Your next co-worker may be a virtual robot: And that’s not a bad thing

Some of the greatest authors of all time have written about it, Hollywood blockbusters have cinematically illustrated it… the takeover of the job-stealing robots. Frightening and ominous, this dystopian fascination has instilled a fear that the introduction of robots into everyday life will lead to widespread unemployment and ultimately, a planet-wide robot uprising that will spell the end of humanity as we know it. The only problem with this perspective is that robots are actually coming to help us do our jobs better. The overwhelming shift among companies to implement extensive digital transformation strategies has precipitated a change of the nature of task execution, resulting in a more efficient, more productive human workforce.

Rapid innovation in the fields of Artificial Intelligence and robotic technology have enabled a growing number of tasks to be executed by software robots in the workplace, from data entry to customer support. A recent study from ISG Research concluded that contrary to fears of rendering human workers obsolete, the productivity gains being made with the implementation of enterprise robotic process automation are resulting in higher productivity without costing jobs. Rather, the integration of these systems is enabling business to shift employees to deal with higher-value assignments, and process larger amounts of work. Regardless of which transformations that executives chose to implement, whether it is process digitisation, performance management, or worker enablement, the takeaway is clear it’s clear that the workforce of the future is one of humans and robots working side by side. 

Go digital or go home 

The adoption and integration of new technology provides an opportunity for businesses to revolutionise and modernise the way in which their business operates.  With time, the demands of customers change, and by integrating new systems businesses can transform and adapt to the needs of their clientele, adding new services and value with relative ease. In an era where age-old “Rolodex” businesses are facing competition from peers and smaller startups, the increased flexibility, efficiency, and profitability that digital transformation provides can mean the difference between maintaining the company you have and building it into the company you want. As processes become increasingly digitised, basic and routine processes will no longer need to be executed by new hires or outsourced to an overseas BPO unfamiliar with the ins and outs of the company.

The end of “busy work” as we know it

With the implementation of software to increase productivity and improve efficiency, comes new training and operational systems for employees to master. While learning new programs and changing the way an employee handles daily workflow is rarely greeted with joy, streamlining processes empowers workers to carry out tasks with greater efficiency, and helps bring about an end to what is commonly, and derisively, known as “busy work”. The rise of Robotic Process Automation (RPA) has been crucial in providing enterprises with the ability to have specific tasks executed via automation, taking the concept of how computing power can increase efficiency to another level. RPA software replicates computer-based clerical processes, performing them the same way a human would. As businesses grow, the increased amount of “busy work” increases exponentially, including tasks such as basic data entry. Regulatory policy checklists can be simple to follow, yet cumbersome and often riddled with careless errors when left in human hands. This technology, still in its nascent stages, has still not yet reached its potential, but it’s well on its way. Already, new iterations of RPA allow for dynamic interactions and completely seamless transference of tasks and processes between humans and software robots, proving what a unified hybrid workforce could truly look like. 

Is A Hybrid Workforce the Solution for Workplace Boredom?

Clerical work is boring work, and human boredom not only fails to maximise the potential of the workforce, but also results in careless errors. Robots, however, don’t get bored by taking care of the same process for eighteen straight hours, won’t make the same easily avoidable mistakes, and most importantly, can reduce workplace boredom and dissatisfaction dramatically. 

Utilising robots to handle mundane assignments frees up human workers to focus on more important and creative tasks – tasks that require insight, and a human touch. A workplace study showed that 43 per cent of US workers are bored at work, and that largely has to do with the fact that slow-moving tasks like filing and data entry are monotonous and unchallenging, despite being vital for the functioning of the business. Carrying out “Procedure D Subsection 42” to assist with a customer complaint is important for the company, but is unlikely to stimulate and truly engage an employee’s mind eight hours a day. 

The same data showed that disinterested employees are twice as likely to leave, making it clear that having people do boring jobs not only creates unhappy employees, but can put the sustainability of businesses at risk. Additionally, boredom can easily leave to inattentiveness and therefore more errors, and a study from the University of Warwick showed that happier employees will be more productive at work. By utilising a hybrid workforce of automated robots with humans - both actively carrying out tasks and passing them from one to the other – the human workforce can be freed from the execution of mundane tasks resulting in the freedom to be more creative. At the end of the day, automating clerical processes will allow employees to work in more creatively engaging roles and give businesses a way to cut costs while rendering a happier, more efficient workforce. 

Reinvention, thy name is robot 

From railroads to assembly lines, the industries and companies that stay relevant and powerful are the ones ready and able to embrace change. With innovation comes the creation of better jobs and increased opportunity. The ebb and flow of industry has continually led many to find their positions and skills no longer of value. A carriage driver in the 1800s needed to learn the skills necessary to drive a new car in the early 1900s, but ultimately the driver is better off and can adapt to newly available positions. Similarly, following the Industrial Revolution there was a sharp decline in the number of farmworkers necessary, yet that change paved the way too many new and better jobs. We’re merely at the beginning of a new wave of technological advancement that will change the workforce once again—robotics, machine learning and AI. 

In recent decades, the integration of robotic technology into the workforce has fundamentally changed the way we work, leading to the creation of IT and support departments and creating millions of jobs in the process. And the implementation of RPA technologies will yield similar results. With the rise of skilled automation will come an increased demand for those who are capable of programming robots, creating task scenarios that the robots will use, and helping corporations integrate automation into their workflows.  In addition, by having robots automate the lower-level tasks, humans can be more efficient and effective in fulfilling theirs. The workforce of the future is a hybrid one, merging the efficiency and accuracy of robots with the intelligence and ingenuity of humans to accomplish great things. 

Change can be frightening, and it’s easy to shun it rather than embrace it. But technology have always changed the way we live, and it’s in our benefit to embrace innovation and look towards the future rather than get stuck in the past. Instead of lamenting the capabilities of robots, let’s see how together we can take advantage of the good they can do to help mankind progress and fulfil their untapped potential. 

Harel Tayeb, CEO, Kryon Systems
Image Credit: IAKOBCHUK VIACHESLAV / Shutterstock