- Jul 7 2017
Why a Dialogue on the advent of intelligent robotics in the workplace?
Neil Barrett: Over the last few years, the number of media articles, reports and academic papers on robots in the workplace has exploded! Most of these focus on questions around how many jobs will be lost to automation, how many will be created, what types of roles will be affected and how soon. All of these are important questions that policy makers and organisations must get to grips with. However, there is another key question which is getting very little attention but is hugely important to Sodexo as an employer of 425,000 people and an organisation that serves millions of people daily in the workplace. Put simply: from the perspective of the quality of life of workers, what do we need to do to prepare for the arrival of intelligent robotics in the workplace?
What was the Institute’s approach?
Thomas Jelley: Our starting point was to think about intelligent robotics in a practical sense, as things that help us to carry out tasks and deliver services, as workplace ‘tools’. This approach led us to the main discussion points that we explored in Singapore: What is the essence of our historical relationship with the tools we use? How is it changing with the advent of intelligent robotics? Are these changes different from those we’ve seen with past technological change? What future scenarios can we envisage? How desirable are they in terms of workforce quality of life? How might we reach them?
How did the Dialogue expert participants respond?
Neil Barrett: What I appreciated the most was participants’ insistence that we should not frame the discourse in terms of ‘loss’ or ‘replacement’ but instead ‘value’. In particular, what is the value to workers of their roles and tasks being supported and enhanced by intelligent robotics? If we start from this perspective, I think we stand a far greater chance of successfully preparing for the advent of intelligent robotics in the workplace.
What is an Institute Dialogue?
A Dialogue is a research format that helps us to gather and develop insight, it’s a round-table of internal and external guests with relevant knowledge and experience from a variety of backgrounds that we convene to explore a shared challenge. The benefit for Sodexo comes from the diversity of organisations and sectors represented; it’s not a client, public relations or sales event. Since 2014, Dialogues have taken place in London, Washington DC, Paris, Ottawa, Mumbai, Brussels, Santiago and now Singapore.
How can we prepare for a successful integration of intelligent robotics in the workplace from an employee quality of life perspective? With expert insight drawn from academia, healthcare, civil society and business, the Sodexo Institute for Quality of Life held a round-table ‘Dialogue’ on 23 May in Singapore to explore the topic. The Institute’s report is expected later this year but here we catch up with Neil Barrett, Group SVP Corporate Responsibility, a sponsor of this Dialogue, and Thomas Jelley, of the Sodexo Institute for Quality of Life, for a preview.
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