The rapid advance of AI means that some work tasks can now be done by machines – from matching invoices and purchase orders to writing the first draft of an annual report. But these advances aren't always welcome by employees.
There's no denying that the phrase "work automation" can evoke images of robots taking over jobs, and breed apprehension in employees. According to a survey by Demos, 35% of Britons feel their job is at risk from artificial intelligence. But work automation can be a great tool for businesses, freeing employees from drudge work and boosting effectiveness, creativity and efficiency.
The challenge for employers is to convey the benefits of work automation and show people how it can change the future of work for the better. Here are some ideas on how to introduce new technology without negatively affecting the workforce.
Understanding is key
For starters, it's essential that your employees know exactly what work automation means and why it can be beneficial both to them and to the company as a whole.
Work automation often involves using technology to automate repetitive, manual processes. As well as streamlining workflow, keeping track of each part of a process and helping to increase overall productivity, automation can free people up to concentrate on more knowledge-based tasks, allowing them to use their skills in a more strategic way.
For example, automating responses to some customer service queries doesn't just save a company money – it can enable employees to focus on more difficult-to-solve cases, meaning they can apply their knowledge to greater effect and gain greater job satisfaction.
Work automation can be particularly effective in sectors such as manufacturing, where workers carry out strenuous labour. Machines can help support employees, reducing physical strain by carrying out routine tasks while employees do more skilled work.
This is not to say that there's not a big place for business automation in less strenuous roles. All sorts of processes, from employee onboarding to corporate spending requests, can be done by machines, letting employees spend their time more effectively. Businesses need to emphasise that this doesn't mean employees are redundant – rather that they will be needed for more fulfilling and challenging tasks.
Proper training is essential
Automation doesn't work on its own. It often requires human control and guidance, which calls for new skills. Make sure that employees have the training they need to manage and work alongside new automated processes, as well as to fill any skills gaps that are left when automation takes over routine tasks.
Rather than thinking that machines are being installed to take over their jobs, employees can see automation processes as something to work alongside, to ensure that daily tasks run more smoothly and swiftly. Let your employees know that the future of work isn't one where "those robots" are descending to replace them, but rather that they will help and work alongside people.
As well as being integrated with workplace automation software, collaboration tools such as Workplace by Facebook can keep communication open and inclusive in times of change. Use it to support training, provide explanations and share ideas in your organisation.