The future of work will be greatly shaped by the rapid technological infiltration in our lives. The day is not far, when man works shoulder-to-shoulder alongside machines. A unique workforce-blend can help streamline efficiency, productivity, and effectiveness. At the same time, it may lead to job losses and role redundancies. Human resources and line managers will need to reinvent the talent management wheel to derive the best of both worlds- bot and the biological workforce.
Employee perceptions: A snapshot
People are already feeling the tremendous impact of automation on their professional lives.
37% of respondents to a global “Workforce of the Future”** survey by PwC stated that they were worried about automation putting jobs at risk.
Employees are anxious about the changing work environment, as more and more machines take over their transactional and routine jobs. AI and automation is being viewed as a sea of change involving new organizational structures, roles, work associations and work expectations. And, humans are seldom comfortable with change.
Interestingly, automation enjoys a positive lens too, especially in the APAC region, as seen from the PersolKelly Q3 report on APAC Workforce Insights. China (82 percent of favourable respondents) and Singapore (71 percent of favourable respondents) prominently felt that automation and AI made their jobs easier. Taiwan and Malaysia, with 73 percent favourable respondents each stated that AI and automation made them more productive, and helped them perform better. 69 percent of Hong Kong’s sample population talked about increased work efficiency. Thailand and India talked about improving the company’s bottom line and the necessity of automation in today’s times.
60% expressed that few people will have stable, long term employment in the future.
As expected, even in the APAC region, some concerns loomed. 51 percent of Vietnamese respondents expressed the eventuality that AI will be superior to humans when it comes to making complex decisions. Job losses (44 percent of Indonesian respondents) and lack of ROI due to high expense (57 percent of Korean respondents) were other concern areas. With employee perception turning out to be a mix of paradoxes, it is important for leaders to understand the multi-dimensional impact of AI-automation on politics, economy, society and culture.
The future landscape
These employee perceptions are not baseless since the real impact of digital automation will be determined by the readiness of countries and their organizations to be AI-ready and automation-ready. Technology will not hit everyone evenly- high-income countries are better prepared for digital automation. The Economist’s Intelligence Unit came up with an Automation Readiness Index***(ARI), for twenty-five countries, derived from a holistic assessment of its impact on economic growth, social structures, government policy, labour markets, and other relevant factors. High-income APAC countries, namely, Korea, Singapore, and Japan rank high in their ARI, while low-income countries like Vietnam and Indonesia rank low. Governments and private organizations must realize these differences, and the incremental effort and investment required to make AI and automation work. Especially so, because the social impacts of digital automation technologies in the Asia-Pacific region are likely to be far greater than in other regions.
The role of organizations in building the automated “Future of Work”
Turning automation into a powerful people-advantage requires a high level of change management. Organizational leaders must proactively prepare their people for the impending organizational landscape of man-cum-machine.
Defining the desired outcome: Leadership must clearly define the business drivers for implementing AI and automation. Adopting AI and automation because it is an “in thing” is setting up the organization for failure.
Communicate the “WIIFM” to employees: Employees can greatly benefit from the increased flexibility and fluidic work design that automation allows. HR and line managers must openly connect and communicate with employees. Educate people about how automation can help make work easier, faster, and more accurate, thereby boosting their performance and careers. This will help build people-confidence in the automated era.
Upskill and reskill: The future workforce must learn to work alongside and along with machines. L&D must help build new-age skills such as digital, social, cloud, etc. Also, with machines taking over mundane tasks, human workers will be expected to take on more value-adding and strategic work. HR must groom high-potential talent on softer areas such as decision making, problem-solving, communication, collaboration, creativity and innovation. Another expected change is in the way leaders and supervisors manage their teams; hence it is necessary to develop leaders who can manage the nuances of a futuristic workforce must develop and deploy learning interventions which bridge the technical, functional and cultural gaps of a tech-forward workforce.
Workforce planning and management: HR must understand the supporting infrastructure to help the man-plus-machine workforce outperform. Design a flat and agile organizational structure, and formulate relevant policies and processes to manage a dual-toned workforce. Some ongoing decision points are- identifying which tasks are to be automated, building technology-savvy workflows, and redefining talent-roles. The organization must provide the resources to help employees perform well in their new capacities. Rethinking workforce planning is a critical step to leveraging the best of man and machine.
Process changes: With automation and AI at the forefront, the way people interact, communicate and get work done will change drastically. HR must start with redefining policies to sync with the new reality and key people-processes i.e. Total Rewards, Performance Management, Work Arrangements, Learning and Development etc.
The role of policy and government
Automation and AI shall create widespread disruption in economic, social and public systems. Therefore, it is the equal responsibility of government and private entities to facilitate a smooth workforce transition. Building sustained industrial and technological infrastructure, creating an entrepreneurial and innovative environment, building education and ICT infrastructure- much needs to be done at a policy level. Especially in developed Asian economies like Japan, Korea, Singapore and Taiwan-China, automation is and shall continue to intersperse greatly with economic, social and national development. As more and more developing economies embrace AI and automation, some lookout-areas include de-risking job replacements, social inequality and data misuse.
Automation and AI is the predominant technological paradigm of today and tomorrow. Public and private decision makers must join hands to create a competitive edge, and prevent this imminent change from turning into a socio-economic debacle. With active public and private action, the ground population i.e. both employees and consumers shall develop a sense of trust, and AI and automation will deliver on its positive promises.