The office process automation is indicated as the third most important trend in modern technologies used in companies - just after cyber security and the use of cloud solutions. This direction is therefore an obvious choice for a growing number of companies today. RPA technology is most often used for repetitive processes, e.g., for posting invoices, sending serial correspondence, handling complaints, transferring data or creating reports.
What are employees afraid of?
Despite the undeniable benefits for companies, the practice shows that the initiation of robotisation often meets with an unfavourable reaction of the employees involved. Such experiences have been shared, among others, by Crowe, a company which supports clients in the RPA implementation, but which also uses robots for its processes.
Robotisation is a big change for an organisation and not every person reacts positively to it from the very beginning. Therefore, the initial phase of the project was accompanied mainly by fears, but with time our team found a breakthrough and opened up to novelties. Certainly, proper communication played a key role in this process - says Patrycja Łomińska, the Manager at Crowe, directly involved in the implementation of automation in the accounting processes.
This openness to novelty is now becoming one of the key competitive advantages of companies. Today's business reality requires rapid adaptation to the changing environment. The ability to manage the change is, therefore, one of the basic competences, which more and more often determines the existence or non-existence of enterprises.
Why do employees usually feel afraid of process automation? One of the most common objections of employees is the fear of losing their jobs due to the implementation of robots. According to the Aleo platform research, this fear is shared by one in six Poles, but the fear refers to the use of robots in production processes. In the case of robotisation of office processes, such a thesis does not find any reflection in practice.
Our experience shows that in most cases the implementation of RPA results in shifting employees to other tasks, less repetitive and requiring an individual, non-standardised approach. These are most often the duties which enable the employees to use their potential in a better way, to develop themselves and, as a result, to increase their job satisfaction - says Robert Ćwiertnia, an expert on robotisation of processes, who carries out RPA implementations for clients from various industries.
The key issue when automating processes is therefore communication. Explaining to employees exactly what the robotisation is, how it works and how it will affect their work. This will have a significant impact on how they perceive the entire RPA implementation process and whether they will be willing to engage in it.
It is important to take discussions to explain the benefits of robotisation to the team. The advantages are numerous. One of them is the chance to carry out activities that are much more creative than data entry. And it is the robot which will do the most monotonous part of my work - states Katarzyna Byliniak, Manager at Crowe.
Technology is not so scary
Another fear shared by employees is the fear of working with a robot. In fact, there are often questions: Will I be able to cope with this? Interestingly, people who are familiar with new technologies also have such doubts.
We were surprised that in our team, the people from the youngest generation were more robot-afraid than those with much longer work experience. Good knowledge of processes definitely makes it easier to understand the purpose of implementing RPA in an organisation - adds Katarzyna Byliniak from Crowe.
So, it seems that the robotisation programme should be well supported by a group of employees who have a good understanding of the processes involved, as well as of the value of their own time and work. Such individuals will be excellent change leaders and can play a key role in engaging other team members in the process.
Additional labour input
The preparation of automation requires a considerable amount of work related to the standardisation of the process, updating of systems or digitalisation of data. According to Patrycja Łomińska from Crowe, this additional labour input pays off quickly, as the transfer of particular activities to a robot measurably relieves the team. What is particularly important here, is the organisational optimisation of the process, which will allow for the full potential of robotisation to be used.
"A side effect" of the implementation of RPA is the structuring of processes. Before the robot is used, the individual activities must be optimised and standardised. This should always be the first stage of the project; only then will it be possible to look at the process from a broader perspective - says Robert Ćwiertnia.
Practice shows that reorganisation and digitisation alone can improve process efficiency by up to 30%.
Unification of operations is a fundamental requirement of robotisation, as a robot can only operate according to an accepted pattern of operation, and any exceptions to the rule disrupt its work. Involving employees in the preparation of the process model is an important part of familiarising them with the novelty and overcoming basic fears of what the robotisation really is.
Patrycja Łomińska also underlines this fact: Robotisation has had a very positive impact on organising the team's work and arranging our activities into a sequence of consecutive actions which may be presented in the form of an algorithm.
This algorithmicising is particularly important because a robot needs to be programmed and told step by step how to act, i.e., in which order to press computer keys and click the mouse, in order to imitate human work.
Involvement of employees at every stage of RPA implementation
An important aspect of change management in the implementation of the robotisation process is to prepare employees to cooperate with robots. Katarzyna Byliniak from Crowe points out that it is also necessary to remember that people who deal with e.g., accounting on a daily basis do not always have strictly technical competences. Therefore, they need to be well-prepared to handle such processes. Simple trainings on how to control the work of a robot or a short course in programming, which will show that even at home we can build a robot ordering our favourite pizza on our own, come in handy here. The increase in technical competence is invaluable for every employee, also in terms of increasing their own value on the labour market.
The testing phase of the robot's operation is very important. There is always an opportunity to see how it works, even before it is deployed in a production environment. It is also a good idea to involve the team in this stage. Such tests allow you to refine the robot's performance and correct any errors.
It is important to catch any mistakes a robot may make at the beginning. It is necessary to verify its work very precisely, especially at the testing phase. Once the robot has been fully programmed, its operation has become sensational, and the time needed to perform actions has been significantly reduced - says Katarzyna Byliniak.
This reduction of time for tasks depends on the specific process, but the data suggests that it is in the range of 30-90%. A software robot can work 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. If we engage it for 8 hours to work in one process, there are 16 free hours to programme it for other activities, without additional costs. This significantly increases its efficiency.
Openness to change
Change by its very nature causes resentment and resistance. In order to successfully implement a new solution in an organisation, it is necessary to provide employees with a sense of security. They should therefore be informed about what will happen next and - this is particularly important - be aware that they can always count on support. There are many reasons why organisational changes fail, but one of the most important is the incorrect sequence of actions. It is often assumed that people will openly accept the change. Practice shows, however, that this is not true.