There is no denying that the pandemic has accelerated digital transformation, leading to accelerated use of automated technology. As a result, widespread advances in workplace automation are imminent.
A global survey by McKinsey found that 67% of companies accelerated their deployment of automation technology during the first few months of the COVID-19 crisis, and this rapid adoption is not specific to any single industry. It is inevitable that automation will disrupt the labour market on a widespread scale, but what exactly will this disruption look like?
Automation: but not as you know it
Often, automation inspires images of robotic arms on factory lines. While it’s true that manufacturers have been implementing robotics to operate factory production lines for some time, automation has also been advancing in other forms. For example, professional services increasingly rely on software to conduct language translation, while recruiters enjoy automated interview scheduling and candidate feedback mechanisms.
In short, automation does not automatically lead to the eradication of jobs for people. Instead, it can complement them, helping employees to spend time on higher value work and reducing administrative tasks. However, this transition must be carefully managed. According to the World Economic Forum, automation will create 97 million new jobs by 2025, but displace 85 million in the process. If done correctly, automation helps people to evolve in their jobs, rather than get rid of them altogether. There are two key areas for business leaders to consider when trying to get this balance right.
Managing the employee experience
Automation doesn’t mean bad things for employment, as many workers suspect, but it does lead to change ‘ and this is especially true for the allocation of resources in the workplace. While automation may liberate some employees, others may feel they are left with nothing to do if the transition is poorly managed.
Business leaders who take the time to anticipate how automation will affect their people, strategies, processes and even their workplace culture will improve the adoption of the technology in the workplace. This process is vital to ensure employees are empowered, as opposed to alienated, by technological innovation.
A key method of doing this is clearly and confidently communicating the rationale for adopting automation, from both a business and employee perspective. In most cases, accelerated automation in a workplace will improve the quality of work employees produce and help them to better manage their work-life balance.
Recent global research by the Adecco Group revealed nearly three quarters (72%) of workers want employers to revisit the length of the working week and the number of hours people are expected to work. Meanwhile, 38% of employees reported they have suffered from working too hard, demonstrating that many employees are over-burdened. Automation can address these frustrations by taking the administrative load off employees’ plates. This enables them to get more high value activity done within the week, often inspiring creativity and greater productivity, and laying the foundations for a satisfying workplace culture.
Upskilling and reskilling the workforce
Automation often requires employees to learn new skills. The technology isn’t the be-all and end-all ‘ it only reaches its full potential when skilled human employees work successfully alongside it. In such cases, managing the transition to automation extends beyond effective communication and demands upskilling and reskilling programmes.
Fortunately for businesses, there is a clear appetite amongst employees to learn new skills. Two thirds (66%) of workers believe they need to train and gain new skills to stay employable in the years ahead, and over 60% are taking or considering taking a new qualification to gain new skills.
Upskilling or reskilling a workforce does take time and resource, but the rewards outweigh the cost; when it comes to automation, an unprepared workforce risks reduced productivity, increased employee workload, and lower morale.
Businesses must respond to automation
Preparing for the advent of automation in the workplace has two key advantages. First, it minimises the potential casualties of the transition, by helping workers to develop their job roles in new, exciting, and previously impossible ways. Second, it keeps companies agile and resilient in a competitive landscape. By engaging with automation, leaders can carefully orchestrate an environment where their digital transformation efforts are welcomed by all, ensuring that everyone reaps the benefits, from employers and employees to clients.