Robots vs. Workers: Automation and Your Business

gray vehicle being fixed inside factory using robot machines
by Advice Chaser
by Advice Chaser

It’s the 21st century, when science fiction writers imagined we’d have robot maids and fly a car to work. The future imagined in The Jetsons hasn’t happened yet, but robots are still making their way into plenty of jobs. Some of those jobs they do better than a human ever could. Some they only do faster or cheaper. And some, they still haven’t mastered. How can automation take on some of the work involved in your business? Will robots be replacing human workers in your company, or only lightening the load?

gray vehicle being fixed inside factory using robot machines

Workflow Automation

One of the best uses of automation in the workplace is software that helps manage your workflows or complete mindless tasks. Your employees probably don’t look forward to copying and pasting database information from one place to another, manually addressing emails, or managing calendars. All of these things can be done simply and easily with software.

It’s a win/win for your employees too because these tiny tasks don’t generally amount to anyone’s whole job. Instead, they are the most tedious parts of many people’s jobs. Buying software like this won’t generally allow you to cut employees’ jobs, but can allow your employees to get more done in a day.

Of course, software does come with a cost. Most workplace software comes in the SaaS (software as a service) model, meaning you will have to pay a regular subscription. However, this often comes with tech support and server space.

Artificial Intelligence

The idea of artificial intelligence is getting a lot of attention lately. We have been automating menial tasks for a while, like running a vacuum or assembling car parts. But what if computers were smart enough to write ad copy or make art?

Unfortunately, the hype might go beyond the actual capabilities of the software. While it’s certainly impressive to see machine-made art or written content, it doesn’t yet match the flexibility of a skilled human. Instead, the impressive output you see generally comes from quite a bit of a human’s time spent drafting queries and editing results.

It’s possible that in the near future, we’ll see AI pass that threshold and produce work that could pass for quality human work. But it’s also possible it might never manage basic skills like drawing hands or sourcing accurate facts. At this point in time, it’s vital not to get carried away by hype.

Some Things Can’t Be Automated

Only experience will show what kinds of things can and can’t be automated. For instance, you may have a robot vacuum, but it won’t pick up your clutter for you. Likewise, in the workplace, it’s often surprising what machines can’t do. Spinning and weaving were automated over a century ago, yet garments are still assembled exclusively by hand and stitched by a human with a simple sewing machine.

One thing companies often try to automate is customer service. But chat bots, phone trees, and in-store kiosks don’t have the flexibility to handle every need your customers may have. Worse, customers tend to feel slighted if they are shunted to a robot when they want to speak with a human. While ordering kiosks and self checkouts may be popular for some, some customers will always prefer a real cashier. Cutting costs by cutting out humans can eventually leave your customers feeling dehumanized and unwelcome.

In 1950, Alan Turing invented a standard, the Turing test, to measure a computer’s ability to mimic a human. A computer doesn’t pass it unless a human can’t tell they’re not dealing with a human. Is your automated phone tree that good? Unfortunately, the technology for artificial intelligence still doesn’t have the flexibility a human has. As a result, customers can almost always tell they’re being handled by a bot.

Pitfalls of Automation

The ideal scenario with workplace automation is seeing your employees leave busywork to robots so they are less stressed and can focus on more of their best skills. Salespeople can use customer resource management software to manage their files and spend more time selling. Marketers can spend their time writing copy and let software cross-post that copy everywhere you want. Productivity goes up and your employees are happy to spend their time on what’s in their job description.

Less than ideal is when you start expecting a single employee to do many times what they did before, simply because some of their job was automated. If you’ve ever been at a grocery store checkout in a busy time of day, you might notice one harried employee supervising a dozen self-checkouts. They’re not focusing on improving customer experience. They’re running around frantically trying to manage much more than they did before, while the machines aren’t taking that much off their plate. Meanwhile the majority of labor the store has managed to outsource is on the shoulders of the unhappy customers.

When it comes down to it, when the quality of your product and the reputation of your business is on the line, close isn’t good enough. If software can seamlessly take work off your plate while never forgetting a detail, great! That’s successful automation. But if a machine can sort of do the work of a human, worse, while making customers feel unwelcome . . . it may cost you in the end. Wait for the upgrade that actually does all of the job or takes work off your employees to free them up to do what the software can’t.

Steer Your Business Right

As a business owner, you’re constantly making decisions about technology, employment, costs, and more. A financial advisor can help you weigh your business’s different needs and come up with creative solutions. To meet the right advisor for your business, contact us today.

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