For as long as there have been machines, humans have been conditioned to mistrust them, and even see them as monsters—think movies like Alphaville and 2001: A Space Odyssey, and books like Brave New World and Don Quixote.
Some real-life evidence, while clearly the exception and not the rule, has added to the unease: A robot vacuum cleaner “attacking” a woman in South Korea, a GPS system leading Japanese tourists into the Pacific Ocean, and a Google Maps “shortcut” causing a muddy 100-car pileup near Denver International Airport.
Our perception of machines has begun to change, albeit slowly, over the past two decades. Perhaps that’s because automation is already being used in the workplace—in email marketing, recruitment, and customer service, as well as in software like Office 365. Plus, with the development of apps like Microsoft Flow, automation tools are becoming accessible to everyone, not just experts.
If you haven’t yet used Flow, now is the time to get started. Here are five ways to ensure you build a good foundation:
- Find out if your organization offers training for Microsoft Flow, and sign up for courses. Also investigate other company-provided resources, such as self-help and web-based learning.
- Familiarize yourself with the app. Browse the vast collection of templates and practice creating your own Flows from scratch.
- Keep a running list of time-consuming, repetitive tasks you must complete. Block out a recurring chunk of time on your calendar to determine if and how you can automate those tasks.
- Keep another list of ideas you haven’t had time to pursue. Use the time you saved by automating some tasks to start innovating. Set aside a specific time each month or every other week.
- Make it a habit. Although Flow represents just a fraction of how you can use automation to improve your day-to-day experience, the impact it can have on your productivity should not be underestimated. Be sure to regularly assess your work processes and automate what you can.
Experts tell us that the automated future isn’t entirely grim. Although automation does indeed substitute for labor, it also complements it. Automation boosts productivity and therefore raises both the demand for and value of the work that only humans can do. Still, we’re more worried than enthusiastic about a future in which robots and computers can do many jobs that are currently done by humans. Perhaps if we take the time to learn how automation technology works and how to use it, we’ll be able to visualize a future where machines don’t wipe out our jobs, but instead enable us to create work that’s less tedious and more meaningful.
 “Why Are There Still So Many Jobs? The History and Future of Workplace Automation,” by David H. Autor, Journal of Economic Perspectives, Volume 29, Number 3, Summer 2015.  Americans are roughly twice as likely to express worry (72%) than enthusiasm (33%) about a future in which robots and computers can do many jobs that are currently done by humans. They are also around three times as likely to express worry (67%) than enthusiasm (22%) about algorithms that can make hiring decisions without any human involvement. Source: “Automation in Everyday Life,” Pew Research Center, Oct. 4, 2017.
Jen is an award-winning journalist who writes about workplace productivity and technology for Vitalyst. She believes in the power of using plain language, especially when writing about technology, and lists “achieving and enabling clarity” among her life goals.