Festival of Work 2019: highlights from day two

14 Jun 2019 By PM Editorial

Augmented reality, bad management and cyborgs were all part of the concluding day of the CIPD event

The second day of the CIPD Festival of Work was every bit as action-packed as day one, culminating in a trans-species keynote from Neil Harbisson (pictured), a legally recognised cyborg. People Management rounds up the day’s highlights.

Augmented reality is the future of L&D

The plethora of new technology available to L&D professionals is moving from pipe dream to practical reality, according to Andy Lancaster, the CIPD's head of learning and development content.

Lancaster pointed to intelligent curation tools and other forms of AI, as well as chatbot coaches, as significant new developments but said augmented reality was perhaps the most exciting of all: "VR often requires wearables, which can be challenging, but augmented reality is actually really doable."

But, he added, all new technology-led change posed a challenge for learning professionals to shift their own mindsets. "If ever there was a time the L&D profession needed to invest in professional development it's now," said Lancaster. "But 48 per cent of respondents to our recent report were worried about professional development. We're calling that out as a real priority.”

HR needs to get involved in AI

Is AI biased? For Megan Marie Butler, AI analyst at Cognition X, it's a moot point as software can only amplify biases that already exist within an organisation.

And while automated recruitment software is far from perfect, she added, neither are existing hiring processes that rely on highly subjective performance metrics. It's far better, said Butler, to use the vast array of data points at AI's disposal to tweak automated processes so they become more objective.

She urged HR professionals to get involved in the AI evolution: "We need to take on a mindset of trial and error. And we need to realise it's not going to be perfect from the outset and that's OK. Let's play with those datasets. There are so many things we can gain [through AI-driven recruitment] and so many pitfalls too. But that doesn't mean don't do it. It's just about being aware of those pitfalls."

Innovation is everywhere – even in your reward strategy

The concept of being competitive with your reward strategy is generally taken to mean paying people more. We should evolve our understanding to encompass more innovative ideas, said Zara Loughrey, reward director at BUPA.

Loughrey’s business was looking into the concept of 'pay on demand', where employees could draw down their salary – within certain limits – as soon as it was earned, but she also cited more personalised benefits as an important innovation. "Technology will enable us to look at what employees value and, just as importantly, what they don't value. That will help you keep your benefits offering really fresh.”

Paying well, Loughrey added, would always be important but it wasn’t the be-all and end-all: "It needs to be offered alongside the opportunity to grow and develop. We're going to need to look at not just quantity of pay but how it's delivered and what it's for," she said.

Poor managers are bad for your health

The biggest challenge facing the people profession is bad managers, said CIPD president Professor Sir Cary Cooper. “The main threat to people, the most damaging impact in the workplace, is line managers and bosses without any emotional intelligence,” he said. “I’d have a sign outside of every office like you do on cigarettes saying: ‘This manager could be bad for your health.’”

Cooper added technology was presenting both challenges and opportunities. Remote and flexible working, for example, could bring many benefits to employees but also had the potential to lead to isolation and loss of social interaction. "What ends up happening is you send emails to people across the way. We’re losing human contact,” he said.

Technology could change the meaning of diversity

When Neil Harbisson first had an antenna installed on his head to help him perceive colour, he lost his job as a waiter because his employer was worried it would affect customers. “It’s still not normal, but I have a feeling it will be more normal to see people biologically merged with technology,” the cyborg artist told the audience in his closing keynote.

Harbisson said that as more people began to augment themselves with technology, it would have implications in all walks of life, including the workplace. “We will have new scenes and it will create new jobs,” he said.

It would also lead to a new concept of diversity. “Having people with specific organs and senses that are unique to each person will create a diversity which is much, much larger than what we now call diversity, so we as a society need to start getting prepared for this,” Harbisson said.

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