Hybrid work policies are poised to endure even after the COVID-19 pandemic has ended.
While automation can empower hybrid workplaces, organizations should consider its potential pitfalls -- particularly when it comes to remote team collaboration and communication.
“Automation is impacting everything we do -- every job role, every sector,” said Lars Hyland, chief learning officer at Totara Learning, an employee education and performance management software company. Automation will cause profound changes in how people work, which can demand reskilling, he said. For that transition to happen successfully, organizations must support their hybrid workforces along the way.
It’s undeniable that automation will change how teams collaborate, whether employees are remote or in person, added Matthew Burns, startup ecosystem leader at Monday.com, a customizable work management platform provider. “Automation is replacing steps in a process that traditionally would be communication heavy and rely on in-person meetings, emails and other methods,” he said.
Automation has obvious pandemic-era benefits, Burns noted. For example, automation can free up time so that employees can focus on higher-value tasks. In addition, automation can help eliminate manual mistakes.
Insight Into Hybrid and Remote Workforces
Automation can be used to gain new insights into employees themselves, something that can be valuable when they are not onsite 100% of the time.
“Organizations are keen to better understand, measure and positively influence the employee experience,” said Adam Holtby, principal analyst at research firm Omdia. To that end, many enterprises have implemented employee well-being programs and digital experience management platforms.
At the same time, employees in several sectors have expressed concerns about digital tools, including automated ones, that result in employer overreach. For example, algorithmic systems used to track performance and productivity are increasingly controversial. And many of these automated programs collect significant amounts of data, including photos and videos, that organizations must store securely.
Automation Changes Employee Communications
Automation is an important area of focus for Jessica Carrell, co-founder of AnySoftwareTools, a website about tech products. Carrell said her clients are enthusiastic about automated technologies that help shorten the development cycle.
“Getting a quality product to market in a shorter period of time is something that [clients] love to see,” Carrell said.
Carrell cited automatically generated emails as a benefit that many organizations enjoy. It comes with tradeoffs, however, because automated emails can take away some of the “personal touch” in communications between organizations and clients, she said. Chat tools like Slack can remove some of the need for email and give customers another way to reach out.
There can also be upsides to less human interaction via automation, said Julie Rysenga, principal at 3LS Consulting, a professional services and staffing firm. “The trend towards automation means that lower-value tasks no longer have to be accomplished with human interaction,” Rysenga said. “This frees up resources to focus on higher-value activities.”
That has so far been the case for RushOrderTees, a custom apparel provider that has implemented a hybrid work model. Since the start of the pandemic, the company has adopted increasing levels of automation, said CEO and co-founder Mike Nemeroff. Increased automation has reduced employee communications to some extent but hasn’t created an issue, Nemeroff noted.
“Communications should be purpose-driven in a business environment,” Nemeroff said. Remote team collaboration can happen regularly, and employees can expend less energy on rote or non-creative tasks. “People have time to pursue those new and interesting projects that really affect the bottom line of your business,” he added.
The net result isn’t necessarily less communication between colleagues overall, but rather more focused communication. “Automation does not reduce the opportunities for team building and communication between workers,” Rysenga said. “It simply changes the conversation.”
Unlocking Productivity Gains
The main selling point of automation technology is its potential to boost worker productivity. It can free employees from repetitive tasks, allowing them to spend more time on engaging and challenging work.
The trick is to select automation tools that will truly save employees time, benefitting them both remotely and in the physical workplace. Cloud-based offerings are key. Tools like automated scheduling software can ease some of the friction in hybrid workplaces by making it easy for colleagues to plan meetings. Other tools like auto-transcribing services can save time spent on note-taking during Zoom calls.
However, organizations must commit to educating their workforces on using these tools. Otherwise, the promised benefits won’t materialize.
HR support around automation adoption is currently “siloed, chaotic and impersonal,” Hyland said. That problem gets amplified in hybrid workplaces when remote employees lack adequate access to HR resources.
“What is needed is a … more integrated HR structure that deploys new infrastructure and technology that brings learning, engagement and performance management activities together into a coordinated and personalized [employee] experience,” Hyland said.
How has automation benefited or hindered remote team collaboration at your organization? Tell us in the comments below!