Talking shop

With a 'to do' list as long as my desk there is the danger that in a bad week I can barely look up from my computer, let alone leave my desk. Obviously this is not a good situation to be in and means I am neither connected with the business nor living a particularly healthy lifestyle.

Being responsible for digital at a company with 24,000 employees means I'll never be able to fully grasp the diversity of every role and department but, having visited over 20 Kier offices and sites, I've definitely been giving it a go in order to understand how the central digital team can best support them.

To continue this trend, the marketing team took some time away from our desks this week to travel to Barnsley to visit our housing maintenance teams. Kier have a five year contract with Barnsley Council to assist all of their council house residents, and maintain their properties, and we were to join them for a ride along. Whilst half the team were off filming two of us then spent the day on a variety of call outs with Gary (plumber) in the morning and Melvyn (electrician) in the afternoon.

Us suited and booted and ready for action
Interestingly, our first chaperone, Gary, was from a coal mining background and told us that after the closing of the pits he found it hard to adjust to the job of a plumber. The difficulty for him was not the practical side of the jobs (he said he was offered adequate training to carry out all of the repair work) but the social aspect. Some council tenants were just happy to have someone to talk to after a week alone in their house but Gary's experience had just been talking to fellow male miners in the pits. He felt where this job had allowed him to progress the most was in his ability to converse with the tenants whom he had been sent to help.

This got me thinking about  the importance of these same skills in a digital context (or any office environment) and how all digital marketing roles could benefit from a culture that emphasises a combination of skills and duties. It also demonstrated that it may not be the skill which you think you need or have that make you successful in a job.

It's clear that the technology landscape has completely changed our ideas of certain company roles meaning many professionals have also had to venture outside their comfort zones as roles shift along with trends. A great example of this is the traditional customer service department. In the past, customer service representatives communicated with customers over the phone, and later on through online reviews. But nowadays, the roles of social media specialists and customer service professionals are pretty blurred.

This trend has forced social media experts to develop some customer relations skills and vice versa. It also creates a need for these two departments to develop some common goals, best practices, and a consistent voice. The combined effect of the daily work carried out by Kier employees in the field (housing maintenance, highways operatives and construction workers) can have a massive effect on how the brand is perceived across the country. We are concentrating a lot of time and effort on effectively governing the brand but one bad customer experience could undo this work in a second.

The machines are taking over
Also, as more job roles become increasingly automated specialised technical skills may not be the way to compete in an increasingly difficult economy - to really get ahead, what a worker needs are the aforementioned social skills. In the future, the jobs that are least likely to be automated are those that demand lots of interaction with co-workers or clients, not just the performance of rote analytical tasks. These jobs also call for the ability to perform innately human exercises—like pondering another person’s point of view. These nuances of human interaction are the one area in which machines are really struggling to compete with us and are where we can really thrive and differentiate.

The lesson for me was also that  having good technical skills is just a tiny part of success in the workplace. The team in Barnsley do an amazing job of completing their work and keeping the residents happy and their acquired social skills are essential for anyone in order to both enhance the reputation of a company and succeed in a career.
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