Preparing the HR to rewrite the rules in a post-automation workplace

A report by the World Economic Forum predicts robots in the workplace can lead to loss of over five million jobs by 2020. The interesting fact is that according to Randstad employer brand research 2017, 1 in 2 employees in India feel that automation will make their jobs easy. The question, then, is, that is your workforce prepared for the post-automation workplace and, more importantly, as voice of the organisation, what should HR do?

With the arrival of robots, artificial intelligence and machine learning, organisations stand at the unique intersection of man-machine collaboration. What was a work of fiction in the 70s and 80s are industrial reality, today. Among other things, robots today can move stock in warehouses, tend bars, check out books at the library and even perform surgeries. so, is the ‘robot apocalypse’ inevitable?

If you’ve ever played freestyle chess, you would know that the most powerful combination to beat is that of a human and a supercomputer. The good news is the same man-machine combination can be replicated in a workplace environment to save as well as create more jobs.

HR’s role in a new collaborative ‘co-bot’ workplace

The future workplace will comprise hybrid teams of machines and ‘augmented humans’ that will prove far more efficient and generate unprecedented outcomes. ‘Augmented’ as an approach is not only superior to ‘automation-only’ but also more cost-efficient and sustainable in the long run. While robotic process automation (RPA) is expected to take up 80% of the rule-based, repetitive administrative jobs in the next 10 years, the same percentage of cross-functional reasoning and problem-solving tasks will likely remain the purview of humans. This makes a great case for HR to educate and push for employee upskilling.

Is HR prepared to manage the impending shift in roles and an augmented workforce?

Deloitte’s 2017 Global human capital trends report reveals that only 17% of global HR executives feel they are ready to manage a workforce with people, robots, and AI working together. The writing on the wall is clear – instead of fretting over how many jobs robots will take over, HR leaders need to redirect their focus to identify areas where human intervention can add value. Here are three steps to get started:

1. Rethink the connection between talent and technology

Think about jobs that are best automated and the human skills that may be needed to manage them. In essence, treat automation as an integrated function – one that can be managed in a human-centric way. Boost your employee experience and value proposition by offering them re-skilling or up-skilling opportunities that can lead to the creation of new positions and add to the bottom-line. In the manufacturing industry, for example, collaborative robots or cobots work alongside factory workers. Leveraging RPA not only helps manufacturers boost efficiency, productivity, and safety, it also frees their human workforce to use their cognitive ability and experience to bolster growth to the next level.

2. Employ a 70/20/10 model of flexibility in job roles

Narrowly-focused job descriptions are on their way out. As business and consumer demands evolve rapidly, companies need people who can multi-task. Hire people who can adapt quickly to diversity as well as train your existing workforce to be flexible. Employees should focus on their core task for 70% of their work time, 20% on tasks related to their core competence, and 10% on drastically different tasks. Besides broadening employees’ potential (which reduces attrition) and boosting workplace collaboration, the 70/20/10 model also makes room for innovation through fresh ideas that emerge when people handle new responsibilities.

3. Start small and know what to automate

Like with any new technology, start a pilot program to automate one business function at a time, understand its impact, and once you have answers to all the challenges, replicate the experience. When identifying processes to automate, the focus should be on maximizing value by combining robotic and human resources - not doing away with one or the other. For instance, banks and financial institutions can leverage robotics to derive value beyond cost-cutting by helping cashiers deliver a superior customer experience. By automating processes in their core banking platform, banks can empower cashiers to process standard transactions through a single screen and fewer clicks, freeing up their time for customer interaction instead.

Winning in the 'Cobot' age

The cobot industry is expected to witness explosive growth in the coming five years with revenues touching USD 3 billion by 2022. Think of how many jobs will be created in building this industry to a level as grand as this. For a long while, scientists have been working to make machines think and act like humans while simultaneously pushing humans to match machines in speed. The real promise, however, lies in the ‘co’ part of the word cobot– the one that signifies man and machine collaboration. The next revolution in HR will depend on the ability of HR leaders to rewrite the rules for a cobot workforce.

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