Episode 2: The rise of the ‘super team’
While the rise of AI in the workplace might have once sent shivers down the spines of employers and employees alike, it now elicits curiosity. We know an AI and tech-enabled workforce is inevitable, so how can we use it to our advantage?
People aren’t so afraid of robots taking over their jobs these days. Instead, they want to learn how they can eliminate some of the mundane drudgery of work for the human workforce. This has given rise to the term ‘super teams’ – a strategic combination of human and digital capabilities working together to bolster one another and increase output.
In this episode, Deloitte’s Pip Dexter, partner, Human Capital, speaks with host James Judge about Rob and April – two unlikely additions to an organisation. They’re on the organisational chart. They’ve got work that’s distributed to them each week. They’ve got managers responsible for developing them. But they’ve not got a heart beat. Rob and April are two digital workers utilised by the Australian defence force.
Find out more about this interesting case study and hear Pip’s thoughts on how we can best use technology in a remote work environment, its impact on our mental health and much more.
“If we start to use data in order to make decisions about individuals, we’re straying into the unethical use of data… [big data] becomes valuable is when you look at collections of data in aggregation and you can start to see trends.” – Pip Dexter, partner, Human Capital, Deloitte.
Bullet points of key topics & timestamps
- An introduction to super teams: a hybrid human/digital workforce [00:04:49]
- How employers use technology to make remote work more effective [00:10:15]
- Managing concerns about the rise of big data [00:17:47]
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Read the full transcript here
James [00:00:08] Hello and welcome to ‘HR in the driver’s seat’, a podcast for HR professionals and leaders looking for helpful insights and advice to shape their future workforce strategies.
My name is James Judge, I’m a human resource and organisational development specialist, a commentator in these fields, and a content creator – and I’ll be guiding you through this limited series and introducing you to our stellar line-up of guests who’ve got plenty of practical tips and insights to share with you.
This series is brought to you by LeasePlan, saving you time and money, and keeping you mobile.
James [00:00:48] Technology has infiltrated our lives in such a profound way that it’s almost impossible to imagine how we operate without it. In a workplace context technology has given us the opportunity to connect global teams, to work in superhuman ways and to continually elevate our output. But with that comes a unique set of challenges.
So how should HR professionals and leaders be preparing for this? And how can we leverage the technology that’s available today to complement rather than overshadow the human workforce? That’s exactly what we’re talking about today with our special guest, Pip Dexter.
Pip is a National Leader of Deloitte’s Human Capital Practice and a member of the consulting executive team. Pip and her team combine technology with the human experience to unlock innovation and create meaningful work. Pip, thanks so much for joining us today.
Pip [00:01:38] James, it’s so great to be here. Thanks for having me.
James [00:01:41] Pip, the impact of technology on the way we work has been profound and seems to be accelerating. I think most of us have moved beyond the fear of robots taking our jobs. Many organisations and leaders now seem more interested in how innovations in technology can assist rather than replace workers. What are your thoughts here?
Pip [00:01:58] Look, I think that there are still a few people out there who have a fear and that’s completely natural. You know, we always fear things that are changing and the advance of technology is definitely going to have an impact on the way we work and the way we live.
But, you know, we’re still on an evolutionary path with technology. And I’m seeing that a lot of people are really interested now in understanding how they can use it at work. I mean, we see how technology changes the way we live at home and so we’re starting to think about it – surely it can make our lives a bit easier at work.
I think what’s interesting, though, is that a lot of people have started focusing on automating work itself and they actually forget about whether that makes a difference.
So I just want to bring that to life for you in a little bit of an example. Often we work with clients and they’re trying to understand how to use this technology and they’ve heard about robotic processing and they think, actually, you could make my life a lot easier and get rid of some of the drudgery at work. And so they start automating work without thinking about what the outcome is that drives it.
So one client, they were doing loads of manual work. People would fill in forms and then they would send it off to a centre to process those forms. And they started to think about, well, you could actually get technology to read these forms and then put it in the centre. Now, what was interesting was when we worked with them on this, they got to a point where they were like, why are we even getting people to handwrite forms anymore, and it actually changed the process. And so I think that one of the key things that we need to think about is that it’s not just about automating work but actually redesigning the way we work to ensure it drives better values and outcomes.
James [00:03:55] And from what you said, it seems that when some organisations go down that route of automation, it makes them take a deeper look at how the job’s been designed and how the processes are put together.
Pip [00:04:06] Well, that’s the key, so one of my colleagues talks about Mouse Trap 2.0. And, you know, the challenge is if you’re just automating the work, you are actually going to, you know, you’re not going to get a better outcome because you actually need to sit back and reflect – actually what is the value that we’re trying to drive here and how can we actually redesign work? And what does that mean for both the technology and the humans involved in that process in driving a better outcome?
James [00:04:36] So this idea of leveraging the best parts of technology and human expertise has given rise to this buzzword, super teams. Can you perhaps unpack that for us and tell us why it’s important for HR?
Pip [00:04:49] Yes, absolutely, we love a buzzword, don’t we? So, super teams, which simply means the combination of human and digital workers.
When we see organisations doing this, well they actually personify digital workers and give them a name. They think about the way they distribute work. Teams might meet in the morning and then think about who and how that work gets done. And they distribute that amongst the human workers and the digital workers in their teams.
Now, some of the most mature super teams are also thinking across the whole ecosystem. So they’re thinking about human workers in their many forms – so they could be employees, people in the gig economy or contingent workers, as well as digital workers.
So why is this important for HR? Well, this is actually changing the way work gets done in organisations. And so it’s absolutely critical for HR to be part of this, they’re a key enabler around it. Now, it’s really important, I think, that HR plays a very proactive role, not just with IT, because that’s probably the worst thing if this sits just in the purview of IT, but they need to work with business leaders because at the end of the day, the reason why we’re redesigning work is to drive better outcomes for that business.
James [00:06:16] Pip, one of the things we ask every guest in this series is whether you have an interesting case study you wanted to share – a novel approach to using technology that you’ve come across that you believe will work well in a post-COVID environment. You’re going to talk a bit about the Defence Force, specifically the Army, right?
Pip [00:06:32] That’s correct, so we’ve got a team who’ve been working with the Australian Army since June 2019, particularly with the Army establishment team. And they have been working around how to actually improve the outcomes of that Army establishment team by utilising humans and machine teams.
Now, what I like about this is that they have already implemented what we call automation assistance and the way they think about this work, they actually gave their two automation assistants names, Rob and April. And these digital assistants have actually got rid of a lot of the highly transactional work in this team and have meant that the humans in the team now have more time to help problem solve, or they’re actually – their freed up capacity means that they’re out helping upskill other people across the Army.
So often, organisations are capacity constrained in how much they can do. And so the rise of these digital workers enables businesses and organisations like the Army to get more done. And it’s freeing humans up to do the more interesting, more value-added work.
James [00:07:47] So I’m fascinated to know more about Rob and April. How do they actually integrate them into the team?
Pip [00:07:52] It is really fascinating – so I think the fact that the Army has embraced these automation assistants and made them part of the team really helps bring digital workers to life. They go as far as putting digital workers on their org chart. So you can see in a team that Rob and April are there, they think about the work that needs to be done. And so there are certain parts of their work, especially the transactional process that on a daily and weekly basis that Rob and April need to do. Human members of the team are actually responsible for the development of Rob and April. So they review the work that Rob and April do. They analyse that to see if there are ways to improve that work. And so then effectively they’re programming these automation assistants so that they continue to learn.
And as the automation assistants become more intelligent, then the human team is able to offload more work to Rob and April. So I think when I think about this and the use of human and digital workers, that’s the true meaning of a super team. And it enables us to do more than we imagined by having these digital workers alongside us.[SPONSOR MESSAGE BEGINS]
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James [00:09:49] Pip, in other episodes in the series, we talk about how many organisations now have their employees working remotely, at least some of the time, which has resulted in employees gaining a new found work-life balance. Now, tech obviously plays a huge role in making remote work possible. But apart from video conferencing, can you share some other innovative ways employers are using technology to make the remote working experience more effective?
Pip [00:10:15] One of the challenges, I think that’s been the biggest shift, and I’ve experienced this moving to remote working, is that we’ve lost the time and the experience of learning from others or watching others. And so in many organisations, or if you just think for your own personal experience, this has probably been one of the biggest losses in remote working because I no longer see how Jack works or I no longer overhear that conversation.
So what some teams are doing very well through the use of collaboration tools is saying that there’s time when we do synchronous work, and it isn’t necessarily about having a meeting, but we might all turn on our video, turn on the chat and talk about what we’re doing.
The other thing that I’ve seen works really well – we work with an organisation called Edcast, which does lots, it’s a learning experience platform, you can start to put links to appropriate learning into the team chat. And so I think this is what’s really interesting because we know as humans we learn by doing and we learn by seeing others. And so if we can actually start to mimic that sort of human experience in a remote environment, then people continue to learn in the flow of work.
James [00:11:37] Okay, what about well-being? There have been some interesting studies lately around Zoom fatigue, showing how it can adversely impact health. How and where do you think technology can play a role in either a positive or negative way on employee well-being?
Pip [00:11:52] Well, I think this is probably one of the biggest challenges of our times and I think the jury is probably a little bit out. And for me, it comes down to your own personal discipline.
If I think about technology, it certainly can help me to be a lot healthier. It can help me to sleep better. There are many things that technology enables me to do. But as we’ve seen since we moved to remote working, most workers are now spending an extra 45 minutes per day at work because, you know, we no longer work from home but we live at work. So I think it’s a massive challenge for us. And I think it comes down to personal discipline and it’s about setting some boundaries.
Some organisations are thinking about creating boundaries for people and turning off certain technology and things. But I don’t think – that’s a little bit of a draconian way, I think we need to encourage people and give them choice and empower them to do things. But I think we all need to learn and have some self-discipline about how we best use technology.
James [00:12:59] Yes, I wouldn’t disagree with that, but I’ll just pose another question back to you. And it comes out of some of the conversations I’ve been having with senior leaders, and apart from their own personal boundaries, there may be organisational expectations around, say, turnaround of work or responding to messages. And in fact, we had a bit of a conversation about this before we turned on the microphones today and people being in back-to-back Zoom meetings, being accessible via direct messaging, whether it’s Slack or via Teams, meaning that response times have shortened and senior execs expect things faster, quicker. And my personal view is that that’s not sustainable in the long-term in terms of well-being, would you accept that?
Pip [00:13:44] I totally agree with you and I experienced that myself. And sometimes, you know, it’s amazing, I can text someone, I can put them on Teams, I can email them, etc. But we’re probably doing all of ourselves a disservice if we do respond too quickly.
And I think it’s actually, again, about setting boundaries. I thought of an example today where someone had brought something to me that they wanted to look at today. They needed an answer and it was like, could we not go back tomorrow? You know, let’s be human about this. And I think that’s part of it. So as humans, we need to set boundaries. And if you provide those boundaries, I think most people accept them.
James [00:14:29] Yes, there’s another story that a particular leader shared with me a couple of months ago. And you talked about having a 4, 5, 6 rule in his organisation. Have you heard of that one before?
Pip [00:14:40] No, I haven’t.
James [00:14:42] Let me share it with you. So his approach was no meetings after 4:00PM, nothing to be signed after 5:00PM and nobody in the building until 6:00PM. And I thought it was just a lovely way of setting some rules for that particular organisation.
Pip [00:15:00] I like that. I think you need to give – people are looking for some guidelines, but then they need to make choices around that.
James [00:15:09] Okay, I wanted to ask you about the rise in AI and the link with less meaningful work opportunities. So industries that we thought were once untouchable to AI, such as architecture, music and writing, for example, have proven to be not so safe. How should employers be preparing for this?
Pip [00:15:28] I think this is a great question. And I think there are a couple of different things here. I think, firstly, a lot of people are initially resistant to technology and these sorts of things. And what we’ve found whenever we work with organisations is that for the first two weeks when we are introducing new technologies, which might automate, work or improve the way work gets done, people are resistant.
Then after about two weeks, they see that this can actually take away the drudgery. It can actually allow them to do more interesting work, and I think would be an interesting question back to some architects and others to say actually, how has this helped you? Has it meant that it has opened up new possibilities for you to be more creative, because that’s what we’re finding working with clients.
The other thing, though, that I think is really important, is that it is a trigger to ensure that you’re using technology ethically and responsibly. And so we need to make sure that we deploy these new technologies in an ethical and responsible way, that we think about how we utilise data, that we protect the rights of the workforce. And so I think that’s a really important aspect when we are introducing these new technologies into our workplace.
James [00:16:58] Do you have any further thoughts on that? I didn’t have a question on privacy or confidentiality, but is that something you’d be prepared to share some ideas around?
Pip [00:17:05] Look, I think the first thing that’s important, and I think for all leaders and HR leaders who are embarking on this journey, is to make sure that you build up your – what I call – digital capabilities. And so one of those is understanding what is emerging technology. Another one is all around the use of data, and that includes the whole aspect of ethics, ethical decision-making, using data and technology. It’s also around collaboration. So I think these are important things to skill yourselves upon.
James [00:17:41] And Pip, what can HR professionals do to allay employee fears of how data might be used?
Pip [00:17:47] Another great question, because I think lots of people are really worried about the rise of big data and what it means for their personal privacy. And I think if we start to use data in order to make decisions about individuals, we’re straying into the unethical use of data, and data needs to be very clear about what the policies are within their organisations, what data is being used and how it’s being used, and essentially where it becomes valuable is when you look at combinations of data in aggregation and you can start to see trends, and these might help inform decisions or provide some guidance. But ultimately, the decision-making needs to rest with the leaders in the organisation.
So I think one of the best things that people can do – I’m a full believer in transparency, and through transparency comes trust. So something that HR professionals could do very simply to allay people’s fears is to share what their data policies are and how they plan to use them.
James [00:18:55] Right, so it’s about communication. And what do you think are the biggest implications AI will have on workforces in the future?
Pip [00:19:02] As I’ve said earlier, it is an evolution and AI is a small acronym for a huge amount of technology. But I think where the biggest opportunity is – it’s less about individual technology and it’s more about the combination of technologies. And when we see that technology enables us to collaborate better with humans.
So what we see is almost three different levels of artificial intelligence. And the first level was where you use technology to substitute the work. And this often happens with a lot of transactional work. Then we see the use of AI for the augmentation of work. And so it actually helps you do work better. And so that’s often the processing of work.
And then the third area is where we see AI helps collaborate with humans and it actually aids better decision-making. And so this is where I think through natural language processing, you actually have an ability to ask a computer a key strategic question. And I think for HR professionals, often you’re thinking about what is that nutty question that I need answered that could help unlock the power of people in our business. And when you’ve got a great AI assistant, it’s able to give you that information and data quickly to help shape your thinking and inform better decisions.
James [00:20:38] So that’s talking at your third level of AI the way you described it. An analogy for this might be if you could do more than ask Siri where the nearest Vietnamese restaurant was or to wake you up in the morning. They are the simple questions we can ask now but you’re thinking of some of the really complex questions and having the AI being able to unlock that data for you.
Pip [00:21:00] Absolutely.
James [00:21:01] And how far are we away from that?
Pip [00:21:03] Well, I think the technology is there, so it’s just about putting the technology in your organisations, starting to develop these assistants so that they understand your business and they can access broader datasets to help you unlock the answers to those big questions.
James [00:21:23] Are there any emerging cutting edge technologies that we haven’t discussed that you think will have a big impact on HR and the world of work?
Pip [00:21:30] I think actually where the power is – and it’s a little bit similar to my answer before – but the power isn’t so much in the individual technology. It’s actually in the integration of multiple technologies and with humans, so that you think about – in order to drive better outcomes in your organisation, how do you combine both the humans with the machines to unlock that potential? And I think that’s probably the most exciting thing for all of us, is that power that sits in the combination.
James [00:22:04] Pip, thanks for coming today. It’s been an absolutely fascinating discussion.
Pip [00:22:07] Thanks, James. And next time I might be meeting with a super team.
James [00:22:12] Yes, in a collaborative space.
Pip [00:22:14] Exactly.
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