The phrase ‘automation in the workplace’ still conjures images of shiny cyborgs manufacturing lasers or spaceships far in the future. In reality, however, robotic systems and automated processes have already worked alongside humans. They’ve done so for decades, and according to Moore’s law, they’ll continue to increase every year. American engineer Gordon Moore conceived this law in 1965, observing that the number of semiconductors in a PCB doubles every other year.
This law now symbolises the exponential growth of computing power, the progress of technology, and the rise of automation. But how will this change our lives, and how do we make the most of the benefits?
Inaccurate Expectations About Automation in the Workplace
While we know automation approaches in some form or other, studies show that worker expectations differ wildly from expert predictions about the future of the workplace. According to a recent study from the Office of National Statistics, most people either overestimate or underestimate their own role’s likelihood of automation. People who earn over £40,000 a year overestimate their likelihood of automation by 76%, while those who make under £31,285 underestimate their likelihood of automation by 29%.
The ONS finds that professions like nurses, IT managers, and accountants have the lowest probability of automation, all-around 25%. Of course, the human touch involved in nursing makes it unlikely to automate. Despite that fact, around 1/3 of nurses predicted their jobs would be automated, according to the ONS study. This discrepancy shows that understanding more about automation in the workplace helps us prepare for it all the better.
Will Jobs be Fully Automated?
Researchers expect repetitive physical jobs like farm work, laundry, and retail to experience the highest levels of automation. Kitchen jobs are 60% likely to become automated, and laundering, dry cleaning, and clothes pressing is likely to see a -28% change in employment. Alongside likely industries, the ONS outline certain working patterns as more likely to experience automation than others. Of all the jobs at a high risk of automation, almost 70% are part-time, while only around 30% are full-time jobs.
Existing Automation in the Workplace
Even experts like the ONS use the word ‘risk’ to describe automation, suggesting it’s a scary concern that puts people out of work. In reality, plenty of workplace automation exists already, and it makes people’s work-life easier, not non-existent.
From digitally-operated assembly lines carrying parts across factory floors for you to AI algorithms picking your work playlist, automation in the workplace is here to stay. It’s particularly common in office work, as tech stacks eliminate repetitive admin when workers log in to their employee self-service app. Many businesses now use time and attendance systems to streamline HR tasks as workers check in and out every day. Similarly, mail marketing systems automate business outreach, and chatbots solve customer service problems around the clock.
Misconceptions About Automation in the Workplace
Many people are still worried about workplace automation causing mass unemployment, or worse, the apocalypse. In many ways, the Terminator franchise is to workplace automation what Jaws is to sharks. The reality, of course, is far from Hollywood, and experts predict automation will bring plenty of benefits to our everyday lives. We’ll discuss those at length, but it’s also worth addressing some legitimate concerns about automation.
Turning Concerns into the Benefits of Automation
Automation reflects society, and society still has work to be done on equality. The ONS found that 66% of jobs with a high probability of being automated are predominantly female. These discrepancies and imbalances must be investigated and addressed in technology as in real life. Moreover, AI’s flexibility and dynamism mean that if developers and end-users alike bear these issues in mind, we can work to make the world a better place. For example, technology helps marginalised people with mental and/or physical disabilities thrive in their careers. Automated check-ins and remote work boost accessibility, and automated software helps colleagues of all groups communicate, collaborate, and succeed.
As an emerging digital technology, many worry about the environmental impact of creating and using automation. Automated systems use electricity and other resources, like many workplace systems. In contrast to these concerns, we’re already seeing automation save emissions, resources, and waste by streamlining workflows.
Disproportionately Affecting Low-Paid Work
Technology automates aspects of low-paid, repetitive, and manual job roles far more than their higher-paid counterparts. Like many innovations, engineers designed automation technology to make our lives easier and our jobs less tough. These possibilities open the door for more highly-paid jobs elsewhere and automated revenues that fund programs to ease unemployment.
The Full Benefits of Workplace Automation
Worker Health and Safety
While sci-fi automation often causes plenty of peril, real-life automation in the workplace actually protects health and safety. Human error causes the vast majority of workplace injuries, so automating failsafes and failure prediction actually saves lives. Automated tools can protect workers from tiredness and intoxication, just as cybersecurity protects their data and time and attendance systems, ensuring they aren’t overworking and burning out.
Ease and Accessibility
Hybrid working taught us all a lot about accessibility and ease. Automation in the workplace brings the same tools to the palm of your hand or your home office desk.
Efficiency and Productivity
Machines don’t tire, they don’t slow down, they don’t sleep, and they don’t need holidays. They don’t make human errors. However, they make a lot of produce, and a lot of revenue, which is why they’re so important for the future of your workplace.