5 Work Automation Prophecies From 3 Futurists

October 18, 2017 Marcus Varner

When we use software to tell us how efficient our teams are, onboard new workers with a cloud-based dashboard, and track the progress of a report using a work management tool, we are getting a glimpse of how automation will influence the future of work.

Automation and artificial intelligence (AI) is already being used in many offices, and it’s becoming more common as technology advances and is more proficient at taking on everyday tasks.

See our post, "4 Keys to The Future of Work," to find out more about how automation will be used in the future workplace.

Here are five prophecies about automation from thought leaders who are already looking ahead and planning for the workplace of the future.

1. Tasks will be Automated, Making Room for More High-Value Jobs

We’ve all seen those headlines declaring the future is here and robots are taking over. Some speculate that entire industries will be transformed and that some professions will no longer be relevant.

However, in a recent webinar, James Wallman, futurist and author of Stuffocation, said, “I think what’s going to happen is instead of the robots taking our jobs, I think they’re going to take our tasks.”

So, while robots won’t be completely replacing workers, they will have a major impact on many industries, changing the way we work.

For example, Wallman cites what has become known as “the myth of the ATM.” When ATMs were first introduced, people feared that the financial industry would hire fewer people, since ATMs can essentially replace bank tellers.

What happened was the exact opposite. As ATMs took over the tasks tellers normally do, employees were freed up to take on more high-value work that only humans can perform, like financial advisement.

Wallman predicted that the same thing will happen to workers in other industries as automation becomes more common: “What’s going to happen is what can be automated will be automated, and they will move higher up the value chain.”

Sophie Wade, work innovation specialist, speaking in a webinar, said the rise of work automation doesn’t need to be intimidating because it involves tools we are already starting to use. She said:

“I think there’s certainly fear of the unknown, and robots that look like Terminator.

"I think when people are presented with the immediacy of what’s going on, it seems much more manageable. ‘Yes, I can deal with email, I’ve dealt with that, the new tools; I’m dealing with those.’”

2. Workers will Become even More Connected to Technology

As automation and AI become more prevalent, workers will be required to work more closely with this kind of technology.

Wade explained, “Our whole relationship with the workplace, with information and how we’re sharing the tools, and how we’re keeping up to date with all the changes that are going on, are going to be something that I see very much a part of everyday life as we move forward.”

Technology is already a part of our everyday lives. In fact, most of us can’t even imagine a day in the office (or at home!) without our phones, instant communication, apps, and computers. But, as automation lightens the load for workers, they will need to learn to work with it in a whole new way.

Wallman said that the term “cobots” is a good way to describe the automation and AI that is coming to the workplace and the relationship humans will need to have with it.

“I’ve become a real believer that we shouldn’t be worried about robots taking our jobs. What we should be looking forward to is cobots coming along and supporting us.”

3. Productivity Levels will Soar

Because automation will take over tasks and those mundane, everyday things that don’t require human skill, workers will have much more time to accomplish things that really contribute to the bottom line.

In our 2017-2018 State of Enterprise Work Report, we found that workers only spend 44% of their time doing what they were hired to do!

“We’re going to see huge productivity gains as humans are freed up not to do the same old thing again, and again, and again,” Wallman said.

Productivity is something all managers strive to increase, and with the rise of automation, they will be able to more fully leverage their employees’ skills to get more high-value work done.

Of course, an increase in productivity also means businesses will save time and money. In a recent webinar, Alex Shootman, president and CEO of Workfront, said that as businesses recognize the losses that come with workers who are bogged down with unnecessary tasks, they will be more likely to adopt automation:

“When you take a number like 44% of your day or your week is involved in your job, and then you figure there are 60 million knowledge workers in the US alone, you start looking at the average labor rate and you quickly get to an astounding number essentially of $3 trillion a year of wasted human capital investment.

“I think people are going to wake up to just the sheer dollars of wasted human capital that we have.”

4. Collaboration, Innovative Ideas, and Creativity will Boom

Another benefit that comes with workers having more time, due to tasks being automated, is that they will be more free to collaborate, come up with innovative ideas, and use their creative skills—things automation can’t replace.

Shootman believes that collaboration is essential to success. He said,

“The magic at work really happens when we relate to each other. And so this relating with people, this kind of responsive working where you allow others to impact the work that you do, that’s when magical work gets done.”

He goes on to explain that this kind of collaboration is what helps give workers purpose to their jobs, and it’s why he thinks “humans are always going to be present in the workplace.”

The ability to come up with innovative and creative solutions to problems, ways to approach business, and serve customers is something that automation simply can’t do.

Wallman said that as we automate, we will see more of this kind of thinking among workers. He said, “Our productivity will increase in the way you’d expect, but I think there’s going to be a flowering of creativity as well.”

We found that 95% of workers agree that “no matter how sophisticated artificial intelligence becomes, there will always be the need for the human touch in the workplace.”

5. Job Satisfaction will Increase as Workers Can Focus on Niches

Everyone knows that it’s hard to feel satisfied with your job when you are stuck doing mundane, rote tasks day in and day out. But, when you have the chance to flex your creative muscles and collaborate with coworkers on projects that require you to use your unique skillset, you are much more fulfilled by your work.

Since automation will take over these “boring” tasks and give workers more time to focus on niche areas of work that require human skills, their job satisfaction will increase.

Wade said,

“There are so many more things that motivate us, that engage us. Whether it’s purpose, or focusing on our strengths so we’re actually focusing on something we really enjoy doing, that we are good at doing.”

Wallman pointed out that “happier workers are 12% more productive,” so keeping employees satisfied also brings big benefits to managers.

Are You Ready for the Future?

While the idea of entering a future where automation is the norm and where workers use robots and AI on a regular basis may seem daunting, Wade believes that a positive attitude will go a long way in helping businesses prepare:

“So that positive attitude, if people are approaching it with that kind of acceptance and openness, I think it’s going to be much easier for them to transition into a very different way of working.”

In our 2017-2018 State of Enterprise Work Report, we found that 81% of workers say they are “prepared for the workplace of the future.” You can help your employees be even more prepared by embracing automation and finding ways to integrate it into your processes now.

To see the full webinar that these insights came from, watch  "A Survival Guide for the Future Workplace," featuring Sophie Wade, Alex Shootman, and James Wallman, today.

About the Author

Marcus Varner

Marcus is a content strategist and producer who loves helping brands craft content that improves customers' lives, builds brand credibility, and demands to be shared. For the last 10 years, Marcus has worked in every type of content—from writing to video production to design—and is currently a senior content marketing manager at Workfront, where he oversees all corporate- and awareness-level level content. When he's not producing content, he's consuming it, in the form of books, movies, and podcasts.

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