Is HR ready to manage robots as they rise in number in 2019?

by Michael Rogers

The question my HR contemporaries and I have been asked for years is, how will you manage robots at work? Suddenly, we’re on the cusp of the greatest change HR has seen since the “personnel” process evolved in the 90s into the strategic business function of “human capital management” and this question needs answering.

The arrival of automation and cognitive processes is now reality and as innovation intensifies, this question needs clear answers, backed up by tight policies. The complexity of this will vary country-by-country depending on the stipulations of the work councils, but global guidance, change management and communication is a must.

HR technology is so much more than process efficiency

HR technology is fast moving beyond improving HR processes. It’s about maximining business outcomes. HR leaders will find themselves more instrumental than ever in ensuring the correct workforce and service delivery dynamics are in place to deliver success, drive efficiency and enable competitive advantage by having the right ‘people’ in the right place at the right times.

This means attracting, training and retaining the best talent and ensuring that the clean HR data and analytics are in place to enable smart planning and the supporting processes. To achieve this, people will increasingly work side-by-side with robot(ics). This will need some smart handling by HR, as will ensuring there is the agility in the performance and learning processes to evolve people and job functions as the workplace of the future continues to evolve.

It’s not all new

The reality is that the integration of robotics into the workforce has already begun. Any search related tool at work is founded on machine learning. Cloud-based HCMs and related services all have elements of cognitive learning powering the processes. It’s the speed of development that we need to be mindful of and how we communicate this to the different demographics in the business.

There are many people that will welcome the elimination of some of the mundane, repetitive processes robotics will remove from their job specifications and the introduction for more meaningful tasks, but others will be threatened, and we must be mindful of this. Actual facts are rarely passed on, so it’s vital that the dissemination of truth is managed well.

It’s time to get ready for the future of work

If they’re not already, all large organizations need to start thinking about the impact of next-gen HR tech now. The integration of these technologies and the automation of many repetitive tasks in HR and payroll will be commonplace in the 2020s. They simply have to be for businesses to remain compliant and competitive.

I steer away from the term robots as an HR professional because this has many negative connotations, largely fueled by the media. This perception of threat poses a huge and interesting challenge for HR teams. The reality is that most changes will be positive, but as already touched upon, smart change management and internal communications projects are essential.

As to the question, are we ready to manage people and machine side-by-side? Yes, we are. We know that as automation, artificial intelligence, and cognitive technologies gain traction, companies will need to reinvent worker roles, assigning some to humans, others to machines, and still others to a hybrid model in which technology augments human performance.

This emergence of the hybrid workforce – people and robots working together, introduces additional legal challenges and will require HR working in parties with other elements of the business to manage not only this transition, but the policies that sit behind the programming of these tools. How do you prevent unconscious or even conscious biases being built into cognitive technologies? Who influences the robots? We’re certainly looking at exciting times ahead of us.