Special feature (part 2): Telepresence technology may cost many jobs in future

Before robots enter the workspace, a huge uptake of remote work is likely, reports Kate Ferreira.

According to Richard Baldwin, author of The Globotics Upheaval, telepresence technology may cost many jobs in future. Among his mildly terror-inducing predictions is the idea that companies will move jobs to cheaper locations and use telepresence enabled by screens and robots where presence is needed. He points to innovations like EmBot, a humanoid robot that can move about in an office and shows live video of a person elsewhere who can function as a “telemigrant”.
 
Before robots start cruising the halls and boardrooms, we are likely to see a huge uptake of remote work. Thabo Mofokeng is a property expert from Gyro Group. Speaking at the Finance Indaba in October 2018, Thabo gave localised data for the remote work trend, arguing that the increase in laptops, mobiles and 3G usage mean that big companies are already reducing their square footage. Absa, for example, has reduced their property portfolio size by just under a third. This presents a cost saving for the company and time savings for employees.

Read more: Technology is reducing office spaces and potentially saving jobs
 
A 2017 Dimension Data survey found that already about 42 percent of South African companies have employees working from home full-time, and 67 percent say that they will have employees working from home full time within the next two years.
 
Without your boss standing over you, how effective are you? And as a team leader, have you built up the trust and independence in your team so they are empowered to work without your immediate supervision? These will become critical attributes in a remote work world, and all speak to matters of ethics, trustworthiness, motivation, and how we manage staff.
 
Additionally, HR experts argue that managing people today and in future requires embracing (not just tolerating) diversity on every level – age, gender, race, work styles, personality types, and so on. There is no cookie-cutter worker anymore, and this necessitates throwing out the cookie cutter-rule book for managing staff. Here is where your emotional intelligence or EQ will need to come to the fore (See Part 3: Developing your soft skills to stay relevant).
 
Not all of Baldwin’s predictions strike fear. Rather the book tries to distinguish between fundamentally human skills and those replicable by technology in order to point out our human niche in the workplace. The dawn of the age of computers may have seen us move from hand work to head work, but in future, Baldwin argues, we will be doing more and more heart work, like exercising compassion and creativity.

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