Previously in this mini blog series, we've looked at the reality of HR automation and what this means for the workforce. And it's becoming clear that automation technologies present two alternative futures. One, a gentle relocating of effort in line with how things are done today. Two, a more fundamental reshaping of the current working paradigm - one that’s not just about replacing today’s processes with robots but about renewing and re-imagining the way things are done.

Both possibilities form a close alignment with strategic leadership, business transformation, improvement plans, and IT colleagues.

Of course, it’s the people, not the technology who are at the centre of this opportunity.

The role of employees

HR plays a vital role in managing expectations and anxieties around the increase in automation. Providing clarity on why change is required. Not least because it’s often employees themselves who are best able to highlight where automation can improve efficiencies.

Aviva have taken the courageous step of asking their employees if their job could be replaced with automation technologies (coupled with the promise of retraining for other roles). With any organisation, this raises a whole host of dilemmas and opportunities that are deeply human, for management, unions and employees themselves. What reward structures could be contemplated? Should employees volunteer themselves or other team members as candidates for automation?

The role of HR

How should HR approach an overall resourcing strategy which includes virtual workers or bots alongside human colleagues? At a basic level, HR leaders will need to understand the capabilities of this new workforce and ensure they work in conjunction with their existing teams.

Rather than the obstacles being technical and focused on how the bots work, the challenges lie in how they shape the work performed by human colleagues, especially how this impacts team dynamics. Which jobs might need to be replaced and how should job losses be managed? How might technology augment employees' day-to-day activities? What kinds of new job descriptions might be created?

HR’s involvement in matters of organisation design and automation is critical because the future for technology-worker interaction is evolving rapidly. This has a direct implication for skillsets as there can be no hiding place. These new technologies must be understood throughout the organisation, from the board to the local team leadership. The pace of change means organisations simply won’t have the time or capacity to plan this top down.

Chris McKibbin is the Future Solutions Lead at Capita plc, focussing on the pragmatic application of automation and AI. Connect on LinkedIn or Twitter.

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