In the dynamic market environment of today, workplace automation is sure to affect your organization in one way or another. The widespread adoption of technologies like Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Robotic Process Automation (RPA) helps businesses automate various repetitive and time-consuming tasks with minimal human intervention. Contrary to popular concerns, automation does not replace humans and their jobs; it augments their cognitive capabilities and assists them in their roles. With the arrival of intelligent technologies, workplace automation has become the need of the day.
What is workplace automation?
Simply put, workplace automation is the process of creating systems that perform a task, usually, a repetitive one, with minimal to no human intervention. In other words, automation is the process of using technology to simplify or streamline workflows. Automation helps human labor focus on more complex tasks while letting technology handle the simple, tedious ones.
There exists a common misconception that with the arrival of automation, the human workforce will eventually become obsolete. In reality, workforce automation augments the cognitive abilities of humans, empowering and assisting them in performing otherwise repetitive and mundane tasks.
Today, automation in the workplace has become a part of several major industries in one way or another. Yet, global workforce automation is still in its infancy stage, with just under 5% of all jobs capable of being fully automated. According to a McKinsey study, around 60% of all jobs could potentially automate about one-third of all their activities. This would imply immense, sweeping changes for workplaces and the existing human workforce. This is why for any forward-thinking business, it is crucial to understand what tasks they can and should automate to achieve planned, effective growth via workplace automation.
How is automation changing the workplace?
For a business, automating processes and daily tasks leads to higher profits and greater efficiency, with more work done in less time. Technologies like AI also help business owners and managers make informed decisions by providing deep insights and predictive analyses
With the automation of the workforce comes a key shift in the skills required from human labor. Traditionally, physical and manual skills were a priority, but now, employees need to possess adequate technological, higher cognitive, social, and emotional skills to become an asset in the workplace.
With these changing skill sets, automating redundant and everyday tasks in a business saves time spent on job completion and the costs of maintaining the unnecessary workforce. However, an organization must properly strategize and then decide what to automate and how to go about it.
What are the benefits of automation in the workplace?
Automation as a friend, not a foe
People often see automation as a threat, with the constant fear of robots taking over manual jobs. However, in reality, technology and the human workforce go hand in hand, with automation boosting manual efforts. Understanding the true potential of automation and its advantages for human labor will help people realize that it is actually a friend, not a foe.
Increase in overall productivity
Robotics and automation do not replace jobs but augment them to maximize productivity. In fact, according to various research, automation drives the creation of new job roles and a change in skill sets. Technology like RPA and Artificial Intelligence automate mundane tasks, letting the physical labor force focus on more complicated jobs that need a human touch. Automation makes it easier for a business to scale, as they will end up spending fewer resources and time on human efforts for tasks that can be automated. Automation also assists humans in certain jobs and facilitates better, informed decision-making with predictive analytics and accurate insights. In short, automation and robotics increases the overall productivity of human jobs and do not replace them.
Performing tasks that even humans cannot do
Automation doesn’t just augment human effort for existing occupations, it even takes over manual jobs that are harmful and dangerous for human workers. For example, automation and robots are the best choices for environments that are toxic or hazardous to humans. Consider situations like sewage cleaning, manual scavenging, or mines, where the work conditions are incredibly detrimental to human health and survival. Robots are the best replacement for human labor in these cases. Additionally, for jobs that require heavy physical labor, such as heavy lifting, robots have proven to be an effective alternative.
In recent news, HALO Trust, a demining enterprise that works with a US government contract, uses the Boston Dynamics robotic dog, Spot, to detect and eliminate landmines in Ukraine. Robotics and automation are now included in various military and intelligence activities, which otherwise would put the lives of soldiers at undue risk.
Increased employee engagement
Repetitive tasks like creating reports, data entry, or drafting email follow-ups are boring for many employees. Automating these tasks doesn’t just free up time for employees to focus on more complex tasks, it also increases their overall engagement with the organization. According to a survey by Zapier, 90% of employees agree that automation has had a positive impact on their life at the workplace, and 65% believe that automation is responsible for reducing stress levels.
Fewer costly errors
Be it performing simple tasks like entering the details of a customer into a database, or complex ones like advanced financial calculations, automation reduces the margin of error. Additionally, when employees access data and workflow through a central automated system, the possibility of work duplication and miscommunication among teams is low.
Growth and scalability
Automating processes and workflows helps businesses scale higher and reach more customers without hiring more human labor. The organization can grow faster and more efficiently with lesser operational costs and reduced risks. Automation reduces the need for additional workers that an entirely manual scaling process would demand.
What are the trends of a future-ready workforce?
“By 2022, 42% of the core skills required to perform existing jobs are expected to change, according to the WEF, and more than a billion people will need to be reskilled by 2030” – from a 2020 Deloitte report. What does this mean for businesses?
Businesses today are building a workforce equipped with skills and capabilities to face much more than just present challenges. The employees must be capable of leveraging future opportunities and overcoming unforeseen obstacles. The first step towards this journey is understanding how automation will influence a future-ready workforce.
A hybrid workforce of machines and humans
In the past, a traditional workforce consisted of people directly hired by an organization. Today, it is diverse, consisting of contract workers, gig workers, and freelancers, in addition to permanent employees. Machines and technology are also an irreplaceable part of the workforce. The machines perform vital business operations and tasks with little to no human intervention required. Chatbots handle customer queries, drones run inspections, robots take care of tasks that need great physical exertion, and cognitive systems perform data analytics and insight generation. Understanding these myriad benefits and opportunities, organizations are implementing a hybrid workforce. Technology is at the forefront of increasing the speed and efficiency of business operations by streamlining and automating all processes. In forthcoming years, organizations will soon see humans and machines working hand-in-hand like never before.
A sustainable workforce ready to meet tomorrow’s challenges
The future workforce is reliable, adaptable, resilient, and flexible. Organizations break down jobs into smaller tasks, allowing workers to run analytics and tests at a granular level before taking timely, informed decisions with a significant impact. This enables organizations to shape their work according to their needs, halting tasks they no longer need and assigning an optimized team of both humans and machines to tasks that need more attention.
The organization can run the same analytics to identify the enduring capabilities and future skills their employees require to support new working models. This deep knowledge helps companies create an integrated workforce of their current employees, targeted recruitment, and other workers, all combined with optimal use of technology.
A workforce that syncs with the workflow
The workforce of tomorrow leans towards continuous and lifelong learning, flowing along with work processes. This approach imbibes learning into activities that are already a part of a worker’s responsibilities. By using existing, familiar tools, companies can create an effective learning environment rather than implementing an in-house training program. This approach makes learning immediately applicable and available on demand, straying from the long and tedious classroom-style approach to training.
The future workplace connects human emotions and experience to learning programs, crafting a perfect blend of digital and hands-on experience to make learning more immediately applicable and scalable. The lifelong learning approach ensures that workers remain relevant and perceived as valuable to the organization.
A workforce built on capabilities
The future-ready workforce revolves primarily around enduring capabilities, with necessary skills coming in second. Skills dominated the conversation about the nature of work as they were what companies needed to get work done in the twentieth century. In a stable and predictable world, having the skills needed for repetitive and predictable processes was sensible. However, in this dynamic business atmosphere, the operating skill set is no longer the same. Changing customer expectations, greater ease of learning, and the capability of machines to automate human efforts have resulted in a variety of new skill sets to expand marketing growth. In the current scenario, organizations look for enduring capabilities that let humans learn, apply, and adapt as they grow with the organization.
These enduring capabilities include empathy, imagination, curiosity to learn, teamwork, creativity, critical thinking, adaptive thinking, emotional intelligence, and social intelligence – all highly sought after by organizations.
What skills does the workforce of the future need?
In the coming years, AI and automation will influence the workplace majorly. While technology and human-machine interaction facilitate greater productivity of the workflow, this means a significant change in the skill set demands of an organization. The demand for physical and basic cognitive skills will dip as automation and robots would handle repetitive, mundane, and physical tasks. Organizations would seek more advanced skill sets like higher cognitive abilities, technological skills, and enduring capabilities like empathy, imagination, critical thinking, adaptive thinking, and social and emotional intelligence.
Automation is the future. With changing times and customer expectations, automation of the workforce helps organizations rethink and redesign their business operations while maximizing their productivity. Keen on learning more about automation in the workplace? Let’s take a step forward.
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