“If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.”

Henry Ford

If you want something different then do something different. If you’re not being productive where you are, you should go somewhere different. Perhaps you should take you’re office up a mountain?


Crummock Water

Productive Workplace: Some Observation

Having finished a set of posts on the Proactive Workplace, based on the future skills that we are likely to need, I thought I would list some of my observations that may not be directly reflected in the other posts:

  • The traditional office is already dying – fewer and fewer people feel the need to go into the office to do their work. They can work where they choose to work. This causes much anxiety in many organisations as they try to work out whether people are really working.
  • Collaborative spaces are increasing in importance – if people are going to meet face-to-face it will be to collaborate. The cost of that collaboration is very high, because it now includes travel, so they want it to be highly productive. The space needs to enable the best possible collaboration.
  • Virtual still isn’t the most productive – people still want to get together to interact; they recognise high performing spaces when they see them. The virtual alternatives are still not intuitive enough to be a full replacement.
  • Flexibility is hugely important – it’s my personal view that most offices are built for the convenient of the people managing them, not for the flexibility of the people using them, but it’s the flexibility that facilitates the productivity. Flexible may be more costly but it’s also massively more valuable.
  • The screen isn’t as important as I think it is – I work on screens, they’re what I look at all day. Many of the workplaces that I have looked at use a diverse set of media – the whiteboard and the post-it note is becoming more important, not less.
  • It’s all changing – what I do today, and how I do it, is going to change. The change may well make me redundant in that activity. Even if it doesn’t make me redundant I’m likely to do it in a different way using different tools which require different spaces.
  • We’re not ready for the change – most of us struggle to cope with amount of information that work creates today, the work of the future is going to require us to behave differently, and we haven’t worked out how yet.
  • Place of flow are going to be a key differentiator - many of the future activities, much like many of today’s,  are going to require deep focus and concentration – flow. Those places are likely to have different characteristics dependent upon the individual. They will be treasured by the individual and fiercely defended. If organisations want people to collaborate they are going to have to provide both collaboration spaces and flow spaces.
  • Meetings are being reshaped – people are using many different techniques to gain value from a meeting. Techniques initially conceived in software development are being adopted across all sorts of fields, the same with techniques created in car design.
  • Networks of people will create the value – the people interacting in a workplace are unlikely to all be employed by the same organisation. Many more people will be sole-traders or acting as part of a network of people. This becomes another driver for workspace flexibility.

Another video on the Future of Work:

In the way to Gaddings Dam

Productive Workplace: Virtual Collaboration Spaces

Virtual collaboration – ability to work productively, drive engagement, and demonstrate presence as a member of a virtual team

Over the last week I have spent 24 hours on teleconferences as a member of a virtual team, this has been a quiet week for teleconferences.

I have also responded to many emails and instant messages.

Between those activities I have also contributed to collaborative spaces where the team members are spread across the globe.

Of the 20 or so people sat in the same office as myself today I won’t work with any of them and there are far more desks than people.

I could, and sometimes do, do this job in a local coffee shop, at home, in the garden there are only a few restrictions stopping me working up a mountain or at the beach.

What I do isn’t unusual, it’s quite normal for many people, particularly those in large global organisations, but it wasn’t always like that.

A bit of historical perspective.

What we regard as the standard place of work, the office, has probably only existed since the 1730’s so it’s less than 300 years old. We needed these places of work because we were bound by two things primarily.

The first constraint was the machine; we needed to go into the factory because that was where the machine was that we were operating. This is still mostly the case, but the number of people needed to look after the machines is radically reducing as automation takes over.

The second constraint that meant people went into places of work was communication. In order to process an order, as an example, the piece of paper needed to be walked around an organisation. If you wanted to get a set of people to work on something you needed to have a face-to-face meeting and a common place of work so that you could work together. That communication restriction no longer exists, we all have a myriad of communication mechanisms – video-conference, audio-conferences, web-conferences, instant messaging, email, collaborative workplaces, on-line forums, social media, the list goes on.

People are now in a position to choose where they work and many choose to work from home unless there is a specific reason for them to be in an office. This is killing off the traditional office as a standard workplace.

If we’ve all gone virtual already, why does virtual collaboration appear in a list of key skills for 2020?

There is a dichotomy and that is this:

We have a lot of virtual collaboration tools available to us, but we are still very poor at virtual collaboration.

Some of the reasons that we are poor at virtual collaboration is down to the current tools available. I’ve just listened to a colleague spend 15 minutes getting everyone together into a virtual meeting between two organisations. The delay was down to a couple of technical issues for a couple of the key attendees at the meeting. Anyone who has been involved in any virtual meeting will recognise this experience. I wonder how many minutes of hold music are played internationally every day?

My view, though, is that the biggest issue that we have with virtual collaboration is ourselves.

One of the big selling point for virtual meetings is the reduction in travel costs. Back in 2008 Verizon estimated this as between 5 and 35 times cheaper. I argued at the time:

When it comes to virtual meetings I have to admit to being something of a cynic. My issue isn’t with the cost savings of moving meetings virtual – my issue is with the diminished value of these meetings.

I don’t think that anyone would argue with me that any virtual platform – video or audio – detracts from the value of the meeting. This results in meetings that are protracted in length and tend to communicate at a very high level. Any discussion that has required a deep understanding or close collaboration has been, in my experience, a failure.

With all of these limitations I wonder whether the value of many virtual meetings is so low as to make them more expensive than face-to-face meetings.

This is still, to a large extent, my viewpoint.

What has changed in that intervening period has been an explosion in the belief that meetings produce work, and because virtual meetings are free then we can get lots of work done by having lots of virtual meetings.

In a quote from Leadership Freak:

Remember, you don’t get anything done in a meeting. Things get done after meetings.

The time to value ratio of meetings continues to degrade at a pace, which is a shame, because meetings have always been a fundamental part of commerce, they are deeply engrained in all societies. In the words of Tom Peters:

Every meeting that does not stir the imagination and curiosity of attendees and increase bonding and co-operation and engagement and sense of worth and motivate rapid action and enhance enthusiasm is a permanently lost opportunity.

Getting to the purpose of this post in this series on the productive workplace; virtual collaboration is massively impacted by the locations we choose.

As video becomes more prevalent this is going to become a greater issue, there are plenty of people who will have to start smartening up to go to work, but it’s more than that, lighting has a big impact on video quality. Even for conference calls, external noise is an issue. One of my best friends is the mute-all key-combination, anyone dialled in from Starbucks generally needs to be catapulted from the call.

People talk about having IT systems that are as reliable as the dial-tone, if only mobile calls were as reliable as that.

Distraction is another huge issue for virtual collaboration. How many times have you heard someone say “Sorry I missed that, can you say it again.” While this might seem like it’s productive for the person being distracted it’s a huge productivity pull on the people who they are collaborating with.

Many people choose to participate in virtual collaboration from home precisely because this the place with the best lighting and sound; not everyone is in this privileged position though.

Some interesting videos, though this subject doesn’t seem to be one that people produce interesting videos for:




Wild Orchids

People and Relationships are the only Differentiation

One of the things that I get involved in are discussions on differentiation.

How can we make ourselves stand out from the crowd?

As someone in a technology organisation people constantly want to talk about functionality and widgets.

(I tend to use widgets as a generic term for all sorts of technical stuff)

There’s lots of angst in these discussion about price and getting the balance right between high quality high cost widgets and lower cost widgets.

Many of these conversations are driven by bids where we are being scored on functions and pricing that we offer.  I’ve been convinced for some time that these things are now baseline issues. The price has to be about right, the functions have to be about right, but the reality is that these things rarely set anyone apart from the crowd.

What does differentiate are the people that the customer gets to see and the level of relationship that they manage to build.

This following video sums it up really well: