Last week I attended the European Employment Lawyers Association annual conference in Tallinn, Estonia where one of the subjects discussed was the use of tech in the legal sector. While listening to discussions on auto-drafting, proof reading and disclosure tools I did think back to the first solicitor’s office I attended on work experience in the mid 1990s. There the senior partner had an office with a mahogany leather topped desk (with no computer screen in sight), from which he dictated letters on a reel-to-reel Dictaphone for his secretary to type. With no email address he would receive written correspondence and in a nod to modernity, the occasional fax.
In the intervening years technology has profoundly affected the way in which lawyers work and provide services to their clients and these changes are mirrored across most other sectors and industries. What is more, the rate of change never appears to let up, and no sooner do we become used to a particular technology or system than it is overtaken by a further innovation or development.
Tech provides opportunities for those able to harness new developments, but these opportunities sit alongside the risk for businesses which fail to keep up with these changes, lose their competitive advantage and place in the market. Whether or not business can succeed in meeting these challenges in part depends upon the willingness and enthusiasm of staff to embrace new tech being introduced.
The British author Douglas Adams once observed that people consider anything around when they are born to be ordinary, anything invented when you are between 15 and 35 as exciting and cutting edge, and everything developed after you are 35 as against the natural order of things. Even if not meant entirely seriously, this does touch upon a recognisable human wariness of change. Indeed, following the recent concerns regarding the safety of Boeing’s 737 MAX 8 and MAX 9 airplanes, President Trump complained that modern jets are “too complex to fly.” He added: “I see it all the time in many products. Always seeking to go one unnecessary step further, when often old and simpler is far better.”
So what can employers do to take their employees with them when seeking to incorporate new tech into the workplace?
Firstly, businesses need to be clear on the point of the new tech being introduced and this communicated effectively to employees. It should be introduced with a view to improving productivity, increasing market share and generating revenue either directly or indirectly. If employees cannot see the benefit of the new tools and systems they are less likely to adopt them, reducing the potential advantages which could have otherwise been obtained.
Similarly businesses should avoid introducing new tech for it’s own sake and consider whether it is actually be a benefit or a burden for its employees. To do this employees should be involved at an early stage and their views sought on what new tools could be implemented and how that implementation is carried out.
If you asked an individual to pick 500 products in a vast warehouse in a day armed only with a map it would seem like a thankless and unforgiving task. An app which plots a route around the warehouse passing all of the necessary picking points would make the job easier and more efficient, but employees may be concerned about how the same app can be used to monitor their personal performance and productivity. Clarity is key, and businesses should also be clear with employees about how it proposes to use any the new tech being introduced, emphasising its advantages while also being frank about any management purposes for which it may be utilised.
Finally unless the plan is to use tech to reduce employee numbers, businesses should be clear that the increased use of tech, and AI in particular, need not mean the loss of jobs. Instead businesses should emphasise to employees how tech can be used replace repetitive or basic problem-solving tasks, increase productivity and revenue, while enabling employees to up-skill and focus on more rewarding and engaging work.