Debate about the role of automation in the workplace has raged for years. The first major study on the subject was conducted in 2013 and it suggested that artificial intelligence and robots could threaten 50% of jobs in the U.S.
A few years later in 2018, the OECD released a more detailed report suggesting that just 14% of jobs in OECD countries were “highly automatable”. Earlier this year, the Office for National Statistics analysis suggested that this figure was now as low as 7%.
Slowly but surely, the fear about automation at work has subsided. In fact, our global research of more than 34,000 people across 18 countries, released this month, has found that workers don’t fear technology or automation—69% of them believe it will actually enhance, not replace, their jobs.
More importantly, 71% of workers said that they are in favour of using technology to replace laborious tasks. This percentage increases significantly in countries whose economies would typically rely more on manual labour. For example, 86% of Indian, 83% of Mexican and 82% Brazilian workers are in favour of using technology to replace these menial tasks. This highlights that workers welcome technology which frees them up to work on more fulfilling duties.
The role of technology in our daily lives is almost certainly driving these shifting attitudes toward automation at work. We order taxis, book holidays or buy the latest products with the swipe of a finger on our smartphones. We watch television on demand, anywhere we like and in high definition. And we are always connected to our friends, family and organisations via the ever-expanding array of contact channels—from social media to WhatsApp.
Technology has made our lives easier in so many ways that it’s profoundly shifted our expectations. For example, 60% of consumers expect to be able to “engage with an organisation on any channel and at any time.” That’s a high customer service bar to hit.
As consumer expectations increase, so do their expectations of their place of work. They are used to using the latest technology in their private lives, only to come to work and use outdated systems or processes.
They want technology that cannot only help alleviate menial tasks and processes, but also give them access to relevant information and support. They want to work hand-in-hand with technology, as a hybrid workforce, and feel more fulfilled in their roles.
Employers should adopt a hybrid workforce approach to not only improve business performance, but also employee well-being. While 79% said they are happy at their current place of work, only 29% had low levels of stress. However, almost two-thirds of workers (64%) believe that technology helps reduce their workload and stress.
While there is clearly a case for a hybrid workforce, employers still need to be mindful of how that is implemented. It is especially important as the generational mix of your workforce becomes more diverse. Leading expert on generational theory and employability, Dr. Paul Redmond, points out: For the first time in industrial history, there are five generations together in the workplace.
As you may expect, the younger generations—the digital natives—crave technology in the workplace far more than others. The research data found that those aged between 18-35 are three times more likely to ask for a technology upgrade at work than those over 50. Clients the world over tell us that churn of their millennial workforce is high and are citing outdated technology as a key reason for younger employees leaving a company.
Engagement and consultation with your employees remains key when it comes to creating an effective hybrid workforce. Be sure to take the time to understand how technology can help you get the most out of everyone. For younger generations, it may be providing more technology, while for older generations it may be more about engaging and managing how the rollout of that technology is implemented.
For those that get the implementation of a hybrid workforce right, not only will your employees thank you—your customers will too. Despite the increased demand for digital engagement tools, human interaction remains vital for your customers, especially for high-value interactions. In fact, 60% of customers believe they can negotiate a better outcome when they engage with a person.
With technology embedded in our daily lives, it’s only natural that our expectations change—both as customers and as workers. A hybrid workforce is clearly the key to meeting these rising expectations. But to achieve this goal, it is most certainly a case of man and machine needing to work hand-in-hand.
Digital tools used to take on the strain of mundane work and basic enquiries will free up your human workforce to do the more fulfilling and valuable work—a win-win for your customers and employees alike.