Remote working and ChatGPT fuel rise in people doing multiple jobs on the hush-hush

Conditions have never been more favorable for canny workers looking to make the digital equivalent of hay while the sun shines. 

The work trends precipitated by the pandemic fallout, including a shift to remote working and flexible hours, combined with the launch of generative artificial intelligence, mean that those looking to make a lot of dollars on the sly can do so without fear of incrimination.

The latest findings from the job platform CV-Library revealed that 58% of U.K. workers planned to take on a side hustle this year – and that was only the people being truthful about their ambitions. According to the study, the desire for additional income through secondary employment was driven by job security (62%) and earning more money (38%).

The evolution of measuring productivity from a time-based to an output-based metric, plus asynchronous communications – and not needing to be visible online at all times – make the system ripe to be gamed by over-employed workers. 

As @Oxgaut rather gloatingly posted on Twitter on Apr. 5: “If you’re not working multiple remote jobs with ChatGPT, you’re leaving money on the table.” The accompanying image to the post – also used above – showed an empty swivel chair in front of a James Bond baddie-like bank of 10 monitors showing maps, graphics, and lines of computer code. 

The full version of this article was first published on Digiday’s future-of-work platform, WorkLife, in April 2023 – to read the complete piece, please click HERE.

WTF are chaos monkeys?

Chaos monkey is a term that’s likely familiar to software teams, where it’s known as a tool to test the resilience of IT infrastructures. And with our reliance on technology in the workplace only increasing, ensuring it can perpetually sustain itself is more critical than ever.

But it’s also being applied in a different, broader way across some businesses – to describe either major mindset changes or culture overhauls.

For example, Shopify, the Canadian multinational commerce company, launched its first so-called chaos monkey in early January, when it culled a substantial number of meetings from the calendars of its 11,600 employees. 

Deann Evans, Shopify’s director of EMEA partnerships and expansion, told WorkLife that following the enforced changes, time spent in meetings was down by 33% per employee in the first two months of the year compared to the same period in 2022. And yet, the change, caused a period of havoc for teams as they got to grips with such a different daily structure.

For those who are unfamiliar with the term, here’s an explainer.

The full version of this article was first published on Digiday’s future-of-work platform, WorkLife, in April 2023 – to read the complete piece, please click HERE.

How to create a 25% productivity hike: Lessons from Shopify’s meetings purge

When, at the start of the year, Shopify let loose a so-called “chaos monkey” to disrupt the Canadian multinational e-commerce company’s meeting culture, it was a shock to its 11,600 employees.

Initial panic – how would things possibly be achieved without meetings? – was quickly replaced by relief. And new data proved the move was a delightful surprise overall.

On Jan. 3, Kaz Nejatian, Shopify COO, posted about the calendar purge on Twitter. “Meetings are a bug,” he wrote. “To start 2023, we’re cancelling [sic] all Shopify meetings with more than two people. Let’s give people back their maker time.” 

Critics who questioned the bold decision might wish to stop reading here. However, business leaders with meeting-heavy company cultures are advised to take note, given the overwhelmingly vindicated strategy shift.

Following Shopify’s enforced changes – including “meeting-free Wednesdays” designed to encourage focused work – in research shared with WorkLife in late March, time spent in meetings dropped by 33% per employee in the first two months of the year compared to the same period in 2022. That time saved will equate to a 25% increase in completed projects by the end of the year, the company has estimated.

The full version of this article was first published on Digiday’s future-of-work platform, WorkLife, in March 2023 – to read the complete piece, please click HERE.

Leaders are blindly ignoring the dangers of ‘confidently incorrect’ AI – and why it’s a massive problem

Why don’t scientists trust atoms? Because they make everything up. 

When Greg Brockman, president and co-founder of OpenAI, demonstrated the possibilities of GPT-4 – Generative Pre-trained Transformer 4, the fourth-generation autoregressive language model that uses deep learning to produce human-like text – upon launch on Mar. 14, he tasked it to create a website from a notebook sketch

Brockman prompted GPT-4, on which ChatGPT is built, to select a “really funny joke” to entice would-be viewers to click for the answer. It chose the above gag. Presumably, the irony wasn’t purposeful. Because the issues of “trust” and “making things up” remain massive, despite the incredible yet entrancing capabilities of generative artificial intelligence. 

Many business leaders are spellbound, stated futurist David Shrier, professor of practice (AI and innovation) at Imperial College Business School in London. And it was easy to understand why if the technology could build websites, invent games, create pioneering drugs, and pass legal exams – all in mere seconds.

Those impressive feats are making it more challenging for leaders to be clear-eyed, said Shrier, who has written books on nascent technologies. In the race to embrace ChatGPT, companies, and individual users, are “blindly ignoring the dangers of confidently incorrect AI.” As a result, he warned that significant risks are emerging as companies rapidly race to re-orient themselves around ChatGPT without being aware of – or ignoring – the numerous pitfalls.

The full version of this article was first published on Digiday’s future-of-work platform, WorkLife, in March 2023 – to read the complete piece, please click HERE.

Why the need for leaders to address poor workplace communication is so urgent now

Ineffective communication costs U.S. businesses $1.2 trillion annually, or $12,506 per employee, pointed out by Grammarly Business’s latest State of Business Communication report, published in early March. But are leaders receiving the message that urgent improvement is required? 

The Grammarly Business survey of 251 business leaders and 1,001 knowledge workers suggested connection problems are growing. Time spent on written communication grew 18% compared to 2022, while worker stress levels were 7% higher due to poor communication, and this caused a 15% decline in productivity.

Further, the research, conducted in partnership with The Harris Poll, showed that workers spent over 70% of their working weeks communicating on various channels. Yet 58% wished they had better tools to streamline communication. “Leaders who shrug off the massive impact of poor communication on their bottom line will lose,” argued Matt Rosenberg, Grammarly’s chief revenue officer and head of Grammarly Business. 

Rosenberg said that the results of the second annual report indicated the challenge was growing, causing a “greater impact on everything from operational efficiency to employee and customer satisfaction.” As a result, he urged a rethink of communications strategies. “At a time when the stakes are critically high, leaders who invest in empowering efficient, consistent communication across their organizations will see results and profits climb.”

The full version of this article was first published on Digiday’s future-of-work platform, WorkLife, in March 2023 – to read the complete piece, please click HERE.

Businesses are not putting people in the right jobs – how tech can help

Most business leaders who offer variants of the cliché that “people are the company’s greatest asset” seldom match words with deeds. More worrying, though, is that people are not being matched to jobs in which they can excel – now more than ever. 

Alarmingly, a vast majority of organizations were taking the wrong, outdated approach to managing and developing human capital, argued professor Erik Brynjolfsson, director of the Digital Economy Lab at the Stanford Institute for Human-Centered AI, and arguably the world’s leading expert on the role of digital technology in improving productivity.

“Human capital is a $220 trillion asset in the U.S. – bigger than all the other assets put together, and about ten times the country’s gross domestic product,” said Prof. Brynjolfsson. “The most important asset on the planet is the one we’ve been measuring the worse.” 

As a result, human capital has been “probably the most misallocated asset on the planet. Businesses are not putting the right people in the right jobs; they’re not hiring, firing, and reassigning where they need to be doing it.”

This gloomy analysis is a lose-lose for employer, employee, and society, added Brynjolfsson. “Think of how many people are not in the right job, living lives of quiet desperation,” he said. 

The full version of this article was first published on Digiday’s future-of-work platform, WorkLife, in March 2023 – to read the complete piece, please click HERE.

Stanford professor on the AI skills gap and the dangers of exponential innovation

ChatGPT and its ilk represent a welcome quantum leap for productivity, according to eminent AI expert professor Erik Brynjolfsson. But he adds that such rapid developments also present a material risk

Erik Brynjolfsson is in great demand. The US professor whose research focuses on the relationship between digital tech and human productivity is nearing the end of a European speaking tour that’s lasted nearly a month. Despite this, he’s showing no signs of fatigue – quite the opposite, in fact. 

Speaking via Zoom as he prepares for his imminent lecture in Oxford, the director of the Digital Economy Lab at the Stanford Institute for Human-Centered AI is enthused by recent “seminal breakthroughs” in the field.

Brynjolfsson’s tour – which has included appearances at the World Economic Forum in Davos and the Institute for the Future of Work in London – is neatly timed, because the recent arrival of ChatGPT on the scene has been capturing human minds, if not yet hearts. 

The large-scale language model, fed 300 billion words by developer OpenAI, caused a sensation with its powerful capabilities, attracting 1 million users within five days of its release in late November 2022. At the end of January, Microsoft’s announcement of a substantial investment in OpenAI “to accelerate AI breakthroughs” generated yet more headlines. 

ChatGPT’s popularity is likely to trigger an avalanche of similarly extraordinary AI tools, Brynjolfsson predicts, with a possible economic value extending to “trillions of dollars”. But he adds that proper safeguards and a better understanding of how AI can augment – not replace – jobs are urgently required.

What’s next in AI?

“There have been some amazing, seminal breakthroughs in AI lately that are advancing the frontier rapidly,” Brynjolfsson says. “Everyone’s playing with ChatGPT, but this is just part of a larger class of ‘foundation models’ that is becoming very important.”

He points to the image generator DALL-E (another OpenAI creation) and lists similar tools designed for music, coding and more. Such advances are comparable to that of deep learning, which enabled significant leaps in object recognition a decade ago. 

“There’s been a quantum improvement in the past couple of years as these foundational models have been introduced more widely. And this is just the first wave,” Brynjolfsson says. “The folks working on them tell me that there’s far more in the pipeline that we’ll be hearing about in the coming weeks.”

As much as I’m blown away by these technologies, the bottleneck is our human response

When pushed for examples of advances that could shape the future of work, he reveals that Generative Pre-trained Transformer 3 (GPT-3) – the language model that uses deep learning to emulate human writing – will be superseded by GPT-4 “within weeks. This is a ‘phased change of improvement’ compared with the last one, but it’ll be even more capable of solving all sorts of problems.” 

Elsewhere, great strides are being made with “multi-agent systems” designed to enable more effective interactions between AI and humans. In effect, AI tech will gain the social skills required to cooperate and negotiate with other systems and their users. 

“This development is opening up a whole space of new capabilities,” Brynjolfsson declares.

The widening AI skills gap

As thrilling as these pioneering tools may sound, the seemingly exponential rate of innovation presents some dangers, he warns. 

“AI is no longer a laboratory curiosity or something you see in sci-fi movies,” Brynjolfsson says. “It can benefit almost every company. But governments and other organisations haven’t been keeping up with developments – and our skills haven’t either. The gap between our capabilities and what the technology enables and demands has widened. I think that gap will be where most of the big challenges – and opportunities – for society lie over the next decade or so.”

Brynjolfsson, who studied applied maths and decision sciences at Harvard in the 1980s, started in his role at Stanford in July 2020 with the express aim of tackling some of these challenges. 

“We created the Digital Economy Lab because, as much as I’m blown away by these technologies, the bottleneck is our human response,” he says. “What will we do about the economy, jobs and ethics? How will we transform organisations that aren’t changing nearly fast enough? I want to speed up our response.”

Brynjolfsson spoke passionately about this subject at Davos in a session entitled “AI and white-collar jobs”. In it, he advised companies to adopt technology in a controlled manner. Offering a historical analogy, he pointed out that, when electricity infrastructure became available about a century ago, it took at least three decades for most firms to fully realise the productivity gain it offered because they first needed to revamp their workplaces to make the best use of it. 

“We’re in a similar period with AI,” Brynjolfsson told delegates. “What AI is doing is affecting job quality and how we do the work. So we must address to what extent we keep humans in the loop rather than focus on driving down wages.”

Why AI will create winners and losers 

The risk of technology racing too far ahead of humanity for comfort is a familiar topic for Brynjolfsson. In both Race Against the Machine (2011) and The Second Machine Age (2014), he and his co-author, MIT scientist Andrew McAfee, called for greater efforts to update organisations, processes and skills. 

AI can benefit almost every company. But governments and other organisations haven’t been keeping up with developments – and our skills haven’t either

How would he assess the current situation? “When we wrote those books, we were optimistic about the pace of technological change and pessimistic about our ability to adapt,” Brynjolfsson says. “It turns out that we weren’t optimistic enough about the technology or pessimistic enough about our institutions and skills.”

In fact, the surprising acceleration of AI means that the “timeline for when we’ll have artificial general intelligence” should be shortened by decades, he argues. “AGI will be able to do most of the things that humans can. Some predicted that this would be achieved by the 2060s, but now people are talking about the 2030s or even earlier.”

Given the breakneck speed of developments, how many occupations are at risk of obsolescence through automation? 

Brynjolfsson concedes that the range of roles affected is looking “much broader than earlier thought. There will be winners and losers. Jobs will be enhanced in many cases, but some will be eliminated. Routine work will become increasingly automated – and there will also be a flourishing of fantastic creativity. If we use these tools correctly, there will be positive disruption. If we don’t, inequality could deepen, further concentrating wealth and political power.” 

How to apply AI in the workplace

How, then, should businesses integrate AI into their operations? First, they must avoid what Brynjolfsson has labelled the Turing trap

“One of the biggest misconceptions about AI – especially among AI researchers, by the way – is that it needs to do everything that humans do and replace them to be effective,” he explains, arguing that the famous test for machine intelligence, proposed by Alan Turing in 1950, is “an inspiring but misguided vision”.

Brynjolfsson contends that a “mindset shift” at all levels – from scientists and policy-makers to employers and workers – is required to harness AI’s power to shape society for good. “We should ask: ‘What do we want these powerful tools for? And how can we use them to achieve our goals?’ The tools don’t decide; we decide.”

One of the biggest misconceptions about AI is that it needs to do everything that humans do and replace them

He adds that many business leaders have the wrong attitude to applying new tech in general and AI in particular. This amounts to a “pernicious problem”. 

To illustrate this, he cites Waymo’s experiments with self-driving vehicles: “These work 99.9% of the time, but there is a human safety driver overseeing the system and a second safety driver in case the first one falls asleep. People watching each other is not the right path to driverless cars.”

Brynjolfsson commends an alternative route, which has been taken by the Toyota Research Institute, among others. When he was in Davos, the institute’s CEO, Dr Gill Pratt “told me how his team has flipped things around so that the autonomous system is used as the guardian angel. Creating a self-driving car that works in all possible conditions is tough, but humans can handle those exceptions.” 

With a person making most decisions in the driving seat, the AI intervenes “occasionally – for instance, when there’s a looming accident. I think this is a good model, not only for self-driving cars, but for many other applications where humans and machines work together.” 

For similar reasons, Brynjolfsson lauds Cresta, a provider of AI systems for customer contact centres. Its products keep humans “at the forefront” of operations instead of chatbots, whose apparent Turing test failures continue to frustrate most people who deal with them. 

“The AI gives them suggestions about what to mention to customers,” he says. “This system does dramatically better in terms of both productivity and customer satisfaction. It closes the skills gap too.”

Does Brynjolfsson have a final message for business leaders before he heads off to give his next lecture? “We need to catch up and keep control of these technologies,” he says. “If we do that, I think the next 10 years will be the best decade we’ve ever had on this planet.”

This article was first published by Raconteur, as part of the Future of Work special report in The Times, in February 2023

WTF is learning quotient – and why it matters now

In January, at the World Economic Forum in the Swiss Alps, there was much chat about ChatGPT, OpenAI’s large-scale language model that has been fed 300 billion words to help it generate plausible, passable answers to most questions. An Elon Musk tweet summed up the sentiment for many. “It’s a new world. Goodbye homework!”

With generative AI advanced enough to produce eerily-human text responses, and other related foundational models now able to create music, art, and code, is it time to turn the page on traditional education? Further, is rote learning and cramming for exams, only to forget the key facts instantly afterwards, finished? Granted, it has its place for times tables and languages, but what else, really? 

While some may want to defer answering these uncomfortable puzzlers, speakers on oversubscribed AI-related panels at Davos 2023 heralded LQ as the new IQ.

So what exactly is LQ?

It stands for “learning quotient” – as opposed to intelligence quotient. Essentially, it’s a measure of adaptability and one’s desire and ability to update our skills throughout life.

The full version of this article was first published on Digiday’s future-of-work platform, WorkLife, in February 2023 – to read the complete piece, please click HERE.

Why ‘re-recruiting’ existing employees is critical for 2023

As the long tail of the Great Resignation continues to swish and sting, labor markets contract and economic uncertainty bites, organizations should make every effort in 2023 to hold on to their employees. More specifically, they should “re-recruit” workers already at the company, urged Microsoft’s Liz Leigh-Bowler.

To support the case for re-recruiting, the product marketing leader, based in Epson, U.K., cited the results of Microsoft’s recent global hybrid work survey, which captured answers from over 20,000 employees in 11 countries. Of the many telling statistics surfaced by the report, she said a handful stood out on this subject.

For example, two-thirds of employees would stay longer at their company if it were easier to switch jobs internally. Similarly, 76% of respondents would remain with their employer if they could benefit more from learning-and-development support. 

Unsurprisingly, without growth opportunities, most workers across all levels would depart. Without chances to develop, 68% of business decision-makers would not hang around. Worryingly, 55% of all employees reckoned the best way for them to learn or enhance skills would be to change employers. 

The level of workforce thirst for development has never been higher, according to the research. In fact, the opportunity to learn and grow is the number-one driver of a great work culture – a jump from ninth position in the rankings in 2019.

The full version of this article was first published on Digiday’s future-of-work platform, WorkLife, in January 2023 – to read the complete piece, please click HERE.

Will 2023 be the year we stop idolizing tech entrepreneurs?

In Ancient Rome, where the public was enthralled by celebrity culture and helped elevate and sink reputations, 2022 would have been labeled an annus horribilis for cultish business leaders. 

Given the recent fall from eminence of several headline-generating bosses, could 2023 be the year people – including investors – finally become more careful not to be hoodwinked by technology entrepreneurs and even snub them altogether? Moreover, have we reached “peak idolatry of innovators,” as suggested by Scott Galloway, clinical professor of marketing at New York University Stern School of Business?

Galloway calculated that the wealthiest leader in the tech space had a 33% chance of being named Time magazine’s person of the year. However, the “gross, nonsensical adoration” of celebrity innovators may have reached the pinnacle after “a tough couple of months for the ‘Church of Technology,’” he added. 

The full version of this article was first published on Digiday’s future-of-work platform, WorkLife, in January 2023 – to read the complete piece, please click HERE.

How to lead and manage stressed-out workforces

No organization can say it has nailed hybrid working.

To help navigate the journey ahead, WorkLife selected nine recent statistics to show the direction of travel, identify the most prominent likely obstacles, and offer advice from experts on how employers can overcome them.

Four were featured in this piece and the remaining five are here. These include:
– 70% of C-suite executives in the U.K. feel burnt out
– 79% of global employees are not engaged at work
– 85% of global business leaders with hybrid workforces are not confident employees are being productive
– 43% of hybrid workers don’t feel included in meetings
– U.S. workers have, on average 18 hours of meetings a week – but almost one-third are deemed unnecessary

The full version of this article was first published on Digiday’s future-of-work platform, WorkLife, in December 2022 – to read the complete piece, please click HERE.

Remote-first, WFA, nine-day weeks: Flexible working experiments of 2022

Technology titans were among the first to make drastic and permanent flexible-working policy changes in the wake of the coronavirus crisis, unsurprisingly. After all, if the last three years have taught us anything, technology is an excellent enabler for remote working.

Household names — including Apple, Microsoft, Google, Adobe and others — quickly declared their intentions to update their working methods. And before long, they had published blueprints for hybrid working — for example, when Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky unveiled the company’s remote working policy at the start of May in only 105 words, an act that was lauded at the time for its boldness and simplicity.

WorkLife spoke to numerous technology organizations, away from the usual suspects, to discover what flexible-working policies they had adopted recently and to find out what worked and didn’t. Below we consider the merits of a nine-day week — an alternative to the much-vaunted four-day week — complete location flexibility, a remote-first policy and, finally, one that offers employees to work where and when they want.

This article is the first of a three-part series in which DigiDay’s future-of-work platform, WorkLife, rounds up a range of flexible models used by employers in different sectors. The full version of this piece was first published on WorkLife, in December 2022 – to read the complete piece, please click HERE.

Can the four-day working week ever really scale?

Perhaps less really is more. The recent headlines generated by the results of the largest four-day working week trial were undoubtedly eye-catching. In early December, the programs for 33 organizations, mainly in the U.S. and Ireland and spanning numerous industries, officially concluded after six months. A vast majority – over 90% – plan to continue the four-day week.

The report from 4 Day Week Global, a nonprofit organization facilitating the trial – and another one in the U.K. that includes 70 businesses and finishes next February – noted: “For the companies, relevant metrics showed high levels of success.” On average, revenue had risen 38% compared to 12 months earlier, and hiring also rose. Meanwhile, absenteeism was lower, and resignations were down.

And yet, it’s becoming increasingly apparent that the four-day week may have a scale issue. Almost all of the companies in the trial were small- to medium-sized organizations – only two of the 33 participants employed more than 101 workers. Whether or not the four-day week can work for larger organizations is as yet, untested.

So, what’s needed to take it to the next level?

The full version of this article was first published on DigiDay’s future-of-work platform, WorkLife, in December 2022 – to read the complete piece, please click HERE.

How companies are paying employees more flexibly in the cost-of-living crisis

With the cost-of-living crisis deepening, workers are counting the days until payday more than ever. But is now the perfect time for organizations to rethink rigid pay cycles to help out employees, or is there not enough long-term value?

Global payroll technology company Ceridian recently reported that 53% of U.K. employees had found managing their finances trickier over the last 12 months. Alarmingly, 61% of respondents aged between 18 and 34 years old said an unexpected expense of £500 ($606) would leave them unable to fulfill other financial obligations, including rent, mortgage payments, and insurance.

Thankfully, advances in digital technology are generating innovative ways to pay employees faster. One of the various options available to employers seeking to pay their staff quicker is advance payments. Apps such as Earnin or Dave can help with this. Meanwhile, other progressive organizations have established pay-on-demand systems, allowing workers to access their wages when required. 

David Brown, founder and CEO of Hi, a social enterprise that enables businesses to boost their liquidity through its payroll solution, said that “employees should be able to get paid either daily, monthly, weekly or monthly based on their needs.” He cited a 2019 Mastercard and Ipsos Mori survey that found 61% of workers would like instant access to their earned wages – and that was before the pandemic.

The full version of this article was first published on DigiDay’s future-of-work platform, WorkLife, in December 2022 – to read the complete piece, please click HERE.

HR teams admit fault for why most new hires aren’t working out

Most human resource departments across the planet are feeling deep buyer’s remorse, according to new research.

Thomas International, a talent assessment platform provider, surveyed 900 HR professionals globally and found nearly two-thirds (60%) of new hires are not working out. And the majority of respondents blamed themselves for effectively taking shortcuts that turned out to be dead ends.

Nearly half (49%) of hiring managers said recruits were unsuccessful because of a “poor fit between the candidate and the role,” and 74% admitted to compromising candidate quality due to time pressures in response to the Great Resignation and a tight labor market.

It seems that this post-job-move remorse hasn’t just been a burden on HR teams, but the new hires themselves. “We see a higher level of regretted choices because things have not worked out the way the candidate had hoped,” said Piers Hudson, senior director of Gartner’s HR functional strategy and management research team, referencing trends his organization’s proprietary data has highlighted.

However, he added that overall, there has been an “elevation in expectations,” particularly among younger generations, that employers are finding it difficult to live up to.

The full version of this article was first published on DigiDay’s future-of-work platform, WorkLife, in November 2022 – to read the complete piece, please click HERE.

The best business uses for automation

Every business leader knows that robotics and AI can reduce operating costs and free up employees for more enjoyable tasks. But how is automation fitting into common business functions?


Finance professionals spend a chunk of their time collecting, tracking and chasing receipts and invoices – up to 2.7 working days every month, according to research by spend management specialists Moss. Yet up to 16 working hours for every 100 transaction-related tasks could be saved by adopting an automated spend management platform. That’s according to Saray Hamarneh, strategy and business development manager at Moss.

Waste-management company Biffa has triumphed after binning its old cash-collection system. Emily Munnoch, the firm’s finance director for shared services, explains that an AI-powered order-to-cash platform has helped to secure and accelerate cash flow – by expediting invoice payments and managing disputes and credit risk. “Our dunning success rate has improved by 22.5%, which has reduced overdue debt and improved cash flow for the business,” she says.

And there are further benefits. “All of our credit controllers love using the platform, and it has enhanced customer communications because we can now communicate electronically with more than 99% of our customer base,” she adds.

Elsewhere, Ilija Ugrinic, commercial solutions director at Proactis, an international payments software business, offers two examples. His company saved Screwfix £100,000 year-on-year after introducing “one standardised, integrated automation solution that streamlined receipt, approval and exception handling”. Additionally, Wigan Council, which deals with around 90,000 invoices a year, improved invoice processing by 66% using Proactis’ solution and generated an annual saving of £120,000.

HR and recruitment

Shayne Simpson is managing director of TechNET IT Recruitment. He admits that he took a risk in choosing a solution that automates recruitment processes and communication with candidates using staffing software company Bullhorn’s cloud-based platform. But he insists that the gamble has paid off. 

“In the last six months we have saved 28,609 hours, sent 144,269 automatic emails with a 53% read rate, and sent 45,852 texts,” says Simpson. “All of this equates to the admin of 30 full-time consultants being completed by a robot every month.”

Jason Heilman is Bullhorn’s senior vice-president for automation, AI and talent experience. He points out that the average recruitment firm currently automates more than 20,000 emails, texts, updates, notes and tasks each year. “Cumulatively, this represented an estimated saving of 2.5 million employee hours in 2021 alone, equal to freeing up three hours every day per recruiter,” he says.

Chris Underwood, managing director for executive search consultancy Adastrum, though, is ambivalent. “It’s important to question the reliability of AI in implementing the diversity and inclusion agenda during recruitment,” he warns. “Take Amazon, for example, which no longer uses AI in HR as it discovered its AI-driven candidate screening discriminated against women.

“Removing the human element from HR will only frustrate and limit the candidate’s company experience if interviews are robotic.”

Legal and compliance

The legal sector has been slow to take up AI and robotics. “The scope for efficiencies in legal processes is staggering,” says Jonathan White, legal and compliance director at National Accident Helpline. “While law firms have been behind the curve, we’re beginning to see significant advantages, particularly in automating processes around creating documents with common features such as non-disclosure agreements.” JPMorgan’s contract analysis solution, Coin, can reportedly complete 36,000 hours’ worth of legal work in mere seconds, White explains.

Tom Dunlop, co-founder and CEO of legal tech developer and provider Summize, claims to have developed the world’s first integrated contract lifecycle management solution. “The average reported time to review one contract manually is approximately 92 minutes,” he says. “With large organisations managing an average of 350 contracts each week, speeding up this process makes a huge difference.” Summize’s product, which uses AI and natural language processing, means a contract can be created in under two minutes and then the first-pass review in under five minutes. “Clients report time savings of 85% or more compared to manual processes,” he adds.

With nearly a quarter of a million legal contracts stored within one central system, Elliott Young, chief technology officer at Dell Technologies UK, required such a solution. “The legal team was reading approximately 800 contracts per quarter, so processing the repository would have taken 212 quarters or 53 years,” he says. Instead, a proof-of-concept system that combined AI and humans achieved the same results in months.


“Automation presents a huge opportunity to build on the foundations of our relationships with customers,” says Carlene Jackson, CEO of Brighton-based digital transformation consultancy Cloud9 Insight. “If a customer follows you on social media, that could trigger a private message which encourages them to download a guide from your website.” That message could then generate timely emails with useful content based on pageviews or links which they have accessed on subsequent visits. 

Natalie Cramp is CEO of data science consultancy Profusion and agrees. “Automating even basic processes like email builds and sends can save marketing teams a lot of time and money. It can also, crucially, increase marketing effectiveness while removing the potential for human error.”

Of course, mistakes can still creep in. In January 2020, for instance, Aviva accidentally called all the customers in its email base “Michael”. Cramp continues: “If businesses can dedicate time to more complex automation, such as data management and algorithms, these can fuel highly personalised customer journeys and lead to a huge impact on customer experience with vastly increased sales.”

Nick Mason, co-founder and CEO of Turtl, a content automation platform, says that personalised content can generate up to 10 times more subscribers. “You can cut the time to produce sales proposals by 90% if you use pre-existing automation engines to create personalised digital documents,” he says.

Customer service

For Virgin Media O2, which has around 47 million customers in the UK, automating its contact centre was a strategic imperative – not least because uncoordinated messaging to the business’s 7,000 agents was leading to inconsistencies and knowledge gaps. 

Last October, it overhauled its processes using Intradiem’s intelligent automation solution. The platform was used to deliver training directly to agents’ desktops; to send notifications to help keep call-handling time within preset thresholds and to facilitate their ability to take breaks on time and to use the off-phone time to stay up to date on internal communications, explains Faye Herring, Virgin Media’s workforce planning manager.

“Within four months of launch, more than 3,500 hours of offline time were delivered to agents’ desktops via Intradiem to make productive use of what had previously been wasted available time,” she says. “And it reduced the average call-handling time by up to 60 seconds.”

Greg Adams, regional vice-president for the UK and Ireland at Dynatrace, offers an equally impressive example. His company’s work enabled UK health and life insurance company Vitality to adopt a proactive servicing model. “Its customer service teams are automatically notified when Vitality’s members encounter errors in their digital experience, so they can contact members and resolve the issue instead of waiting for them to get in touch to ask for help,” Adams says. 

He adds that the proactive customer support capability has helped Vitality to reduce policy lapse rates among members who come up against problems in their digital journey by 65%.

This article was first published by Raconteur in November 2022

Remote-working Gen Zers using would-be commutes to develop side hustles

For some remote workers, how they spend the time they would’ve been commuting has been critical. For Gen Z, specifically, it’s meant developing side hustles.

The most recent calculations show the average one-way trip to the office is 27 minutes and 36 seconds for U.S. workers. In the U.K., it’s almost the same: 28 minutes. Remote workers effectively then gain an hour daily. 

In the U.S. alone, workers now spend 60 million fewer hours traveling to work daily, compared to before the pandemic, according to the New York Federal Reserve’s Liberty Street Economics blog. Its findings show that, depending on age, people do different things with that time.

Older cohorts tend to devote more time to childcare, DIY, and cooking. But younger workers, while reallocating commuting time to social events, exercise, and eating out, are also making use of the extra minutes to develop side hustles and learn new skills.

The full version of this article was first published on DigiDay’s future-of-work platform, WorkLife, in November 2022 – to read the complete piece, please click HERE.

How to fix the NHS: a Canterbury tale

David Meates overhauled New Zealand’s Canterbury District Health Board so that it became a world-leading exemplar of integration. He believes that a similar approach could prove transformational for the embattled NHS

The maxim “prevention is better than cure” is widely attributed to the philosopher Erasmus of Rotterdam, who died in 1536. Has this adage ever been more apposite for the NHS?

Analysis by the Health Foundation on 13 July found that up to 39,000 extra beds are likely to be required by 2030 in England alone if the service is to restore the level of care it was offering before the pandemic. Scaling up could cost the taxpayer as much as £29bn.

The day before, Public Health Scotland statistics revealed that only 65% of A&E patients had been seen in the week ending 3 July within the Scottish government’s four-hour target time, marking the worst performance since weekly records began in 2015. In the previous week, data from freedom-of-information requests to every NHS trust in England showed that almost 117,000 patients had died last year awaiting care – close to double the pre-pandemic figure. Meanwhile, a record 6.5 million people are awaiting non-emergency treatment.

So, when 42 integrated care boards (ICBs) were created across England on 1 July as part of an NHS shake-up, the fanfare was muted. New pathways, such as blood-pressure checks in betting shops, failed to quicken the pulse of some observers, while the drafting of children’s mental health specialists into GP surgeries underwhelmed others.

Yet these actions were designed to transform how healthcare is provided and prevent avoidable premature deaths in the coming years. But such seemingly mild doses of alternative approaches to medicine could, with injections of trust and collaboration, actually revive the fortunes of the NHS tomorrow. So says David Meates, a consultant on the ICB roll-out.

By developing these ICBs and empowering local teams, communities and people, the potential of “precision health” – an approach to care that’s integrated, efficient, highly personalised and designed to cut hospital stays and costs – can be realised, he argues. 

Meates is well placed to comment, having led the transformation of the Canterbury District Health Board (CDHB) in New Zealand. His organisation came to be seen as a world leading exemplar of integrated health pathways. (But even paragons aren’t immune from being restructured out of existence: at the end of June, the CDHB and 19 other district health boards were merged into a new body called Te Whatu Ora Health New Zealand, which oversees the day-to-day running of the system for the whole country. ‘Te whatu ora’ translates loosely from Māori as ‘the weaving of wellness’.)

As CEO of the CDHB in 2009-20, Meates was responsible for the health of about 600,000 people. He inherited an organisation in desperate need of reform. Indeed, when he arrived, there was “internecine warfare” between various stakeholders – hospitals, GPs, care homes and pharmacies – according to Meates. The divisions generated by these self-interested factions had led to a “complete breakdown of trust and confidence of the community. Frankly, the very broken system couldn’t keep doing what it was doing,” he recalls, pointing out that the CDHB had been unable to hit its targets and was “perpetually in deficit”. Sound familiar? 

Seeing so many functions pulling in different directions, he understood that there was “nothing binding them together and no shared sense of purpose – a common ‘why?’” Meates set about reasserting the core aim of the CDHB: to improve the integration between community and hospital care by rebuilding trust.

He resolved to use relatable language and build a social movement that engaged various cultures and created a simple, user-centred vision for a better health service. His work aimed to make healthcare preventive rather than reactive, giving patients and communities the tools and knowledge to take better care of themselves. First, he invited the factions to an open forum to try to understand their frustrations and rebuild trust.

“We involved people from outside the system to stimulate those conversations, because stakeholders in this sector often look at problems through an internal lens,” Meates says. “Using other organisations as a part of the engagement also makes for a safer forum for conversations that otherwise wouldn’t be held.” Through these discussions with medical and community leaders, and also interactive workshops that hinted at what could be possible, a clear vision of what stakeholders wanted Canterbury’s health system to look like appeared: one that is connected, centred on people and aims not to waste their time. Meates’ objective was to empower people motivated by having “co-designed the vision” to take the actions required to realise that vision. 

To illustrate and so simplify the vision, the team drew a one-page diagram showing Agnes, a fictitious 85-year-old in the middle, and the relevant health services around her. Using a persona helped to change the attitudes of those within the healthcare system and, crucially, the wider community. “We had a large, ageing population, so this helped us understand what that typical person might look and feel like. This was different from the cold, hard way of thinking of things as outcomes or outputs,” Meates explains. Having the core focus of serving Agnes better made decision-making easier, drastically improving cost-efficiency.

Using the persona of Agnes to articulate the new vision led to other “game-changing” benefits, he adds. “Coming from a person-centred view of the world enabled us to engage with our indigenous populations in quite different ways.” Almost 10% of the population that was covered by the CDHB is of Māori ethnicity, while just under 3% is of Pacific origin. “We stopped talking about them as hard-to-reach communities and, after putting the lens back on to us, realised that we were a hard-toreach health system,” Meates says. “We flipped things around and made the community part of the solutions and ownership.”

There was more engagement with churches – which are central to the Pasifika community – and hairdressers, who were encouraged to refer older customers if they were having trouble getting out of their chairs. “We wanted to stop elderly people falling and ending up in a hospital, so we empowered people to refer anyone who seemed to be struggling to a strength-based programme. This resulted in a massive decrease in the number of falls,” Meates says. “We’ve saved thousands of people from dying that way.”

Meates stepped down as CEO of CDHB in late 2020 but was soon persuaded to travel halfway around the world to offer guidance on the ICB roll-out. From September 2021 to July 2022, via Lightfoot Solutions, he worked with various health systems in Wales and England. Having recently returned to his homeland to contest the mayoralty of Christchurch, Meates offers some reflections on his time in the UK. “It is said that ‘change happens at the speed of trust’, yet so much of our health and social care system is built on distrust,” he argues. “We continue to see the impacts of fragmented care based on the organisation’s needs instead of the person being at the centre of service design and delivery. Funding and contracts dominate the discussions and are often the key performance metrics, with limited visibility regarding patient outcomes.”

Meates believes that NHS leaders and strategic decision-makers in other sectors should be looking to the future rather than getting stuck in “crisis management” mode. The temptation is to revert to what the system has always done to deal with crises. This means that the necessary system changes will keep getting “put into the ‘too hard’ basket”.

Without the will to focus on the future, the health and social care system will continue to be “overloaded and under siege”. He continues: “It’s a fundamental shift of mindset. Most of what we use today is of limited value to tomorrow, yet we’re still trying to use everything from yesterday to solve tomorrow’s problems.”

This article was first published in Raconteur’s Future of Healthcare report in July 2022

The appliance of prescience

Advances in artificial intelligence are giving organisations in both the public and private sectors increasingly powerful forecasting capabilities. How much further down this predictive path is it possible for them to go?

Minority Report, Steven Spielberg’s 2002 sci-fi thriller based on a short story by Philip K. Dick, explores the concept of extremely proactive policing. The film, starring Tom Cruise, is set in 2054 Washington DC. The city’s pre-crime department, using visions provided by three clairvoyants, can accurately forecast where a premeditated homicide is about to happen. The team is then able to dash to the scene and collar the would-be murderer just before they strike.

While police forces are never likely to have crack teams of incredibly useful psychics at their disposal, artificial intelligence has advanced to such an extent in recent years that its powerful algorithms can crunch huge volumes of data to make startlingly accurate forecasts.

Could a Minority Report style of super-predictive governance ever become feasible in the public sector – or, indeed, in business? If so, what would the ethical implications of adopting such an approach be?

There is a growing list of narrow-scope cases in which predictive analytics has been used to fight crime and save lives. In Durham, North Carolina, for instance, the police reported a 39% fall in the number of violent offences recorded between 2007 and 2014 after using AI-based systems over that period to observe trends in criminal activities and identify hotspots where they could make more timely interventions.

AI has also been used to tackle human trafficking in the US, where it has helped the authorities to locate and rescue thousands of victims. Knowing that about 75% of child trafficking cases involve grooming on the internet, the government’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency monitors suspicious online ads, detects coded messages and finds connections between these and criminal gangs.

In Indonesia, the government has partnered with Qlue, a specialist in smart city technology, to predict when and where natural disasters are most likely to strike. Its systems analyse flood data collected from sensors and information reported by citizens. This enables it to identify the localities most at risk, which informs disaster management planning and enables swifter, more targeted responses.

While all these cases are positive examples of the power of predictive AI, it would be nigh-on impossible to roll out a Minority Report style of governance on a larger scale. That’s the view of Dr Laura Gilbert, chief analyst and director of data science at the Cabinet Office. “To recreate a precognitive world, you would need an incredibly advanced, highly deterministic model of human behaviour – using an AI digital-twin model, perhaps – with low levels of uncertainty being tolerable,” she says. “It’s not certain that this is even possible.”

An abundance of information is required to understand a person’s likely behaviour, such as their genetic make-up, upbringing, current circumstances and more. Moreover, achieving errorless results would require everyone to be continuously scrutinised.

“Doing this on a grand scale – by closely monitoring every facet of every life; accurately analysing and storing (or judiciously discarding) all the data collected; and creating all the technology enhancements to enable such a programme – would be a huge investment and also cost us opportunities to develop other types of positive intervention,” Gilbert says. “This is unlikely to be even close to acceptable, socially or politically, in the foreseeable future.”

Tom Cheesewright, a futurist, author and consultant, agrees. He doubts that such an undertaking would ever be considered worthwhile, even in 2054. “The cost to the wider public in terms of the loss of privacy would be too great,” Cheesewright argues, adding that, in any case, “techniques for bypassing surveillance are widely understood”.

Nonetheless, Vishal Marria, founder and CEO of enterprise intelligence company Quantexa, notes that the private sector, particularly the financial services industry, is making great use of AI in nipping crimes such as money-laundering in the bud. “HSBC has pioneered a new approach to countering financial crime on a global scale across billions of records,” he says. “Only by implementing contextual analytics technology could it identify the risk more accurately, remove it and enable a future-proof mitigation strategy.”

Alex Case, senior director in EMEA for US software company Pegasystems, believes that governments and their agencies can take much from the private sector’s advances. Case, who worked as a deputy director in the civil service from 2018 to 2021, says: “The levels of service being routinely provided by the best parts of the private sector can be replicated in government. In contrast with the dystopian future depicted in Minority Report, the increasing use of AI by governments may lead to a golden age of citizen-centric public service.”

Which other operations or business functions have the most to gain from advances in predictive analytics? Cheeswright believes that “the upstream supply chain is an obvious one in the current climate. If you can foresee shortages owing to pandemics, wars, economic failures and natural disasters, you could gain an enormous competitive advantage.”

The biggest barriers to wielding such forecasting power are a lack of high-quality data and a shortage of experts who can analyse the material and draw actionable insights from it. “Bad data can turn even a smooth deployment on the technology side into a disaster for a business,” notes Danny Sandwell, data strategist at Quest Software. “Data governance – underpinned by visibility into, and insights about, your data landscape – is the best way to ensure that you’re using the right material to inform your decisions. Effective governance helps organisations to understand what data they have, its fitness for use and how it should be applied.”

Sandwell adds that a well-managed data governance programme will create a “single version of the truth”, eliminating duplicate data and the confusion it can cause. Moreover, the most advanced organisations can build self-service platforms by establishing standards and investing in data literacy. “Data governance enables a system of best practice, expertise and collaboration – the hallmarks of an analytics-driven business,” he says.

Gilbert offers business leaders one final piece of advice in this area: recruit carefully. She argues that “a great data analyst is worth, at a conservative estimate, 20 average ones. They can often do things that any number of average analysts working together still can’t achieve. What’s more, a bad analyst will cost you both money and time.”

And, as Minority Report’s would-be criminals in discover to their cost, time is the one resource that’s impossible to claw back.

This article was first published in Raconteur’s Future of Data report in October 2022

House swap: Would you switch homes with a colleague to work in another country?

Would you open your doors to colleagues from other countries and swap homes with them for a few weeks or even months? To keep pace with working trends, some organizations are turning to Airbnb-style initiatives.

One such organization is London-headquartered financial technology company Wise — formerly TransferWise — which has 17 offices around the globe including in New York and Tokyo. In early 2021, spurred by the pandemic, Wise established a “work-from-anywhere” perkwhich allows employees to perform their jobs from anywhere in the world for up to 90 days a year.

So far more than 25% of the company’s 4,000 employees have used the perk and worked from places including Sri Lanka, Seychelles and Costa Rica. 

And, quite incredibly, the perk has taken on a life of its own thanks to the quick thinking of Wise employee Kadri-Ann Freiberg. The margin assurance specialist, based in Estonia’s capital Tallinn, sought to take advantage of the work-from-anywhere policy — but she didn’t want to pay rent on an additional property. So she took to the company’s Budapest Slack channel to ask if anyone else at Wise would be interested in swapping homes for a month, especially in Budapest, where she longed to visit. Freiberg’s post altered how her colleagues thought about the possibilities. 

The full version of this article was first published on DigiDay’s future-of-work platform, WorkLife, in November 2022 – to read the complete piece, please click HERE.