Haley Bucelewicz | 11.20.19

The modern consumer has higher expectations for service than ever before. Customers expect and demand quick, seamless, and personalized experiences no matter where they’re getting their service from. To keep up with customer demands and stay competitive, organizations are turning to technology to disrupt and differentiate experiences. Many are turning to automation and taking advantage of innovations like artificial intelligence, machine learning, and even physical robots, to increase agility and efficiency. 

The main advantage of automation in the workplace is that it frees humans from repetitive, mundane, and time-consuming tasks. This allows them to focus on more complex and impactful work. On the other hand, it raises legitimate concerns about job security. Many might be wondering: Are robots going to take my job?

While job loss is a reality, the biggest change we’ll likely see in the next decade is the very nature of the way we work. Many workers will see the content and quality of their jobs shift as new technologies are adopted for particular tasks. And it will be up to organizations to rethink the way they do business—including adapting to new organizational structures and rethinking how they hire and train employees—to ensure that humans do not get lost in the automation shuffle. 

The future of work will require businesses to focus heavily on employee success and skilling, and a lot of change management. In this post, we dive deeper into what the rise of automation might mean for the future of the workforce, and how organizations can adapt to this change.

The Nature of Jobs Will Change

According to Forrester, by 2030 automation will reshape the workforce. 29% of knowledge work jobs (including single-domain knowledge work, physical workers, function-specific knowledge work, coordinators, and cubicle jobs) will be lost due to automation. 

However, the analyst firm also predicts that the number of “human touch” jobs will increase 13% by 2030 (with 331,500 net new jobs added in 2020). This type of work requires intuition, empathy, and physical and mental agility—think nurses, teachers, digital elite jobs.

While the net new jobs don’t compensate for the loss, it does demonstrate that automation does offer opportunities for job creation. In fact, because even technology makes mistakes, every automated system should be designed with humans at the center. There should be someone to troubleshoot if there’s an issue or step in if something ceases to function. Forrester predicts that enterprises will set up “automation strike teams,” to combat the threat of automation islands. The humans in these roles would have skills similar to traditional IT and domain experts, acting as robot architects and “automation jump starters.”

Likewise, we live in the age of the customer, meaning having humans in the workplace is more important than ever. We still need the human connection and empathy to maintain and enhance relationships with the people we do business with (our customers). Automation may take over many day-to-day tasks in a particular role, but it just means we have to shift how we look at traditional roles and focus more on the human side. Many will start to see the way they do their jobs evolve and change. In fact, Forrester predicts that four in five jobs (80%) will be transformed by automation. 

Let’s look at a few examples: 

  • Bank tellers will become more like marketers, informing customers about loans and financial offerings
  • Dispatchers will become “exception handlers,” using automated scheduling to facilitate day-to-day operations but stepping in during emergency situations
  • Field service technicians, who already have a role that requires a human touch, can put more effort into customer service, act as a brand ambassador, and offer add-on services

Need for Change Management 

As automation becomes a more prominent part of the workplace, organizations will have to prioritize change management. We’re looking at a whole new type of workforce, mixed between humans and machines, that will require a symbiotic relationship to be successful. This will surely be no easy feat, and will require sweeping changes. 

Tackling this unprepared is not an option. Many major transformations fail because:

a.) The organization lacks the fundamental readiness to adapt

b.) People are generally resistant to change (this hits even harder when automation threatens their jobs)

Meaning enterprises will need to:

a.) Rethink organizational processes and structure:

  • Examine how they manage their automation portfolio
  • Hone leadership and management skills
  • Adopt new hiring and management practices

b.) Foster resilience in employees:

  • Maximize their value and skills
  • Stimulate an environment of learning
  • Be transparent about the changes and inspire trust

The CIO will likely play a huge role in the change process, focusing less on technology and more on people management. They’ll likely become a partner to HR and employee experience teams to minimize growing pains and facilitate changing workforce dynamics, such as working with new technology or interacting with robots. 

Importance of Employee Engagement & Skilling

As mentioned in the previous section, the rise of automation will make many employees wary. Many will be concerned about losing their jobs. Others will worry about how much their roles will change. Those who are less digital-savvy are probably worried about how they can work effectively with automation. 

Being said, businesses will need to focus heavily on employee experience throughout this transformation. For one, they must ensure employees are on-board and comfortable with the increase in automation. This might mean explaining the benefits of automation (such as the ability to focus on more fulfilling work), educating them about the new automated systems, and being transparent about how automation will affect them. 

It’s also important for organizations to focus on upskilling and training employees to help them evolve their roles and ensure they still have a place in the company. This means honing in on “people skills” and soft skills like communication, leadership, interpersonal skills, and empathy and emotional intelligence. It also means focusing on technical, logical, and digital skills to help people work more effectively with the new technology. By providing these training opportunities, you’re building trust with your employees and showing them you value them and want them to succeed in the organization.

Prepare for the Future of Work Today 

Automation is already reshaping the way we work and will continue to impact the workforce as technology evolves. Successful organizations will start preparing for sweeping changes so they can reap the benefits of automation, such as cost-cutting and increased efficiency.

At the same time, it’s crucial not to forget the value of your human employees. With customer expectations rising every day, the human touch remains a key part of your business. Ensure your leadership and management teams are equipped to help employees excel in this new workplace and enhance customer experiences.