The Nimbus Ninety Team takes on the different themes from our most recent summit.Our Work Reimagined summit took place on 5 November, with over 30 speakers and panel members.
This blog series will examine the different themes that ran through the summit, via the responses from different members of the Nimbus Ninety team. Below is the first response: from Shammah, our Junior Editor, who attended the morning sessions.
Perseverance to success
Work Reimagined opened with a reimagining of the path to success in the tech world from Dr Sue Black OBE. She nonchalantly described the shocking experiences of her youth and early adulthood: the death of her mother in her teenage years; dropping out of school at 16; abuse from her ex-husband. By 25, she was a single mother living in a women’s refuge with no money, minimal education and zero prospects.
Sue’s message, however, was one of triumph that resulted from her incredible tenacity and hard work. Supporting her three children whilst completing a degree in computer science, she caught up on the education she had missed in her youth and, remarkably, progressed on to a PhD. Her interest in women in computing led her on to philanthropic endeavours.
Sue campaigned for the restoration of Bletchley Park, gaining the support and friendship of Stephen Fry. The centre of wartime code-breaking was also home to the earliest female computer scientists: of the 10,000 personnel working at Bletchley and its outstations, 7,500 were women. Today, her focus is #techmums, an organisation she founded which offers free digital training for women. Since then, Sue has been awarded an OBE for services to technology and has become the face for women in the sector.
Her story is nothing short of remarkable. In a year that has been characterised by the increase of women at the forefront of tech, business and politics, Sue’s story is a testament to the power of perseverance – for people of all genders. It was a powerful opening for a day pivoted around the future of work: campaigning for equal opportunities may feel lukewarm and stale after almost three decades of third-wave feminism, but Sue reminded us that it is still – more than ever – central to our imagining of work.
Jon Corner, Chief Digital Officer of Salford, is a philanthropist of a different kind. His mission: to drive social impact through digitalising his city. The quarter of a million people living in Salford provide Jon with a sizeable, but not impossible, challenge to open up the tech world to the community. He’s keen to connect people through smart city infrastructure, where every single building is connected and thus, connects its inhabitants.
Media City in Salford is the living, breathing microcosm of this grand ambition: a city that is wholly interconnected and governed by a central control room. It is home to a Barclays Eagle lab, a Vodafone Innovation lab, and January 2019 will see the launch of its 5G IoT network.
For Jon, the motivation behind the project lies in community progress and education. 13% of Salford’s population have never been online, in comparison to London’s 7%. 24% lack all digital skills needed to engage online. He is determined to lead digital education in schools; the problem is the curriculum and finding the teachers for it. This is not peculiar to Salford – it’s a hindrance of national magnitude. Jon suggested that new tech is not a tsunami which will wash away all our infrastructure, but more of a dripping tap: slowly but steadily rising up to our knees and past our waists. Media City stands for the speedboat that will not only save us from drowning, but power us over the waves.
I couldn’t help but think that Media City’s amplified connection, while giving rise to community, is more vulnerable to threat: a cyber hack isn’t confined to one computer, but an entire city’s unified network. I suppose every new technology has two faces on the same coin: tech creates opportunities to increase productivity, efficiency, connectivity - and for more efficient hacking of the connected network. Reaching new levels of connectivity would have to come with multiple safety nets built in, just to make sure.
Bruce Daisley spoke with charismatic benevolence for the modern-day employee. VP EMEA of Twitter and enthusiastic advocate for a healthy work-life balance, he described how email and mobile phones allows work to inch into our personal lives. The pace of work is irreversibly accelerated. Or is it?
His new book, The Joy of Work, gives the 21st-century employee – drowned in “urgent” emails and cursed by over-connectivity – the tools to reclaim their downtime and inject joy back into their work. His argument lies in the need to efficiently maximise creative productivity in an age where tech is suffocating us with more decisions per day than our brains can cope with. It’s not about letting employees laze around; it’s about giving them back their rest and happiness, so they can work better and more creatively than before.
Dolly Parton’s anthem, 9-to-5, has become obsolete in an age where it’s no longer possible to truly disconnect from work and you’re ecstatic if you can leave the office by 5. The working day is longer than ever – and that’s not a good thing. It’s a problem ingrained in our mindsets: if we don’t sit at our desk for 9 hours, we’re not putting all we can into our jobs. Bruce used the example of Charles Dickens to illustrate the need to reimagine productivity: Dickens produced 15 novels, edited a weekly journal, wrote hundreds of short stories, articles, letters and ran numerous social campaigns. He didn’t work afternoons.
It’s time for employers to start looking at output rather than input. Sitting at a desk for 9 hours is no longer a suitable measure for how well someone is working. Working from home is the blessing of the tech age. Going for a walk outside or having a tea break in the afternoon is said to reduce stress by 19% and increase performance by 23%. We all need to sleep more, spend more time with friends, be happier. Bruce gave us the tips for how: it’s our responsibility to power the mindset-shift and reclaim productivity, creativity, and with them, joy. I just hope the employers in the room were listening.
Reimagining the revolution
A new industrial revolution is coming with AI, as Lindsey McEwan, VP & Managing Director from Tealium, explained. He framed AI as being an automating force in work.
The implications of this are huge: AI replacing humans would mean instant connection to a global database of AI “talent”. Imagine doctors updated instantly with the forefront of research, that don’t take seven years and thousands and thousands of pounds to educate. Imagine lawyers that could analyse huge reams of data in seconds, recognise instantly when someone is lying, and have direct access to all past data. It would be a much faster, more accurate, more cost-efficient world.
But this also means that by 2020, 1 billion of us will be unemployable: AI is faster, cheaper and more accurate than a human. And not only will AI impact employability, but it will vastly change interaction with consumers: growth is key to survival, and constant growth is fuelled by consistent loyalty from consumers.
The problems with AI lie in the constant challenge of collecting data and feeding algorithms. Somehow, we use historical data in order to teach AI to predict the future: something doesn’t quite add up there. Any reimagining of work will have to take the pros and cons of AI into account. Robots might be taking our jobs, but they will still need our help to do them properly.
The morning keynotes left us with a reimagining of work that was greater and more disruptive than the sum of its parts. How we work, why we work, even will we work, were all questions raised – but for me, unresolved – by the speakers. To some, careers have given structure and purpose. To others, “work” has been oppressive. If AI relieves us of work, will it liberate us? Or could it rob us of meaning? Closer to home, has the “career” as a mode for denoting success gone too far? Should we work less and play more?
I suppose the question is really about how we can effectively marry productivity and creativity to blur the line between work and play, and elevate work into something which can promise fulfillment. It’s in our hands.