Be The Change: A Conversation with Steph Locke

We will always jump at any chance we can to get some interaction going between our speaker and our Be The Change community, especially in these times when interaction feels so much more prescient. We were so happy that Daniel Biddle and Chris Hardess decided to hang around after their talks to form part of our panel. We were equally excited that we could get Steph Locke, CEO of AI and Automation firm Nightingale HQ, to join them.
Steph is a Microsoft MVP, one of only four Microsoft MVP’s across the world in Data Platform and AI Technologies. Steph has talked in the past about live transcription for accessibility, so she seemed the perfect person to complete our evening. We chatted to Steph to understand how she embeds accessibility into everything Nightingale do.


Hi Steph, thank you for joining us on Be The Change, I hope you enjoyed the event. Firstly, I know you spoke about a number of ways that you tried to make Nightingale as accessible and flexible as possible for you employees. I was just wondering if you could talk about these steps and why you felt they were important? 
Our first step is recognising that no one's life is the same and no two people are the same: insisting on a single way of doing things for everyone initially sounds fair, but really just makes things accessible for only those who fit that single process. At Nightingale, we try to make sure that way we work fits with how our employees work best. This involves a flexible approach where listening and iteration are key. We’re a remote first company but remote doesn’t have to mean “from the spare bedroom”, staff have the option of getting paid support for using local co-working spaces. Most staff get a laptop, but if someone needs a different setup or extra peripherals, they get them. You can’t standardise people, and you can’t mass-produce productivity; a tailored approach is vital.

 

In the panel there was a lot of talk about finding the balance between working from home, whilst also combating isolation. Nightingale HQ is a fully remote organisation, so what would you say are some of your top tips for making sure your employees can WFH and still feel connected? 
As a small company, I suspect things might be easier on us as it’s harder for folks to fall through the cracks. In some respects, I think we might do things that could be considered to contribute to loneliness - we’re anti-meetings, we don’t do a lot of social / extracurricular stuff, and we’re not a “work family”. That being said, I think these are strengths for helping people have a sustainable remote work situation - we have video calls to catch up and bounce around ideas—to pair program—and people get more time with their friends and family. People are free to be “not ok”, and rearrange their schedule. People get to interact informally and with no politics in work; they can be authentic, and they keep or grow strong ties that help deal with things that realistically, we can’t.

 

You and the other panel members discussed where the future of accessibility design and infrastructure was going, but what do you think the most important advancements we’ve seen in recent years have been? 
The ubiquity of video has been key. The embedding of cameras in phones, laptops, and other devices is a true enabler to accessible and remote work. The latest advancements in AI around speech to text (and vice versa) based on video processing, help remove impediments to effective working. I think this move from “traditional” working practices, to a technology assisted one, is a massive benefit for us all; and in particular to people who have struggled to find employment simply because too many businesses are stuck in “traditional”. 

 

I don’t think any of us can quite say that we’ve had the 2020 that we all expected, and this year have changed many of our preconceptions as to what a working day looks like. Do you think that a lot of the changes the pandemic has brought about are here to stay, or do you think that we shall return to the way we used to be when this is all over? 
I’m glad to see more people questioning the commute, and the rigid structure of the “9 to 5”. Many people are realising that people can be delivery oriented, and can self-manage, more than previously thought. This level of flexibility is fantastic and key to a technology-assisted workforce. However, I’m concerned about the drop of women in the workforce that’s happened in many countries, and the lack of access to entry roles for young people. There will be gaps in women’s employment that will knock back their careers and a lack of access to roles will reduce salaries for a generation. This was seen for people during the 2008 financial crash.

 

Finally, you are a Microsoft MVP in Data Platform and AI Services; a lot of people outside of the tech world are just now starting to get their head around AI but may still be confused by the concept. How would you say that AI is going to change the accessibility of the tech we all use in the next few years? 
Artificial Intelligence is fundamentally about computers effectively performing very human processes, like interpreting language or what we see. When we have technologies that can mimic an activity. It gives a strong tool to assist people who may not have that capability, or whose capability is limited. AI allows for an improving solution, not just a finite and rigid way of doing things. Augmenting humans by supporting them with AI is the future.

Watch the full panel discussion here:

A huge thank you to Steph for all of her help and support with Be The Change. For more information about Nightingale HQ and all that they do visit nightingalehq.ai

The next Be the Change will be coming up in the New Year. It will be on 12th January with a focus on religion, so get that date in the diary. Tickets and more information can be found at: https://bethechangecardiff.eventbrite.co.uk/?aff=TramshedTech

Marcus Price
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