Robots are already living among us. We see them in the form of self-driving vehicles, burger making robots and corporate chatbots. And while many of these technologies may be novel, the concept of disruptive automation is not. Ever since the Industrial Revolution, there has been an ongoing fear that machines might cause mass unemployment. This has never been the case because as old jobs are replaced, new jobs evolve. Those internal communicators of more advanced years will remember the advent of desktop publishing and the way it impacted our industry.

 

Companies are embracing automation in order to stay relevant and competitive.”

 

While there’s no denying automation will eliminate some existing jobs, companies are embracing it in order to stay relevant and competitive. Reduced costs, increased productivity, improved quality, safety and security represent just some of the many benefits available to businesses through automated technology and processes. According to a Capita report titled Workplace More Human, the majority (91 per cent) of businesses consider automation to be an opportunity rather than a risk, helping to engage employees.

On the flipside, the same report also found that the majority of employees are concerned about automation. Jo Matkin, Managing Director of Capita Resourcing, said: “While there are obvious benefits of automation to employers, employees are concerned not just about the impact on jobs, but also their workplace culture.”

So how do businesses capitalise on the benefits of automation while ensuring their employees are engaged in a new way of working?

Business can’t ignore human needs if they want to benefit from automation. Ultimately, it’s about more than just the technology, it’s about behaviour. Not having a strategy for handling staff concerns and managing staff participation is one of the easiest ways to fail at the implementation process.

Focus on the ‘why’ rather than the ‘what’

Frame the benefits of automation in terms that employees will understand. In addition to business benefits, automation can improve working conditions and worker rights by allowing employees to move into roles that require a higher level of skill.

This point is supported by Irene Petrick, Director of Business Strategy for Intel’s Industrial and Energy Solutions Division, who believes shifting the focus away from the technology to a discussion about the issues it can solve is key. “If you have workers on the factory floor who you want to adopt something, it’s so much easier to accelerate the technology by framing it in pain points that it will solve,” she said. It’s a task which should involve internal comms working in conjunction with their HR colleagues.

 

 

Education and upskilling is essential

Those looking for an example to emulate should consider Evian. The water company modernised its factory in the French Alps with multiple automation upgrades, but rather than reducing its workforce, the company spent part of its US$334 million upgrade budget on a communication and retraining initiative designed to engage, empower and help employees settle into their new environment.

 

You cannot have
this type of transformation…without having a fully collaborative approach that includes all employees.”
Veronique Penchienati

 

Veronique Penchienati, President of Evian said: “You cannot have this type of transformation… without having a fully collaborative approach that includes all employees. Training was one of the key levers of success. It really shows what you can achieve when the people are part of the project. It was not a project of that plant director or the boss, but it was a project of all the employees.”

Digitisation, connectivity, automation and technology upgrades are the way of the future. Yet businesses have a responsibility to support employees going through this process with education and training, and help build confidence through communications. Because ultimately finding the right balance between automation and human understanding will be the key to long-term business success.