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What Is Workforce Automation?
Workforce automation is the process of using technology to simplify or streamline workflows. This allows your skilled employees to spend more time on complex tasks while relying on technology for others.
How Automation Is Changing the World of Work
Due to the nature of automation, companies are now able to have their workforce focus on competitive advantage as opposed to the minutiae of daily tasks or time-consuming tasks that can otherwise be resolved using software or other machines.
It’s not just administrative tasks that are being automated; other industries are able to take advantage of these developing technologies. For example, a woodworking company is able to use C&C machinery to complete intricate details that used to have to be handcrafted. This saves days or weeks on projects and allows workers to focus on quality construction and design rather than cutting all the wood by hand or with outdated tools.
Why It’s Important to Understand Automation
Understanding workforce automation and how it can help your company will allow you to organize work within your organization in an effective way. Here are a few advantages it offers:
- Reorganization of work. Welcoming automation gives you the opportunity to reallocate company time and resources to projects or tasks that provide greater value to the business than mundane, administrative, or other non-revenue-generating tasks.
- Improved performance management. You will have more time to dedicate to developing employee skills and knowledge. When you and your workforce are spending less time on routine tasks, you are able to provide stretch opportunities and job enrichment to help them grow. You can evaluate their performance of the key pieces of their role more accurately.
- Cost savings. Automation allows menial tasks to be completed by technology. In doing so, it frees up a lot of time for your current workforce. You will likely find that automation avoids the costs of additional labor, instead of using your current workforce to support tasks and projects that today, automation cannot complete.
Examples of Workforce Automation
As stated earlier, there are different ways companies can use workforce automation and a variety of industries that benefit from it.
Tracking and Notifications
HR software can track employee certifications and skills assessments and send notifications when they are due. There are several examples of where this is useful: Real Estate licensure, nursing licensure, food handler permits, etc. This helps avoid the risk of scheduling employees who are out of compliance with licensing to work.
Policy Updates and Acknowledgements
When you roll out new company policies or procedures, use automation to send out the information and require employees to electronically sign or acknowledge the new information. This provides clear oversight to which employees need follow-up, and may allow you to set or send reminders to those employees automatically.
Most business owners and HR specialists already know that payroll can be a beast to manage. Companies spend hours each month gathering data, confirming hours, following up with employees, and processing payrolls. Using payroll or timekeeping software that automates or simplifies these tasks can minimize the amount of time spent to run a payroll. Each payroll system is different, so it’s important to shop around until you find the best one for your business, but they can auto-populate schedules, geo-track to prevent time fraud, generate missed-punch notifications, automatically import to payroll software, and more to ease the burden of payroll processing.
Accessibility to data is key to managing a business. Automation in reporting can not only help organize and interpret data, but it can also create visual aids like charts and graphs.
Automation can play a major role in performance management. There is software that allows you to set a review cycle, select questions, create a hierarchy, and customize the type of review and rating scale to use. From there the system will automatically send reminders and track the completion of evaluations.
Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) are a resource that allows an organization to automate the recruiting process. They allow you to post a job to multiple boards at once and store candidate resumes and applications all in one place. You are able to easily track the status of candidates and send and receive offer letters all through one system.
Many industries have access to operation-specific automation. A couple of examples of this are self-check-out, which allows for more retailers to complete more sales in a reduced amount of time while allocating their employees to assist with other tasks. Another example mentioned above is C&C machinery, which can complete necessary cutting with precision quickly, allowing workers to focus on the details of creating quality products.
How Does Workforce Automation Affect People?
Workforce automation allows your employees to focus less on menial tasks and more on difficult tasks. Having more time to focus on these items gives you the opportunity to drive quality improvements and develop employees, often increasing job satisfaction.
The ability to save time and resources through automation gives you the opportunity to reallocate funds and workforce to more important tasks and projects.
Some departments rely heavily on administrative tasks. Automation grants the ability to complete the same tasks with more accuracy and fewer employees.
In conjunction with reporting, the software is able to predict trends, interpret data and analyze information. This can help leaders make more accurately informed decisions.
How to Implement Greater Automation in Your Workplace
There are a few steps to implement automation.
Step 1: Evaluate
Evaluate your current processes and identify key areas that are ineffective or mundane in nature. Review specific tasks to determine what processes (or portions of processes) are the most ineffective. Consider which tasks are the most repetitive (for example, is there a daily report that needs to be compiled, exported, and mailed). Evaluate tasks that require multiple employees to be involved that could be done by one individual with the proper tools. Be specific.
Step 2: Calculate Current Expense
The intention of automation is to reduce the time and resources spent on menial tasks, so calculate the amount of time and what this is costing the company. The simplest way to do this is to count the number of hours in a given period spent on the task by the cost of the employees completing those tasks.
For example, if an event planner making $25/hour spends four hours per week scheduling, and you think software might save time and money, you would calculate
4 hours per week
x ($25/hr + 35% overhead (workers comp, taxes, benefits, etc.)
= $105/week ($457/month or over $5000 per year).
Step 3: Research
Once you have identified an area with an opportunity for improvement, research. There are many different software and vendors that provide software to help. Consider the specific tasks you want to automate and choose software accordingly. For example, if you find that your recruiting process is disorganized and time-consuming, you might look for an ATS to streamline the process and create a central hub of information.
Step 4: Compare/Decide
You will most likely find that there are several vendors or systems that provide what you are looking for. Have clear priorities for what you need the software to accomplish and what a reasonable cost to your business is. Use the examples included here for how to calculate the total costs to estimate savings. Many vendors do product demos so you can see the software in real-time and ask questions.
Step 5: Implement
Once you have chosen the right application for you, choose a date for implementation and identify the individuals who will interact directly with the software. Explain what it will do and why it will be advantageous, and determine a training plan. Some vendors may include this when you decide to move forward with implementation.
Have realistic expectations for the time it will take to implement and load data. This could take days, weeks, or months, and will vary based on the type and purpose of the software. There may be an additional time cost associated with this if you need to commit more resources.
Step 6: Evaluate
Evaluate the success of the software. Once the software has been implemented, calculate the number of hours being spent on the tasks again. Linking back to the original example, once your software is implemented, say the event planner is now spending 30 minutes per week on scheduling instead of four hours.
30 minutes per week
x ($25/hr + 35% overhead (workers comp, taxes, benefits, etc.)
= $17/week ($73/month or around $900 per year)
+ $1200 (the annual cost of the software)
= $2100 total annual cost
You have saved $3000 annually by implementing this software( less the cost of implementation). Be sure that evaluation includes sharing results with leadership! Don’t just do this once; continue to evaluate costs and the efficacy of software for each automation program you embark on.
Another important consideration to account for in calculating true costs is PTO. If an employee is out of the office for two weeks per year, how is the work being done? Is another individual covering for them, and is their cost to complete the task different than the employee on PTO? Or does the employee need to attribute more hours to the task in order to complete it when they return? This may increase the value of automation.
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Colleen manages a team of HR consultants that work with a variety of industries, specializing in the fields of human resources, strategic planning, and human capital management. Colleen applies expert knowledge, industry experience, and relentless energy to solving companies’ issues. She is a member of the Society for Human Resource Management as well as women in leadership groups. She is PHR, SPHR, and SHRM-SCP certified. She has an awesome pet cat, Attila and, when she’s not working she loves to travel, enjoy the great outdoors, and volunteer with different local charities.
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