The Connection Between Automation and the Employee Experience
The prevailing narrative is that automation will eliminate broad categories of jobs across every industry. However, intelligent software solutions also can help many of us be more productive, eliminate unnecessary and mundane tasks, and allow us to be more focused and fulfilled at work.
Automation—whether in the form of customer self-service tools, artificial intelligence-assisted robotic process automation (RPA), virtual assistants, or industrial robots—can remove the routine, redundant processes that take up time and energy. Change in today’s economy is fast and sometimes turbulent, but it’s because of that constant rate of change that we need automation and artificial intelligence (AI) technologies to help us keep up. Particularly for cloud-based software, mobile applications, and even Websites, updates to the look and feel of these solutions occur at any time—and all the time. So how can automation and AI help us become more proficient in using these systems?
Why Change Is Driving Automation
When you consider the technological transformations in the last three decades alone, the evolution has been staggering. Within one generation, we’ve seen the rise of mobile devices, the Internet, and more recently, cloud computing, AI, and real-time analytics.
With virtually every business application—from customer relationship management (CRM) solutions and marketing tools to HR software—based in the cloud, this means radical changes to the user interface can be conducted any time and at any frequency. As creatures of habit, any tweaks often can—and do—result in growing pains and adoption issues.
Meanwhile, the era of lifetime employment at one company is over. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, on average, a person stays with his or her current employer for 4.2 years—and during an individual’s career, he or she will change jobs roughly 12 times. Each new job leads to the employee being exposed to new software, whether it’s a different payroll system, CRM software, or other workplace tool. While technologies aim to be intuitive to the user, there are clear growing pains associated with navigating various business solutions. Often, when employees don’t understand how to use a specific tool, they’ll ask a colleague, contact the IT department, search for the response, or give up altogether. None of these options is ideal (or efficient) as organizations continue to invest thousands of dollars in technologies each year that seek to improve efficiency, differentiate, and grow the business.
Reaping the Benefits of Automation
As how we work continues to evolve, automation will play a critical role in attracting and retaining quality employees. Millennials, the largest generation in the history of the U.S. workforce, rate “opportunity to learn and grow” as the most important factor they look for in a new job, according to a Gallup report. Research also shows more than a quarter of employees at medium to large organizations cite insufficient technology as a primary cause of burnout.
Fortunately, the increasing use of AI and real-time analytics is streamlining learning and development by eliminating the need to train an employee on how to use any business software. Today, systems can understand a user’s behavior to automatically and contextually guide him or her toward completing a task, or even auto-populate fields across applications to drive greater efficiency across the organization. Tools such as AI-powered chatbots are becoming more intelligent, understanding the nuances in how people communicate to direct employees to a specific application, or even conduct the task for them so it simply requires user approval. For example, chatbots today can book time off for an employee, prompt the employee to answer basic questions about taking time off (such as how long he or she plans to be out of the office), and then book that time in the company’s HR system directly before sending it to the employee’s manager for approval.
Research shows that engaged employees drive growth and productivity across a variety of performance outcomes, from customer ratings to product quality and profitability. Automation reduces the workload of purely mundane inputs employees have to complete on top of tasks that require creativity and nuanced judgment. This can come in the form of help desk support chatbots, auto-populating expense requests, filling in customer details in a CRM system, or any number of basic tasks. In short, when employers provide a working environment that moves beyond tedious tasks to fulfill employees’ needs, especially in terms of learning and growth opportunities, those employees are far more likely to go above and beyond.
Finally, beyond eliminating costs associated with onboarding, training, and retention, as well as overall productivity gains, automation’s effects extend to senior leadership in impactful ways. By implementing tools that can automatically complete basic tasks, HR and C-level executives can set metrics around productivity across the broad suite of business applications and track this against overarching performance goals. Decision-makers will be able to understand which applications are causing bottlenecks, and why these applications may be inefficient. By recognizing these friction points at the aggregate and individual levels, organizations can take proactive measures to improve the digital employee experience before it becomes a persistent issue.
Automation and the Future of Work
Automation is fundamentally reshaping the way we live and work. Thanks to continual advancements in technologies such as AI and analytics, we can expect that in the near future, virtually every system we interact with will incorporate automated functionalities so we can eliminate time-intensive and mundane processes and focus on more strategic activities. Organizations can expect not only to have their employees change jobs every few years, but that over time, software will become automated to the extent that it will adapt entirely to users’ needs in the near future. Companies that take full advantage of the benefits automation offers will be the winners in the new economy.
Rephael Sweary co-founded WalkMe, a leading digital adoption platform, in 2011. Previously, Sweary was the co-founder, CEO, and then president of Jetro Platforms, which was acquired in 2007. Since then, he has funded and helped build a number of companies both in his role as entrepreneur-in-residence at Ocean Assets and in a personal capacity.