By Ian Barkin
On Valentine’s Day our thoughts turn to love, to chocolate and to how quickly we can get Amazon to accelerate the shipment of the gift we ordered too late. The first one of those (love) got me thinking about the future of work and the changing dynamics we are seeing.
Earlier this week, I was sitting at dinner with two friends and we all discovered we had met our respective spouses at work. This fact was not necessarily surprising, given the amount of time we spend in work and with our colleagues. In fact, I assume a great many people have met their significant others this way. This seems to be particularly true in the outsourcing world, where delivery centers are full of so many young, dynamic and interesting people. Workplace romance is bound to abound.
But, (stay with me here), it got me to thinking about the working environment in general, about outsourcing, about automation and about the changing world of Change Management. Did you follow that? Let me explain.
In outsourcing and in shared services, work is often moved from teams in one location, to teams in another location. This is done via a ‘knowledge capture’ phase. One of the most contentious and difficult times in the life of any deal is when a group of outsiders shows up in an organization in order to perform this knowledge capture. This is difficult for many reasons. First, processes are often complex, nuanced, and poorly documented. So, it takes a lot of work to get things ‘captured’. Second, the team doing the capturing often looks and sounds very different from their counterparts. This creates a natural tension – cultural dissonance and impending job attrition do not make for a good combination.
This is where Change Management comes in. It’s critical to manage the impending change effectively so that all parties involved are able to get their work done, and feel comfortable with whatever is coming next.
In comes automation, specifically ‘Digital Labor’. Not only is Digital Labor an interesting alternative to a 1-for-1 headcount replacement model, it introduces a very different set of dynamics for Change Management to address. As is covered plenty in other blogs and whitepapers, automation is capable of a wide variety of impact types. It can assist agents in their daily tasks. Or, it can replace agents – leaving them ‘free to do other things’. The other things can sometimes be higher value adding. But, let’s face it, there are other times when workers will no longer be needed in their roles. What is particularly interesting here is that, the group that was causing the consternation in BPO/SSC v1.0 is now the same group that’s feeling the consternation in BPO/SSC v2.0.
On one large RPA project I was involved with, I witnessed an amazing example of the coming tension Change Managers will need to consider. As ‘robots’ were being designed, configured and tested, it became clear to the transactional staff that this may be bad for them. And so, HR kicked in. Their idea of change management was to put posters on the walls with a pithy statement that read something like, “Humans and Robots Working Together”. To make it worse, they employed robot clip-art to illustrate their point. To protect the innocent, I wont explain the image they chose, but trust me, it was bad.
So, herein lies the challenge. Change Managers need to figure out how to facilitate a new kind of Knowledge Capture, and how to ease enterprises into a new form of working environment where we work with ‘robots’ that sometimes make us more efficient, and other times make us obsolete. Furthermore, we need to evolve our approach to re-skilling and training, so that skills taught are automation-safe, and geared toward higher value, judgment-based work.
And, now that so many roles stand to be automated, what will become of the office romances we depend on to find our special Valentines? Will office romances of the future be with our Digital colleagues?
Probably not - unless they sound like Scarlett Johansson...
And, that’s my Valentine-inspired thought for the day.