Repelled at first sight – All sorts of companies are using AI to take some of the hassle out of the hiring process. But experts warn the platforms are far from flawless

Human resource departments have been one of the keenest adopters of AI’s technological capabilities in recent years. Specifically, AI has entrenched itself in the process of screening resumes, with tools to pinpoint top candidates and, increasingly, attempt to offer insights and predictions into their potential performance once hired.

Systems like ATS (applicant tracking systems) are commonplace these days, and their creators claim they can save businesses time and money in the recruitment process.

For jobseekers, it can be more mystifying. “Nobody is looking at your resume,” said Joseph Fuller of the Harvard Business School. “You have to run the gauntlet of the AI before you get seen.”

Fuller’s research has shown that nearly 90 per cent of companies know that good candidates are being screened out — but are keeping the systems anyways.

While this certainly has made life easier for those doing the hiring, many experts are now starting to question the impact AI technology could be having on the hiring process. Research has shown that jobseekers really dislike it, and many are turned off from applying to companies who use AI screening tools.

As well, few businesses using them really understand how these AI algorithms actually work ― and what kinds of candidates are being screened out by them.

“Ultimately an algorithm is a subjective view in code, not objective,” explained data science consultant Natalie Cramp. “What needs to happen is a better understanding of how the data that is used for algorithms can itself be biased.”

Cramp goes on to argue that the most effective way to address this bias is by requiring transparency in how the systems work ― and ensuring that they are subject to human oversight.

“Without this safety net, people will quickly lose confidence in AI and with that will go the huge potential for it to revolutionize and better all our lives.”


Hey, pay attention to what you’re doing – It’s easy to assume more digital tools equates to more productivity. But all that context shifting is probably making you miserable ― and producing lousy work

A topic that has come up in this newsletter more than once is the paradox of the digital workplace — how basic things like email, Slack and project management apps that are meant to make us more efficient, but which are just as often shown to produce negative results, harming our focus, burning us out and ultimately making us less productive.

Last week, a lengthy interview with the influential tech author and thinker Cal Newport (author of 2016’s Deep Work) was published in the New York Times, exploring why it is that digital tools seem to make us worse at our jobs — and what we can do about it.

His thoughts are worth a read and paint an interesting picture about the way workplaces could better incorporate digital tools in such a way that they actually improve productivity.

“The critical mindset shift is understanding that even minor context shifts are productivity poison,” he told interviewer David Marchese. “Even if you flip over to check Slack for 15 seconds, your focus is shot. Yet many workplaces — especially in the remote work era — are basically built around ongoing, unstructured collaboration.

“I’m usually pushing for companies to move away from the hyperactive hive mind, where collaboration is mainly ad hoc back-and-forth messaging,” he continued. “It’s all about getting away from constant checking, because constant context shifting not only makes you miserable, it also makes you worse at doing anything with your brain.”

Newport is not ready to throw in the towel yet, and believes the answer is to rethink how we approach office-based knowledge work. (He’s also writing a book on ‘slow productivity’.)

“How do you actually work with your mind and create things of value?” he asked. “What I’ve identified is three principles: doing fewer things, working at a natural pace, but obsessing over quality. That trio of properties better hits the sweet spot of how we’re actually wired and produces valuable meaningful work, but it’s sustainable.”


Rethinking the CBD – As central business districts struggle with evolving patterns of work, a push to create vibrant social districts is taking off

In a newspaper column published late in December, an Australian politician named Rob Stokes ― the minister of cities, no less ― made a claim that will make many municipal officials around the world wince: “Our central business districts aren’t going to bounce back from Covid.”

Many cities have been awkwardly dancing around this reality, and London is no different. Downtown vacancy rates remain high, and there does not appear to be sufficient appetite for the RTO push to change that any time soon. (In Ottawa, the plan to get federal workers back in the office — something pushed hard for by downtown merchants — is so far not reviving sales.)

“Too many city business areas have long been blighted by skyscraper wind tunnels and soulless, car-clogged streets that lie empty on weekends and at nights as workers head to more cheering spots elsewhere,” writes FT’s Pilita Clark. “They are emptier still after the recent rise in more flexible working patterns that shows little sign of fading any time soon.”

What’s a city to do?

The answer that Stokes and others concerned with reviving downtowns have landed on is abandoning the concept of the CBD altogether and refashion them as central social districts ― converting unused office space into residential uses and attracting more social and cultural businesses into the downtown core.

How cities approach this reinvention has differed so far, but Covid has been the impetus for many to start rethinking what a downtown can be, and to identify where central business districts were falling short.

“In the past, the CBD was more of a place to pack and stack corporate professional workers in management, law and banking than a centre for innovation and creativity. Therein lie the seeds of new life,” says influential urban thinker Richard Florida. “We have a once-in-a-century opportunity to turn our business districts and our cities into something better, less divided, and more inclusive. Shame on us if we fail to grasp it.”


Get the gateaux away – Just when you thought it was time to return to the office, we’re being told the office cake should be banished

Chances are good that, since it is no longer the 1960s, your office is not filled with cigarette smoke and nobody is encouraging you to share a pack of office darts. But there might be an office cake or some sweet treats laying around — and some think that could be just as problematic.

Earlier this month, the chair of the UK’s Food Standards Agency made the comparison between second-hand smoke and office treat culture in an interview. She was arguing not that their harms are identical necessarily, but that just like smoking, an environment where sugar is prevalent can lead people to overconsumption. “If nobody brought cakes into the office, I would not eat cakes,” she said.

Here in Ontario, some are on her side. In the Waterloo region, CTV interviewed several office workers and experts who say it should spark a bigger conversation about what kind of treat options are brought into the workplace.

“The more opportunities there are for us to consume unhealthy, delicious food, the more we do it,” said  University of Waterloo public health professor Leia Minaker. “What we need to think about is the little things that add up over time.”

Unlike smoking, it’s less about restricting treats than it is about offering alternatives. “It’s more about providing opportunities for the default decision to be healthy,” she says. “It’s not about restricting people’s choices.”

Research also backs up this idea. A University of Chester study from 2020 (the Brits, it seems, are a far advanced society when it comes to cake studies) found that two-thirds of workers find it hard to resist cake that is offered to them; 95 per cent of them, it also found, would ideally like to see a cake in the office once a week or less.

Cake culture, it seems, has gotten out of control in the office. “It comes from a place of generosity and wanting to share,” said the report’s author, Lou Walker. “But what is happening now is, it’s happening every single day, and that means it’s no longer special.”

Content written by Kieran Delamont for Worklife, a partnership between Ahria Consulting and London Inc. To view this content in newsletter form, click here