Many discussions about automation and artificial intelligence have dystopian undercurrents. Robots are coming for your job—it’s the man vs. machine story, told again and again.
But some experts believe the automated future will not be so bleak. Rather than eliminating jobs, automation and AI will redefine them—potentially making work less menial, more productive, and more rewarding. For example, with workflow automation apps like Microsoft Flow, employees themselves can automate repetitive, menial tasks and free up time for more meaningful work.
For businesses, automation could bring about smarter, error-free outcomes, as well as productivity, innovation and growth. Consider these statistics:
- As many as 45 percent of the activities people are paid to perform can be automated by adapting currently demonstrated technologies. In the U.S., these activities represent about $2 trillion in annual wages.
- Researchers estimate that automation could raise productivity growth globally by 0.8 percent to 1.4 percent annually.
- About 25 percent of CEOs’ time is currently spent on activities that machines could do, such as analyzing reports and data to inform decisions.
However, as with any new technology, you cannot expect to see benefits unless you take steps to ensure your employees know how to use it and want to use it. Indeed, according to Harvard Business Review, one of the most important tasks for business leaders now is to “avoid the catastrophic mistake of ignoring how people will be affected” by automation.
Although Microsoft Flow represents just a fraction of automation’s potential, the impact it can have on employee productivity should not be downplayed.
A good way to get started is by implementing technology like Microsoft Flow and prioritizing user adoption. Here are three ways to increase the likelihood of success:
- TELL Explain why you are implementing technology like Flow, how it can benefit the organization, how it can benefit employees, and reassure them that automation doesn’t equate to job elimination.
- SHOW Provide a range of training options and include business case scenarios. Be sure to provide bigger picture instruction that explains how automation works across Office 365 and other apps.
- REINFORCE Keep an eye on the Microsoft Roadmap to see what changes are coming. Provide ongoing training to enable employees to keep up.
The smart business leader will recognize and remedy what Harvard Business Review describes as “post-technology trauma”—they must figure out “… how to integrate the new technology into the work flow, and how to cope with feelings that the new technology is somehow ‘the enemy.’” If leaders don’t address both, the result could be undercurrents of anxiety and even anger, the article states.
Although Flow represents just a fraction of automation’s potential, the impact it can have on employee productivity should not be downplayed. When employees understand how automation works, how they can make it work for them, and how it can vastly improve their day-to-day experience, they are more inclined to embrace future change.
 “Four Fundamentals of Workplace Automation,” McKinsey Quarterly, November 2015
 “25% of CEOs’ Time Is Spent on Tasks Machines Could Do,” Harvard Business Review, Feb. 3, 2017
IMAGE: From “Fundamentals of Exhibition Design,” Rare Book Division, The New York Public Library. The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1939-12 – 1940-01.
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.