Technological advances are transforming many aspects of work in the 21st century. But too often, discussions of technological change in the workplace focus almost exclusively on how new technologies are likely to replace people rather than how employees and technology can work together to achieve something more than either can achieve alone. By focusing on the interplay between people and new technologies and illustrating ways in which each can give wisdom to the other, these three projects all take a different approach.
Shaping the Implementation of New Technologies at Kaiser Permanente
Researchers: Thomas Kochan, Barbara Dyer, and Joel Cutcher-Gershenfeld
A research project with the not-for-profit health plan Kaiser Permanente (KP) focuses on patient- and worker-centered strategies for adopting and adapting new technologies to improve patient experience. The ultimate aim is for Kaiser Permanente, the unions representing the KP workforce, people working at all levels of the system, KP members, and other key stakeholders to use technology to advance all elements of the value compass. This project is led by MIT Sloan faculty members Tom Kochan and Barbara Dyer and Joel Cutcher-Gershenfeld, a professor at Brandeis University’s Heller School for Social Policy and Management. The project is currently underway and involves data collection, case studies, and pilot initiatives.
The Future of Worker Voice Around New Technologies in Manufacturing
Researcher: Jenna Myers
In this project, MIT Sloan doctoral candidate Jenna Myers uses data collected in an ongoing ethnographic study of a small machine shop (which she calls “MetalWorks”) and a startup technology company that manages a cloud-based production monitoring platform (which she calls “MachineTech”) to study how work will be affected by the spread of automated and digital technologies into production and how, during these transitions, workers can provide input into the use and design of such technologies. In this study, Myers is analyzing the implementation of MachineTech at MetalWorks and ongoing changes to the features and display of the software; she describes how the interests of managers, machine operators, and technology vendor representatives combine to facilitate or constrain worker voice during these change episodes. She is also continuing data collection with MachineTech as the company designs, develops, and tests new technology features across its customer base.
This study has resulted in a manuscript that was peer reviewed and selected as a “Competitive Paper” at the Labor and Employment Relations Association 2020 annual meeting. Data from the study will also be used in a case study for an MIT Office of Open Learning report on workforce education.
Worker Involvement in Warehouse Automation
Researcher: Alexander Kowalski
Kowalski, a doctoral candidate at MIT Sloan, is studying warehouses as a setting in which new technologies are emerging to perform some of the tasks that humans currently do. Through his research, Kowalski hopes to highlight that there are different paths forward for the future of work. In particular, he seeks to answer the question of whether technology vendors that include worker input and on-the-ground observation of current work design in their development process produce better outcomes, in terms of both worker experience and performance, than vendors providing “off-the-shelf” solutions. Kowalski plans to conduct interviews with experts in the field and to observe deployments of these technologies in warehouses.