In recent years there has been a steady increase in the use of automation technology in offices, which has been accelerated by the pandemic. The once futuristic concept of humans working alongside software robot colleagues is now a reality and HR departments must consider what role they have to play in this transformation.

Software robots, developed using Robotic Process Automation (RPA) software, are taking over time-consuming, high volume and data-heavy repetitive tasks that take up a large part of an employee’s day and stop them from getting on with more creative and satisfying work.

RPA software can operate a computer, mouse and keyboard like a human – but virtually. It’s like having a digital junior colleague who can do rules-based tasks, ranging from simple to more complex, that you’ve taught it to do.

When employees can delegate to software robots those rules-based tasks, they are empowered to do work that humans are uniquely better at doing: innovating, negotiating, relationship building, critical problem solving and much more. The result? A more human-centric workplace, that focuses on value-added activities.

As more and more businesses embark on automation projects, the question to ask is what can HR departments do to help the adoption of automation run smoothly?

Show and tell

HR departments are the perfect candidates for automation. Demonstrating their success to the workforce will educate employees on why they should give RPA a warm welcome. Essentially, it’s a matter of showing what can be achieved by being the first to adopt RPA.

Payroll, employee on-boarding, vacation requests, expense and reimbursement processes; many of these processes can be passed on to software robots. With HR professionals free from admin, more time can be dedicated to a wide range of value-added tasks such as talent management, culture, employee engagement and training. For instance, as shown in a recent report, RPA has helped KLM’s HR department, throughout lockdown and prior. The company developed a robot that manages holiday bookings, called Gaby, which takes leave requests and processes them. Moreover, HR departments can use recruitment

solutions that combine RPA and AI-powered chatbot technology. One of the big pros of integrating chatbot technology into the recruitment process is that it can streamline the recruitment process by automating the HR department’s communication with job applicants. Via an external interface, which can be accessed on the vacancies page on a company’s website, the chatbot can support job applicants to identify the best-suited job for them via a personalized conversation.

The recruitment solution can also support direct job applications and instantly forward the applicant’s profile to the recruiting manager, which can then schedule an interview. Next, they have the option to apply directly for any available position. By automating some of the steps in the recruitment process, HR staff can take back time and redirect it towards engaging with employees and job applicants in a more meaningful way.

By pioneering the technology, HR departments can lead by example and benefit from the rewards in the meantime. As they do so, they can turn their attention to how best to get others on-board.

A name game

Let’s face it, the term robot – may sound a bit cold and intimidating at first, making some of us feel uncomfortable.

Let’s then consider if instead of telling employees that software robots will be introduced to the office, HR teams started off by telling their own stories and introducing examples of how automation might work.

Let’s imagine a story about a woman called Alice who was stressed at work. Every day, she spent an hour and a half creating and sending out a survey to staff. It was dull and over the duration of a year, took weeks of time. Her boss noticed how stressed she was and decided to hire her an assistant who could do it for her, leaving Alice with time to do the more useful and interesting things she was originally taken on for, like making sense of the responses from the survey.

And what if we gave Alice’s junior colleague a name? He’s Oliver. His birthday is 3rd November and he doesn’t mind doing night shifts so that when Alice comes in each day, there is a list of the stuff he managed to do in the small hours that Alice used to dread trying to fit into her day. I’ll be honest, Oliver sounds pretty good to me. Isn’t it most people’s ambition to hire a junior and step up?

If you give a robot a relatable name and meaningful story – perhaps even one that has been experienced by someone in the HR team – it becomes understandable and welcomed. In fact, it becomes less of a robot and more of a colleague.

Bring them along for the ride

The adoption of automation across business functions is most effective when employees feel like they are along for the ride. After all, aren’t you more likely to embrace something that you feel a part of?

One HR department, for example, held a company-wide ‘build a bot’ session where participants created an automation in just two hours. This left employees with greater knowledge of RPA and created a buzz around the opportunities that come with it.

Along with fostering a sense of inclusion in the automation journey, initiatives like this prove that RPA does not need to come from outside of the organisation. While it may sound complicated, you do not have to be an experienced coder to create your own RPA assistant. Put simply, if you can use Microsoft Office, you can learn how to use RPA. Simple drag and drop tools make creating software robots easy.

HR departments should look to train employees from within. Offering upskilling and reskilling opportunities paves the way for internal mobility and encourages employees to embrace the technology. This will help employees see automation as an opportunity that they wish to welcome into their day-to-day job. For organisations eager to automate while still remote, a number of certification programs also exist online.

Create an automation Centre of Excellence

Many firms choose to create a Centre of Excellence as part of their automation transformation; this centre offers leadership, expertise, and best practices for developing and implementing automation projects across departments. This way, valuable know-how is redistributed across the enterprise as needed to support scaling and future deployments.

Keeping an open line of communication running throughout the business can help employees to understand the benefits of automation. By doing so, HR departments can offer transparency to employees and thus help with company-wide adoption of RPA.

Automation is here and it is already creating more human-centric and efficient businesses across the world. For those businesses who have yet to begin or fully embrace their automation journey, HR departments can play a significant role in encouraging a smooth digital transformation that will benefit both the business as a whole and the employee as an individual.