Deloitte's Valter Adão on 'time-plosion' and other drivers of disruptive technology

Valter highlights seven themes central to the conversation around the future world of work.

Speaking at the recent ClarkHouse Data, Digital and Talent thought leadership event, Deloitte's chief digital and innovation officer Valter Adão delivered a riveting presentation about the future world of work and the ideas that are not only driving innovation but are also a cause for concern among business leaders. He noted that the panic around the loss of jobs during the digitization was nothing new. Referring to newspaper clips from as early as 1933, he said that the bad news narrative that comes with advancements in technology is an age-old conversation, which was merely a reflection of human nature. 

"The reality is that workers are challenging the machines that they feel are going to challenge their jobs. But if you look at history, the machines have always won because it made economic sense to do so. Whether or not we as a society are successful depends on how we navigate in this transition," said Valter. 

Here are five ideas that Valter referred to as being key to the conversation around AI and the future world of work.

1 Time-plosion 

Business leaders have the weight of the world on their shoulders and late nights at the office or long meetings can simply seem the norm. It can also be a symptom of always needing to be in control when, as a matter of fact, technology allows for work to happen just as well without them.

"The fact that people are becoming money rich and time poor is one of the main drivers of everything that is happening with technology, for which people will pay a premium if it means they will get an hour back in their day," said Valter. 

"Last week drank 15-year-old whiskey that was made in 12 hours. We are too impatient to wait four years for people to get an education. We want them to learn on the job. CEO executives tenures are shortening dramatically. That's a big theme in the world of business and in our personal lives as well." 

2 The workplace eco-system

Valter said business had to get used to the idea of on-demand employees and flexible work because we are now in an age where it is ludicrous to think that the collective knowledge and effort of employees is enough to get a competitive edge. Because, while the reality is that companies may have a few thousand people that work in-house, there are hundreds of thousands of other people outside that business that understand it and may have ideas that can propel it further forward. 

"Some of the leading organisations are starting to take their internal problems and innovation challenges to the rest of the world. They are leveraging the gig economy and taking people off the balance sheet to gain a competitive edge. I read a stat recently that highlighted how 90 percent of jobs in the US are unconventional jobs. That is where the world is heading," said Valter.

3 The connected workforce

The human is integrated into the human and vice versa so as to create a single organism. The rise of instant messaging, work-related social media, collaboration tools, which are used the fastest growing working population, millennials, mean that traditional work systems may no longer be effective. Instead, companies have to find ways of operating efficiently in this new environment. Valter referred to Amazon's use of AI for tracking people's individual performance and firing for failing to deliver, irrespective of their location.

"That's not a bad thing. I think that, with the traditional work construct of having bums on office seats, there are a lot of unproductive employees that do not add value but are hiding in plain sight."

4 Lifelong learning

Valter said that, with the plethora of online learning platforms, organisations will not be able to keep up with the learning needs of individuals. As it stands employees don't necessarily depend on organisations to provide learning and development. It, therefore, makes more sense for employees to rather be given a stipend from the organisation so that they can get their own learning sorted out, whether that be through LinkedIn, the Khan Academy or other platforms. 

"But with individuals not being able to disconnect from their work, they are going to have to also learn to separate their time for learning from their time for work," said Valter. 

5 The longevity quotient

One key thing to note when it comes to adoption of AI and automation is that different countries have contrasting circumstances that will guide their approach. In South Africa, for instance, Valter said having young unskilled and, in some instances, unemployable workforce, was a major hindrance. 

On the other hand, he said South Africa was similar to the rest of the word when it comes to having an ageing skilled workforce whereby the challenge is finding ways to pass those skills onto younger generations. He also said there was a big question around the construct of retirement and whether the current norms and expectations are still valid given changes in life expectancy, health and wellness and so forth.

"In South Africa, a lot of the jobs that are going to soon be automated make up the lion's share of the labour force. Also, we hold 0.8 percent of the world's population but 3.5 percent of the worlds unemployed population," said Valter adding that South Africa was now the world's most unequal society, making it even more difficult for executives to move forward with the adoption of technology in the workplace, which is likely to exacerbate the unemployment problem. 

6 Sustainability 

Finally, Valter referred to the construct of sustainability, not just with regard to the environment but also in terms of social sustainability, which includes things like organisational purpose, culture and transparency, among other things, which impact the extent to which employees and customers are starting to dictate the behaviour organisations. Last year, for instance, Google faced an organised walkout of 20 000 workers who protested the company’s handling of sexual harassment allegations.

7 More jobs in the long run

Ultimately, Valter said the advent of technologies would enhance economic velocity by putting more money in the market, driving wages higher, which in turn would have secondary and tertiary effects that would create further growth. 

"There are jobs that are going to be created that do not even exist. Because, if are going to be creating molecular whiskies in 12 hours, that is going to create a whole subindustry.”

Also, as technology takes over the execution of more tasks, there will be an increasing need for people with emotional skills who are experts in empathy, communication and compassion. Furthermore, the rise of applications like Uber, Hey Jude and, in South Africa, Sweep South, have opened the door to exponential micro-job opportunities and micro-entrepreneurs by people offerring alternative way to earn a living.