Technology can be a wonderful thing. It has enabled us to fly around the world, to connect us with people on the other end of the globe instantly, and to do things that even ten years ago would have been unimaginable.
The pandemic has showed us how technology can make our world, and our world of work, a better place. The ability to work from home through video conferencing has allowed many of us to stay safe in this difficult time.
Yet we cannot ignore that for every way technology can be used for good, there are also ways for it to be used negatively. This is especially true in the workplace.
The simple fact is that sometimes technology does make jobs worse. It can drive social isolation, insecurity, or exploitation, making it easier for workers to be kept at a distance, dismissed easier or have their rights undermined.
Technology can empower excessive surveillance or work intensity. Many organisations, with more of their employees working at home, are increasingly using technology to surveil their staff. Monitoring technology is also being used by to introduce draconian targets and monitor breaks or down time.
It can also transfer risk from businesses to individuals and be used to undermine traditional workers benefits, as we’ve seen with some gig economy companies.
Tech is even facilitating or encouraging discrimination. Some companies are using Artificial Intelligence for recruitment decisions or monitoring technology, but these technologies are new and are often susceptible to the biases (unintentional or otherwise) of their programmers. This has led to decisions that have disproportionately negatively impacted minorities.
How can we combat this? How can we ensure technology works for us at work, not against us?
Technology must be designed actively to make work better, less stressful, and less dangerous. This has to be achieved through meaningful consultation and comprehensive regulation, such as the right to disconnect.
In the data sphere, workers should be consulted about how their data is used. Algorithmic decision making needs to be simple enough that decisions can be explained, and we need a right to have human review of decision.
“Technology must be designed actively to make work better, less stressful, and less dangerous.”
Nobody is looking to hold back the tide of progress but it’s important that development is made with improving the world for workers in mind, and most importantly is introduced in consultation with those it will be impacting.
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