The rise of the digital landscape continues to offer businesses significant advantages. Increasingly, this includes automated processes. Even smaller enterprises have greater access to robotic tools to improve productivity and safety. This means a hybrid-human workplace has become a recent reality for many companies.
Yet, it’s important to understand the challenges this presents. One of the most prevalent is ensuring your human workers aren’t neglected. After all, they are the most valuable contributors to your business. Engaged employees aren’t just productive, they can also be creative and innovative in ways machines can’t. As such, it’s important to prioritize them in a range of areas.
Let’s dig a little deeper into prioritizing employees in a hybrid robot-human workplace. What actions should you take, and how can everyone involved stand to benefit?
One of the main concerns many people have surrounding robotics and automation is the concept of employee replacement. Understandably, this is a key sticking point for workers themselves. You may also find your employees start to disengage from their roles if they get the impression that your new technology investments are designed to eventually usurp them.
It’s essential to consider a more collaborative approach to accommodating both employees and robots in the workplace. While certain activities can be safer or more efficient when automated, both humans and machines bring individual advantages to any given activity. Take the approach of treating robots as assistants to your employees. Your tech protocols should be geared toward supporting the talents, experience, and needs of workers.
At the same time, human workers should also contribute to the efficacy of their robot colleagues. Workers can play a role in the maintenance of the equipment they collaborate with. They could even be involved in making changes to machine programming over time to make robots more efficient support tools. By providing training in these areas, you benefit from more agile employees and they gain from developing valuable skill sets.
Fostering a positive robot-human hybrid workplace requires a certain amount of balance. There’s no doubt automated technology is capable of performing at a high level. However, you’re not going to make the most of its potential if your human stakeholders struggle to interact with it. It’s important to adopt user-friendly tech over tools that have the most impressive functions.
This begins with making certain your employees can easily incorporate the technology you introduce into their current activities. There’s often a transitional period with any automation, involving training and troubleshooting. It’s important not to make this too disruptive, though. If the change requires too steep a learning curve or adds tasks to employees’ workload, this is likely to result in disengagement and frustration.
It’s not just the equipment your employees directly interact with that can cause them problems, either. Alongside issues such as extended wait times and delivery failures, one of the most common customer service complaints is the inability to speak to a person over a bot. While chatbots can be a practical solution to some extent, many customers struggle to interact with them. By prioritizing chatbots over employees, your workers can be further subjected to consumers’ ire due to the lack of user-friendliness. As such, you need to mitigate this by utilizing chatbots in a way that handles only very simple tasks with an easy handover to human workers where required.
It’s important to understand how your approach to introducing technology into the workplace sends a distinct message. Your workers likely understand each new robot or artificial intelligence (AI) platform you gain represents a significant investment. If they get the impression you’re investing more into machines than toward the needs of your human workers, this may cause disruption. Indeed, among the key reasons for the high quit rate during the Great Resignation are low pay and feeling disrespected at work.
It may be wise to make an analysis of employee investment part of your strategy when considering new tech purchases. Look at how consistently your business has distributed fair raises compared to equipment investment. If your company leaders have refused raises claiming the company doesn’t have the budget for this only to then purchase robots, your employees are going to have questions.
Your considerations here shouldn’t just be surrounding raises, either. By maintaining regular investment in improving the benefits you provide, you’re demonstrating your priority for employee wellness. Similarly, putting capital into employee skills development shows you’re as committed to improving the lives of your workforce as you are to bolstering your tech array.
Finally, there’s a tendency for businesses to invest in robots and automated tools behind closed doors. This is usually just a natural result of investment meetings only involving those directly involved with tech strategy development. However, this can also leave your employees feeling blindsided by the sudden introduction of tools they have mixed feelings about. Therefore, you need to maintain an open dialogue with workers about your robotics investments.
Make efforts to keep them informed about your review processes. Explain why you’re looking into these tools and how it is likely to affect the workplace. Importantly, invite them to provide their thoughts or concerns about these elements. This could be in the form of an open forum or through anonymous feedback channels. Be honest in your responses to these and reassure them that the human workforce remains your priority. These are simple measures, but they can help settle fears and inform a stronger company culture.
Fostering a hybrid robot-human workplace can be an exciting prospect, but it’s important to ensure your valuable employees are your priority. Adopt a human-technology collaborative approach and ensure your platforms are user-friendly for everyone involved. Be cognizant of investments in your workers’ needs alongside your tech tools. You’ll also find that keeping an open dialogue around your tech adoption helps everyone feel more secure and involved. By being mindful of respecting and supporting your employees, they’ll tend to be more enthusiastic collaborators with their robotic colleagues.
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