My nephew was in our back room not long ago, mapping out the boundaries for his Oculus headset, I assume so he didn’t walk into a wall during gameplay or something. VR headsets have been around for a while, but watching someone wear one is still quite bizarre, would you agree?
This got me thinking…
With time, things that once seemed bizarre can become completely normal. I should imagine people thought of it as bizarre when they saw someone watching a television for the first time, or using a phone without a wire.
But the point of this particular piece is not to talk about the rate of change, or even how terribly clever modern advances in technology are, but to talk about whether technology – no matter how bizarre or futuristic it may seem at first – can help us be more of who we are.
So what is being human? Well… lots of things.
Socialising, communicating, being entertained, eating, sleeping, moving, running, dancing, playing, achieving goals, building things, problem-solving, being outside, travelling, reproducing, the list goes on… Subject to interpretation of course.
Going back to my nephew, at first, it may seem as though wearing an Oculus headset is taking him one step closer to becoming a robot – but – actually, it encourages movement and play, communication, socialising etc. Better for him to be moving about and using his body than squashed into a gaming chair, no?
Some technologies do work against us though. And it’s not just gaming chairs and their effects on posture…
You know those phones without wires that we mentioned earlier? The convenience of being able to do everything from your mobile can sometimes blinker us to what’s going on in the ‘real world’ as well as promote laziness. Social media can become obsessive and cause anxiety, and having takeaway delivered within minutes of clicking a button stops us cooking from scratch, or socialising with people around the dinner/restaurant table.
Don’t get me wrong, a cheeky Nandos delivered when my wife and I are exhausted, and dropping someone a Facebook message to catch up after not seeing each other for years can be lovely, but you can get too much of a ‘good thing’.
Therefore, I don’t consider technologies that encourage convenience over health, or influencers over people, to be technologies that can help us be more human.
Anyway, moving on to the good stuff. In one sentence:
“Good technology removes mundane and fatiguing activities that take us away from who we are, so we can focus on enriching activities that make us more of who we are.”
Adam Shilton – Tech for Finance
At home, there are a number of technologies that can make life easier, help us spend more time with loved ones, and help us make more time for activities that are nourishing and health-promoting.
With everything that’s going on in the world, many people are mentally very unhealthy, and being stuck in our heads, anxious, fearful and stressed means we rarely spend ‘quality’ time with family where we’re truly present. Apps like Headspace, Kalm and even virtual retreats held on Zoom can help us get out of our heads and into the moment with our family.
Instead of shopping all the time and slaving away in the kitchen, subscription food services like Gusto and HelloFresh make it easy to cook from scratch, and quickly, without having to resort to takeaways.
Home assistants can schedule our calendars, give us reminders and build shopping lists without having to scratch around for pieces of paper.
Advancements in fitness equipment mean we can work out more intensely in a shorter period of time, sometimes without ever stepping foot in a gym.
Wearable devices can help us monitor our sleep, our blood glucose and oxygen levels and our heart rate, to see we can focus on maintaining our health, reducing the need for prescription medications.
Improvements in broadband speeds and the ways we communicate enable us to speak with relatives and friends all over the world, further increasing our sense of community and togetherness.
It’s nice to see so many technologies that help make us more human during home life, but what about our often regimented, robotic and relentless work life?
Let’s have a look…
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and his research concluded that we are most satisfied when we enter a state of consciousness called ‘Flow’.
Think about it, how often have you been completely immersed in a task when you’re in the groove, getting things done and enjoying the process, only to be interrupted by something.
Annoying isn’t it.
There’s also a good amount of evidence to suggest that a lot of our distractions, and indeed, a lot of what goes on in our own heads, are just noise.
A big moment for technology was the advent of computerised work instead of paper-based work. Spreadsheets and word processing were useful as they removed our need for calculators and reams of paper, and allowed us to work more quickly and more efficiently, increasing our flow potential.
What happens when you can work more quickly and efficiently though?
Well, you can take on more.
We now live in a world where employees wear many hats, and there’s so much technology available, sometimes it’s the very technology and the sheer number of systems that we use on a day to day basis that ruin our flow potential.
We have to continue to remind ourselves that just because a technology is there, doesn’t mean that it’s useful. Simplicity is the name of the game here…
One of the best things I saw recently was Microsoft’s Viva application – Pretty sure it’s available by default for businesses using Microsoft 365 – It sent me an e-mail with a schedule of what I had on for the day, BUT, also suggested available time for ‘Focus’. This was refreshing, as it was the first time I’d seen an application actively recommending that I carve out time to focus, instead of just showing me where the gaps in my dairy were. It also now goes a step further as it’s got an analytics engine that’ll assess time spent in meetings, e-mail etc, allowing you to make more effective decisions about where your time goes.
So simple, but so effective.
There is, of course, nothing to say that during your focus time that you won’t get distracted, so my recommendation is to go on DND, silence your phone and try and get in the zone. If you’re like me though, and whenever you get a break in consciousness you open a new LinkedIn tab, there are apps and browser extensions that lock you out of web pages and various apps (AppBlock is one I’ve used) between certain times, so there’s literally no way you can distract yourself.
But what happens when the technology we’re using that’s meant to make our working life easier becomes another distraction?
Daniel Pink, in his book ‘Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us’ tells the story of companies like Atlassian and BestBuy that have a ROWE (Results Only Work Environment). This means an employee is paid according to the results they produce, not the number of hours that they work.
Now, we could go down a rabbit hole here and start getting into Tim Ferriss’ ‘4 Hour Work Week’ territory, we won’t do that – But – if you could reduce your working hours and produce the same results (providing you weren’t paid according to hours worked) that would probably mean you’d have more time for activities that fir you up, or allow you to rest and reset, right? You might finally get around to that special project you’ve been wanting to sink your teeth into, you might be able to savour dinner a minute longer instead of demolishing it before putting the kids to bed, you might find an extra 20 minutes to pick up that guitar and get lost in the music or you might finally get around to having a proper date night with your wife or partner. All activities that make us more human…
Delegate, Automate or Eliminate
Anyone that knows about the ‘Eisenhower Matrix’ will be familiar with do, delegate or delete and what we’re talking about here follows a similar vein. Delegation doesn’t necessarily mean passing the work to a human either…
Nowadays, there are loads of intelligent chat facilities, that often use AI & Machine Learning, where you’ll start your conversation with a bot instead of a real person. This acts as a triage, with the bot directing the client towards either related material or a route to being able to self-serve, protecting the time of humans that can then prioritise more urgent and more productive work.
I mentioned home assistants earlier, well, turns out they can also work as personal assistants for work as well. Instead of keeping track of to-do lists, reminders and calendar events manually, schedule an announcement a few times a day on your smart device to tell you what’s on your calendar, what your to-do list looks like and what urgent reminders you need to keep on top of.
So whether it’s a team involved and you’re protecting time, or whether it’s for your own personal organisation, there are plenty of ways to delegate using technology.
On to automation…
When was the last time you sat down and made a note of all of the repetitive work you did on a day to day basis? We know from good old Pareto and his 80/20 principle, that 80% of your results come from 20% of your effort, and I’m willing to bet that the 20% of your time that produces the greatest results isn’t the time you spend updating a report or updating a formula on a spreadsheet… They tend to be results-driven activities that encourage flow.
We’ll focus on two examples here, a salesperson, and a financial controller.
What’s the primary role of a salesperson? Closing Deals – Everything else is secondary. There’s also a good chance that a salesperson feels most human when they’re closing deals. The feeling they get when they win a new client, the sense of achievement they feel when they’re on target…
But when we take a closer look, a large amount of a salesperson’s time is usually spent completing ‘admin’. Whether it’s updating a CRM system, creating a report, writing and re-writing proposals, the list goes on.
How can we automate? Well, we could update our CRM system to make it quicker to enter call and meeting notes. We could use tools that leverage AI to improve our forecasting so we’re spending less time in Excel. We could generate proposal templates that only require minimal tweaks.
What’s the primary role of a financial controller? Controlling Finance – Everything else is secondary. There’s a good chance that a financial controller feels most human when they feel like they’re making an impact on the bottom line, whether it’s ensuring margin is retained, or as much expense is mitigated as possible…
But when we take a close look, a large amount of a financial controller’s time is usually spent completing – you guessed it – ‘admin’ which again, generally involves lots of spreadsheets, lots of data management and lots of time generating reports.
How can we automate? We could update our financial systems so that it takes seconds to report instead of hours. We could use tools that leverage AI to match historic trends against current data, with automatic approvals on transactions that meet the threshold and a different approval for transactions where there’s too much variance. We could build budgeting into our systems and compare budget against performance in real-time.
I’ve deliberately structured the above examples in the same format so you can see how the principle applies to jobs of any type.
Can we take this a step further?
This depends on the task of course, but it could be that you can scrap activities that don’t help you be more of who you are altogether.
Using the salesperson as an example. What’s the point in generating a proposal, if you can give your clients live access to a pricing calculator and associated collateral within an online portal? There’s nothing wrong with making your clients experts.
Going back to the example of the financial controller. What’s the point in generating a report if you can just give your team members access to a live dashboard? No point in sending a report and dealing with a raft of questions when you can just send them a link…
So, can technology make us more human?
When deployed in the right way, technology can allow us to focus on more of what we love, and less of what we don’t.
If you’re feeling like a robot and would like a chat on how you can leverage technology to make your life more enjoyable, don’t hesitate to get in touch.