Comfort and Sense of Purpose Are Vital to Well-being in the Workplace

Published on October 17, 2017

Workers in Atypical Environments: Keeping Workers Connected when the Office is in Outer Space

Whether aboard an aircraft carrier or unloading baggage at a major air hub, employees need to feel valued. Safety and comfort are important to a sense of well-being — because when employees feel essential, when they feel good about their jobs and when there is good team spirit, they perform well. But in the future, and perhaps not too far in the future, such considerations may become secondary as artificial intelligence (AI) triggers increased use of robots to replace human labor.

One of the biggest challenges aboard an aircraft carrier is the lack of certainty about the duration of any mission. For technical and security reasons, the crew has no access to the internet and social media, which can be particularly hard on younger members. “The specific point on an aircraft carrier is that you know when you leave but you don’t know when you will come back. That creates a specific environment for the crew,” said Captain Eric Malbrunot.

An aircraft carrier is a very isolated environment despite the size of the ship, he said. “To keep up morale, the most important thing is to give meaning, to explain to people why we are here, how long we will be here. We have to have team spirit,” Malbrunot added. Air crews can also face time away from their families. But Southwest Airlines has made the comfort and well-being of its employees central to its philosophy. "Our golden rule is treating people with respect. Our employees take pride in taking care of each other," said Cheryl Hughey.

Access is Key

The internet has spread around the world, connecting countries and communities. In Kenya, for example, internet penetration has reached 88%, counting mobile broadband, whereas 10 years ago it was just 8%. Access to information is very important in the modern world. Access is a great equalizer, not just for businesses, but also for people. The internet gives people access to the information on health and well-being they need to lead better lives. “Connectivity is no longer just good to have, it is essential,” said Juliana Rotich.

Super Machines

It is very likely that at some point in this century, a super intelligent machine will emerge from research into artificial intelligence (AI). This is particularly likely if machines themselves become more involved in this research, said Nick Bostrom. Most industrial robots are currently preprogrammed by humans, but in the future it could be the robots that work on the changes and improvements. “It is unclear how far away this is,” he said. (But) that has a substantial possibility of happening within the lives of people alive today,” Bostrom added.

There are particular challenges facing women. Young women still do not see AI as an area of interest. The boundary needs to be pushed back to draw in more women. “Once you start pushing, the boundaries start moving,” said Anousheh Ansari.