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The Power of the People: Balancing the Hybrid Workforce

It’s unavoidable. Bring up automation to a group of individuals and at least one skeptic will emerge, pointing to the notion that automation will replace human work. Salacious headlines suggest millions will lose jobs to robotic process automation (RPA) in the next five years.

Nobody can argue that automation disrupts the dynamics of the workplace. But the doom and gloom of total human workforce replacement, while sometimes well-intentioned, is a bit of an extreme suggestion. Still, not an uncommon one. And it’s been seen throughout history. When new technology surfaces, there is often widespread fear that it will go unchecked and take over.

The truth is that technology, and automation technology specifically, is designed to help people, and in some cases, it can even create demand for new jobs thanks to newfound efficiencies and effective processes.

Turning Weaknesses into Strengths

Humans are characteristically good at tasks involving distinctly human activities, like thinking creatively, employing empathy, using sound judgment and strategizing. These kinds of tasks require sophisticated thought. Tasks that focus instead on high volume, tedious, and time-intensive work? These, despite our ever-sophisticated selves, are not our strong suit.

And that is how RPA helps businesses turn weaknesses into strengths. Bots can perform this menial, time-consuming work around the clock without breaks and deliver perfect results every time, allowing the human workforce to focus its time on higher-order thinking. Bots can also support the human workforce by sending and retrieving information in a way that helps people make smart, more effective decisions.

By recognizing what people are good at (and what they aren’t), you’re able to maximize work efforts across the board. What’s more, you capitalize on the valuable knowledge of skilled workers. Highly skilled workers are hard to find; when you do, do you really want them performing work a computer can do? Automation frees them up to do their best, most important work, ensuring time, skills and money are always spent in ways that help grow the business.

Preparing for the Future of Work

In April 2020, IBM and Forrester published a thought leadership paper on the future of work, specifically focusing on the dynamics of automation in business. Among the many key recommendations, three stand out as takeaways for those considering how to operate in a new hybrid workplace.

  1. “Develop a culture of openness and positive communication regarding automation.” Trust is a huge component of an engaged workforce. Employees must feel included, heard, and supported every step of the way.
  2.  “Develop automation-focused training to close expanding skills gaps.” People are always fearful of things they do not understand. Keep education as a primary focus to ensure everyone knows how to use the technology properly and leverage it for the right reasons.
  3.  “Establish management practices for the new hybrid workforce.” Have performance metrics in place and managers who are responsible for the success of digital workers.

While automation certainly brings with it a level of disruption to the workplace, fears of it replacing swaths of workers at a time are unfounded. Maximizing the value of automation in business is all about building a healthy hybrid workforce of digital and human workers. With a few tactical and intentional steps, striking that balance is within reach.

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