How Automation Can Improve the Employee Experience
The COVID-19 pandemic challenged companies to remain operational under daunting conditions. Many moved to an all-remote workforce, while others moved to a hybrid workforce. Some companies had to lay off employees and reduce their workforce to stay afloat.
Now that the initial effects of pandemic on work are waning, many employees previously hesitant to quit their jobs are now doing so, resulting in what has become known as the Great Resignation. As a result of fewer employees in general and more employees working remotely, companies have attempted to automate as many processes as possible and turned to robotic process automation (RPA).
RPA is often used to streamline many critical business processes, improve performance and gain process efficiency. It is also used to automate mundane and redundant tasks that otherwise take up valuable employee time. As such, RPA can improve the employee experience.
What Is Automation Used for?
RPA is being used in many ways inside organizations, said Preeti Lobo, practice director, business integration and automation at Apps Associates, an enterprise application services provider.
“Processes critical to the business such as recognizing revenue on time, accurate reporting on revenue, getting orders loaded/entered into the system on time, validating data entered by customers on online portals, closing the books faster than before, are all processes that can be delegated, so to speak, to a ‘bot,’ ensuring error-free processing, customer satisfaction and accurate reporting,” Lobo said.
RPA can be useful for data re-entry, running multiple applications at the same time, and sequencing basic mouse/keyboard operations such as clicking, selection, copying and pasting. Tasks that can typically be handled by RPA include:
- Organizing and filing paperwork.
- Writing and sending emails.
- Filling out spreadsheets.
- Sending standard notices.
- Maintaining incoming data.
- Making and answering phone calls.
- Tracking orders.
- Filling out routine paperwork.
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RPA and Intelligent Automation
When combined with AI and natural language processing (NLP), RPA — which is then referred to as intelligent automation (IA) — can automate the management of detailed documents and real-time decisioning. RPA applications are able to capture and interpret the data that is used for processing a transaction, manipulate data, trigger responses, and communicate with other technology platforms.
Additionally, RPA reduces the costs associated with staffing, decreases human error, and automates higher-order tasks that used to require human intervention. The result is a more positive employee experience.
"What we’re finding is that technology and robotics are taking mundane, repetitive tasks out of the human being and has the robot take over that transaction processing activity, which then liberates the human being to interact on a human level, an intellectual level, asserting judgments and creating more capacity for that to be a central mission of the work instead of secondary to administrative stuff,” said Kelly Grier, Ernst & Young’s US chair and managing partner and America’s managing partner.
“What we’re finding is it creates significantly more capacity for the human part of our workforce to do the work that’s more meaningful," she said. "We’re also finding there’s a corollary need for technology capabilities and competency, and it’s creating more jobs than it’s displacing."
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RPA Can Enhance Employee Productivity
Many employees are concerned that RPA will eliminate their jobs. That may be justified because, according to a McKinsey report, by 2030, up to 800 million jobs may be replaced by automation. Fortunately, only 5% of occupations could be entirely replaced by automation. The majority of employees whose jobs become automated will simply transition to another role or be trained for other tasks.
Additionally, although machine automation is capable of handling repetitive tasks and has the advantage of being faster and more precise, humans retain the essential soft skills such as creativity, adaptability, innovation, empathy and intuition. In fact, the majority of employees are grateful to be free of repetitive and mundane tasks, and be able to handle more high-level, complex tasks that provide intellectual stimulation and personal satisfaction. According to a 2019 Forbes survey, 92% of companies saw an improvement in employee satisfaction when they used IA and RPA initiatives.
Employees become more engaged and their level of job satisfaction increases when they are able to focus on meaningful, useful tasks. Additionally, they are more productive, more likely to be retained, and feel more of a sense of loyalty to their employer. RPA benefits the organization as well as the employee, said Lobo.
“Imagine a workforce that is excited to come to work because their true talent which resides in complex problem solving, strategic thinking, creative solutioning is more of a focus now versus them having to spend a large amount of time on critical but manual, repetitive focus-intensive mechanical tasks,” she said.
“Perhaps doing these tasks resulted in errors, causing strife and tension within teams and maybe even lowering morale. Employees now need not worry about boredom as they mechanically perform data entry tasks or pour over sheets to identify minute errors. Instead, the time that RPA bots ‘free up’ employees can be utilized towards mind boosting, rewarding tasks that would incentivize employees and expand/utilize their native skills.”
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Employee Satisfaction Rises When They Focus on Challenging Work
RPA is about more than just saving money or time, said Alex Zekoff, co-founder and CEO of Thoughtful Automation, a digital workforce management platform provider. It’s also about supporting the development of employees and making work more enjoyable. By freeing employees from mundane tasks, they are able to focus on the tasks they find challenging.
“For example, if you were an accountant who had studied finance for years, then had to spend most of your time at work doing something mundane like invoice data entry, you may feel overworked and undervalued,” he said. “Instead, you could use RPA to automate these processes and assign tasks to your employees that utilize their learned skills. This increases employee satisfaction and improves the employee experience overall.”
Introducing RPA can increase the rate of employee satisfaction, improve engagement and the overall experience employees have at work, Zekoff added. "This can lead to better employee retention, and in turn benefits businesses by saving the costs associated with turnover. Everyone benefits when employees are satisfied and engaged with their work,” he said.
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The Steps to a Create an RPA Process
A 2019 Deloitte survey of over 11,000 business leaders revealed that 61% of those polled indicated that they were actively redesigning jobs around AI, robotics and new business models. To get started with RPA, companies will need to map out the processes that are eligible for RPA. The actions that are to be carried out, volume of operations, and average time per action must be determined, and the IT department should be involved throughout the entire process.
Companies should also ask themselves the following questions:
- What pain points in the employee experience can be removed through automation?
- What will be the impact of automating the task?
- What are the benefits?
- How will the company determine the ROI of RPA?
- Is there an RPA team in place?
- How long will RPA be used?
Since not all tasks are suited to RPA, companies should make a list of the processes they wish to automate. Next, an RPA professional, along with a subject matter expert or employee that understands the task and the operation user should conduct a feasibility assessment for each of the processes that are to be automated. The feasibility assessment should provide details about any parts of the tasks that are not standardized, well structured or optimized. At this point, the task should be re-optimized and restructured.
Next, the user requirements should be determined and detailed, and a process definition document should be created with defined RPA workflows that can be used by the RPA developers, who will typically use tools such as UiPath or Blue Prism to create the RPA bot. Finally, the RPA process should be tested, confirmed and then deployed.
Challenges and Results of Successful RPA
The biggest challenges of a successful RPA initiative include:
- Lack of support from leadership.
- Trying to use RPA for tasks it is not suited for.
- Lack of employees skilled in working with RPA software.
- Technical or operational problems with implementation.
- Unreasonable expectations.
- Poor use case selection.
Done right, robotic process automation can be handle routine and mundane tasks, thereby freeing employees to accomplish more complex, interesting and engaging tasks. The end result can improve employee experience and lead to employees who are more satisfied, engaged and productive.