diamond geezer

 Thursday, November 18, 2010

I booked a meeting yesterday.

I booked an important work meeting, one we have to hold every year. A small meeting, one where not many people are involved. A spacious meeting, because the not many of us still need a big room. And a fairly distant meeting, because it's not happening until February. I booked it. All by myself. Easy.

Booking this particular meeting used to cause problems. Indeed, booking any meeting used to cause problems, because I couldn't do it myself. We used to have a system whereby only certain people in the company were meeting bookers, and if you wanted to book a meeting you could only do it by asking them. It might sound great to have people to do things for you at work, but those bookings didn't always work out smoothly. Like so....
Me: I'd like to book a meeting in the last week of February, please.
Them: Sorry, they haven't released February yet.

Me (a few weeks later): I'd like to book a meeting in the last week of February, please.
Them: Sorry, they haven't released February yet.

Me (a few weeks later): I'd like to book a meeting in the last week of February, please.
Them: Sorry, the last week of February's full already.
Or like so...
Me: I'd like to book a meeting in the last week of February, please.
Them: Certainly, I'll do that for you. Send me the details.
Me: Thanks. Let me explain everything now, and then I'll send you all the details in an email.
Them: Excellent. Consider it booked.

Me (in the last week of February): Erm, I'm in the meeting room. The desks are set out wrong, none of the refreshments have arrived, and reception aren't expecting any of the guests.
Them: Sorry. Are there any other meetings you'd like me to book?
But now it's all change. Work has a new automated online meeting booking system, which means I can log in and book things myself rather than having to pass the job on to someone else. I can check dates months in advance, and even book a meeting next October if I want to. I can look around and pick the best available room on the best available day, rather than having to make do with whichever godforsaken basement cellar some minion picks for me. And I can get all the details correct, like booking the right food at the right time, rather than playing Chinese whispers and then being frustrated when the vegetarian meal fails to show. The system's excellent, and it makes arranging meetings a heck of a lot easier.

But it's not good for everyone. What I can now do in two minutes used to take someone else considerably longer. Indeed I can now book a meeting quicker that it used to take to explain to someone else what meeting I wanted them to book (let alone the extra time it took them to actually book it). And because I'm doing all the groundwork, that someone else isn't needed any more. The company used to have several people whose role included booking meetings, and now it only has one - to oversee the system. Jobs have been lost, departments have been slimmed down, and all thanks to the wonders of a crafty bit of software.

For those of us who remain, our working lives are now a little easier. But for those whom technology has replaced, their working lives are no more. Support roles are suddenly sidelined, and hard-earned skills no longer required. Taxpayers, governments and shareholders may cheer when organisations strive to keep costs down, but those savings come at a human price. It'll be the IT helpdesk next, or the entire finance processing team, or maybe you and me.

Slowly, inexorably, Britain's workforce is being replaced by something cheaper. Increased efficiencies bring greater savings, but they also mean fewer available jobs. Better hope you're indispensable, or unemployment ultimately beckons. But it was lovely working with you, while it lasted.

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