Much has been said about automation at work and a lot of it negative. Which is understandable, because uncertainty often breeds fear. That said, we were interested in hearing what real people, in real offices around Europe had to say about automation.
So, we commissioned research among 3,000 employees in the UK, France, and Germany (Wrike Digital Work Report 2018). The results? Most office workers aren’t afraid of automation. In fact, according to our findings, they’d like to see more of it. Our survey shows that no less than 86 percent of employees are interested in technology that could cut the amount of time they spend on repetitive tasks and, in the UK, 73 percent believe that technology can help with operational efficiencies by taking on repetitive tasks.
As surprising as these findings might seem to many, Professor Steven Van Belleghem, an expert in customer focus in the digital world and author of Customers The Day After Tomorrow, sees this as natural workplace evolution. “When it comes to employment, automation is often given negative connotations, but the collaboration between man and machine has been providing benefits to society for many years. For example, by automating elements of the manufacture of cars, they have become much cheaper and therefore more accessible to a larger group of people.”
Why is it that workers are interested in more automation? The reality of the workplace today is that it is more demanding than ever. Stress levels and workloads are on the rise in the UK (69 percent and 59 percent, respectively, say they have increased) and workers have less time to spend outside of work (56 percent say time spent at home has decreased), which undoubtedly has a negative effect on workplace morale.
In an economy where businesses are increasingly required to work faster and smarter, automation becomes the key to competitive advantage. Our research finds that nearly half of UK employees claim they could get between 25 and 50 percent more work done if technology takes on repetitive tasks.
Given the ability to gain “extra” time in their workday, people say they can focus more on creative work and listening to customers.
“In the coming years, the collaboration between man and machine will be crucial in meeting the expectations of customers,” says Van Belleghem. “This will involve a transition from AI (artificial intelligence) to IA (intelligence augmented) – just as the Industrial Revolution helped us overcome our physical limitations, the machines of the future will help us overcome our cognitive limitations.”
The potential created by introducing more automation is also acknowledged by employees, with nearly half of those surveyed (45%) in the UK believing automation will give their company a competitive advantage.
But much remains to be done. Just 4 percent of UK companies have an automation strategy (i.e. planning to implement tools/techniques within the next 12 to 24 months) for the whole company. That may be because there is confusion about what exactly constitutes a repetitive task, particularly when we look beyond the traditional manufacturing shop floor. Virtually any task that repeats itself is ripe to be automated. Think about raising purchase orders, logging time, tracking expenses, creating meeting reports. The list is endless. The real challenge is making businesses and individuals more aware of just how much of their day-to-day work is repetitive, and making sure employees are then allowed to invest their newly gained time in tasks that add greater value to the business.