Empowering employees for a ‘future ready’ business
At the start of 2020, no business could have predicted the year would be defined by a global pandemic, unprecedented national and international lockdowns and huge economic upheaval. Beyond the terrible loss of life COVID-19 has caused, it’s in our businesses and economies where the impact of this global pandemic is being felt.
The reality is that we are now gearing up for the biggest economic crisis in recent years, and this is making the business community nervous. However, I am a strong believer that in every crisis there is opportunity. And the bigger the crisis, the bigger the opportunity.
As we move into the ‘new normal,’ companies are using this as a catalyst to reinvent their ways of working. In some cases, this means pivoting to entirely new business models to shore up their future in a post-COVID world, seeking to reduce costs and improve employee and customer experience along the way. Businesses are indexing more on digital interactions, rather than physical, having realised that they can continue at almost full functionality, remotely.
In light of this realisation, employee expectations have shifted in a big way, with increasing demand for more flexibility when it comes to work schedules and locations. While many reaped social, physical and mental wellbeing benefits by working from home, it confirmed for others that they get their energy and creativity from being around people. The lockdown experience has highlighted the fact we all work differently. We cannot return to binary expectations of office hours; a flexible model is key.
Businesses appear committed to listening to this demand. Vodafone Business’ recent found that 77% of companies now see promoting employee wellness and mental health as key business values— up from 71% in November 2019. Of the ‘future ready’ businesses surveyed — i.e. businesses that are considered to be ‘very well prepared’ for the future, 90% reported taking some form of action to give their employees extra support during the pandemic and to support their return to the office.
Improving the employee experience
COVID-19 has shifted many business’ goalposts on what they can and will achieve for the year ahead, and at the same time has exacerbated many other existing challenges. However, one thing that remains a constant success factor is retaining and training talented staff. Talent, creativity and diversity of ideas —wrapped in a culture that supports all three —will give one business the edge over another. But with shifting employee expectations, approaches to talent retention and training need to be refreshed and given more of a focus than ever.
Skills wise, 43% of businesses we spoke to felt that recruiting for the right tech skills would be one of their key challenges in future. Alongside this trend, employees are viewing training, technology and flexibility as more important than ‘career prospects’. 85% of ‘future ready’ businesses expect ‘appealing to core values’ will become more important to attracting and keeping staff in the future.
Across the board, businesses are also looking at increasing international recruitment efforts and considering more neuro-diverse candidates moving forward. Many of the ‘future ready’ companies we spoke to are re-thinking their approach to recruitment by tapping into a much wider talent pool to drive a creative and diverse outlook. To fill skills gaps and futureproof their teams it’s important that businesses act now to create a clear strategy for attracting and keeping people from a diverse pool of ages, ethnicities, genders, sexualities, and neuro-diverse groups.
We find, through analysing the behaviours of our ‘future ready’ businesses, that the more companies embody a strong core value set and a level of flexibility that recognises the needs of a diverse workforce, the better set up they will be to weather further storms on the horizon.
Become a workforce ready for the future
Businesses all over the world are moving into a new era. We’re seeing a massive rewriting of the social contracts between employers and employees, between businesses and their customers, and between citizens, businesses and governments.
We’re only at the start of this new era but it’s clear from our research that ‘future ready’ businesses are already leading the way. Incremental changes won’t cut it. Leaders need to be bold and decisive to make changes and get ahead of the competition. This window of opportunity won’t last forever.
Technology will play a key role in powering and enabling these changes, but we need to humanise it. This means designing technology to be better for humans and better at interacting with humans — enabling us to harness, rather than be ruled by, tech. We expect technology to be deployed more thoughtfully and purposely to improve or replace outdated systems and to fundamentally improve people’s lives.
This is the ultimate test of the “growth mindset” of individuals and organisations. The last few months have been tough and challenges remain, but the opportunity is now to rip up the rulebook and re-examine the way we work and interact in the business world. It’s time to listen to our employees, to try new ways of doing things, to experiment and to learn.
Only then will businesses be confident that through working together, a new adaptable, ‘future ready’ workplace will be created.
Automation of repetitive tasks leads to higher value work
Two-thirds of global office workers feel they are constantly doing the same tasks over and over again. That’s according to a new study (2021 Office Worker Survey) from automation software company UiPath.
Whether emailing, inputting data, or scheduling calls and meetings, the majority of those surveyed said they waste on average four and a half hours a week on time-consuming tasks that they think could be automated.
Not only is the undertaking of such repetitious and mundane tasks a waste of time for employees, and therefore for businesses, but it can also have a negative impact on employees’ motivation and productivity. And the research backs this up with more than half (58%) of those surveyed saying that undertaking such repetitive tasks doesn’t allow them to be as creative as they’d like to be.
“When repetitive, unrewarding tasks are handled by people, it takes time and this can cause delays and reduce both employee and customer satisfaction,” Gavin Mee, Managing Director of UiPath Northern Europe tells Business Chief. “Repetitive tasks can also be tedious, which often leads to stress and an increased likelihood to leave a job.”
And these tasks exist at all levels within an organisation, right up to executive level, where there are “small daily tasks that can be automated, such as scheduling, logging onto systems and creating reports”, adds Mee.
Automation can free employees to focus on higher value work
By automating some or all of these repetitive tasks, employees at whatever level of the organisation are freed up to focus on meaningful work that is creative, collaborative and strategic, something that will not only help them feel more engaged, but also benefit the organisation.
“Automation can free people to do more engaging, rewarding and higher value work,” says Mee, highlighting that 68% of global workers believe automation will make them more productive and 60% of executives agree that automation will enable people to focus on more strategic work. “Importantly, 57% of executives also say that automation increases employee engagement, all important factors to achieving business objectives.”
These aren’t the only benefits, however. One of the problems with employees doing some of these repetitive tasks manually is that “people are fallible and make mistakes”, says Mee, whereas automation boosts accuracy and reduces manual errors by 57%, according to Forrester Research. Compliance is also improved, according to 92% of global organisations.
Repetitive tasks that can be automated
Any repetitive process can be automated, Mee explains, from paying invoices to dealing with enquiries, or authorising documents and managing insurance claims. “The process will vary from business to business, but office workers have identified and created software robots to assist with thousands of common tasks they want automated.”
These include inputting data or creating data sets, a time-consuming task that 59% of those surveyed globally said was the task they would most like to automate, with scheduling of calls and meetings (57%) and sending template or reminder emails (60%) also top of the automation list. Far fewer believed, however, that tasks such as liaising with their team or customers could be automated, illustrating the higher value of such tasks.
“By employing software robots to undertake such tasks, they can be handled much more quickly,” adds Mee pointing to OTP Bank Romania, which during the pandemic used an automation to process requests to postpone bank loan instalments. “This reduced the processing time of a single request from 10 minutes to 20 seconds, allowing the bank to cope with a 125% increase in the number of calls received by call centre agents.”
Mee says: “Automation accelerates digital transformation, according to 63% of global executives. It also drives major cost savings and improves business metrics, and because software robots can ramp-up quickly to meet spikes in demand, it improves resilience.
Five business areas that can be automated
Mee outlines five business areas where automation can really make a difference.
- Contact centres Whether a customer seeks help online, in-store or with an agent, the entire customer service journey can be automated – from initial interaction to reaching a satisfying outcome
- Finance and accounting Automation enables firms to manage tasks such as invoice processing, ensuring accuracy and preventing mistakes
- Human resources Automations can be used across the HR team to manage things like payroll, assessing job candidates, and on-boarding
- IT IT teams are often swamped in daily activity like on-boarding or off-boarding employees. Deploying virtual machines, provisioning, configuring, and maintaining infrastructure. These tasks are ideal for automation
- Legal There are many important administrative tasks undertaken by legal teams that can be automated. Often, legal professionals are creating their own robots to help them manage this work. In legal and compliance processes, that means attorneys and paralegals can respond more quickly to increasing demands from clients and internal stakeholders. Robots don’t store data, and the data they use is encrypted in transit and at rest, which improves risk profiling and compliance.
“To embark on an automation journey, organisations need to create a Centre of Excellence in which technical expertise is fostered,” explains Mee. “This group of experts can begin automating processes quickly to show return on investment and gain buy-in. This effort leads to greater interest from within the organisation, which often kick-starts a strategic focus on embedding automation.”