How Digitalization and Automation are Impacting the Future of Work

If you are curious to know some of the strategies and challenges organizations consider a priority, then talk to an HR professional. It is one of the reasons I enjoy shows like the SHRM Annual Conference and the HR Technology Conference. While digital transformation, digital disruption and artificial intelligence (AI) are terms many of us may be growing tired of, HR teams focused and aligned with their organization’s strategy are embracing these terms. Let us put those aside for a minute and consider something more tangible – what is impacting work.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of job openings in the U.S. is over 6 million. There is obviously a skills gap because organizations are not finding job seekers that align with these job openings. For HR this means that finding, retaining and training talent are top priorities. In response to these, priorities upskilling and workforce decentralization are becoming more prevalent, while automating administrative functions and compliance is needed to help free up HR resources and drive efficiency.

Upskilling – Automation and machine learning are creating digital disruption in segments of the workforce. The replacement of jobs requiring physical tasks is inevitable, but some believe for each job technology eliminates, another will be created. During the 1800s and 1900s new skills were required as the U.S. workforce shifted from agricultural to industrial — the same is true as we now shift from industrial to digital. Employees must be trained or retrained to utilize new technologies to do their jobs in different ways. I was in a retail store recently and the associates were carrying touch-screen devices that made the shopping experience more efficient. By accessing my account, they were able to suggest things I liked, know my size, place an order online and allow me to make a paperless purchase without going to a register. Upskilling is also critical for those in leadership roles who can use technology to be more agile, collaborative and to respond to shifts in employee demands and staffing.

Workforce decentralization – As the saying goes, “work is no longer where we go, it’s what we do.” Companies that are thriving want the best talent for a position regardless of where that individual lives and have adjusted to decentralized staffing. Thanks to the dominance of cloud, SaaS and mobile technology, telecommuting is expected in our work culture and modern applications are designed with anywhere, anytime access in mind. Manufacturing, healthcare, retail and hospitality are no longer the primary industries with decentralized workforces. Shared services and customer care groups are increasingly in different geographies than corporate headquarters to gain access to larger, lower-cost labor pools. Multinational organizations have global workforces and do not want borders to restrict their talent pool. This is why immigration reform is a topic enterprises and SHRM are actively discussing with lawmakers. According to research conducted by the Council for Global Immigration (CFGI), 74 percent of employers report the ability to obtain visas in a timely, predictable and flexible manner is critical to their business objectives and 63 percent of U.S. employers do not believe immigration-processing times are reasonable.

There is no debate that organizations must devote more resources to talent acquisition and retention, therefore automation is a must to minimize the time and money devoted to HR administrative processes and compliance. An emphasis on privacy and data security, a more complex regulatory environment, as well as increasing financial penalties require a proactive approach to compliance. Many companies continue to struggle with GDPR and we are now seeing new regulations in the U.S. such as California’s new privacy act (CCPA) and Colorado’s House Bill 18-1128. New regulations take a firm stand on the timely disposal of personally identifiable information, either paper or digital, an area traditionally a source of noncompliance for many HR departments.

Today’s HR requires an interconnected technology ecosystem, which includes a process-oriented document management solution that enables a shift from paper creation and usage and automates tasks such as filing, routing, retention and notification of missing or expired information. Integration between HR’s document management system and technologies including their HRIS, onboarding solutions, I-9 E-Verify, and performance management ensures compliant management of documentation throughout the employee lifecycle. The importance of a feature set that minimizes paper creation and usage is critical to compliance, cost reduction, and responding to demands of decentralized work teams. The negative impact of paper-based processes is most evident in the handling of paper I-9 forms where an estimated 60-80% are incomplete, missing or have errors. Assuming a 70 percent I-9 error rate, a company that adds 100 employees annually has a potential of paying $250,000 in penalties.

New business models, the speed of change caused by technologies including AI, and flatter organizational models have all played a role in disrupting today’s companies. This disruption has been fueled by a labor shortage, which ultimately requires HR transformation. Organizations are starting to understand digital transformation is about alignment with employees and customers; those that are taking a proactive approach will be the winners, those that react quickly to digital disruption will be survivors, those that ignore digital transformation may not be part of the future of work.

BJ provides organizations with temporary and on-demand business transformation and information management services. He has been a senior business leader for over 25 years, developing and implementing go-to-market strategies designed to increase revenue, improve productivity and advance the customer experience. His extensive experience in business process reengineering, compliance and security enables organizations to improve their agility while reducing their risk profiles.