Whether you realize it or not, you’re likely using some form of automated software. Most workforce management software already uses artificial intelligence features that help you to automate some of your daily HR tasks. So if you’re part of the growing number of professionals considering transitioning to workforce automation, you might be closer to your end goal than you think.
In today’s world of advanced technology, there’s lots of room for AI to help you automate your work processes. A recent study by McKinsey & Company found that at least one-third of tasks could theoretically be automated in as much as 60% of jobs. That’s plenty of tasks for software to help out with, freeing you up to focus on other duties.
Workforce automation sounds like an easy way to save time by streamlining tedious tasks. That’s why many businesses are turning to automation to optimize their workflows, and use their skilled employees to do other types of work. But before you decide if automation is the proper route for you and your business, you need to have a solid foundation of knowledge about what workforce automation is and what it can do for you.
What Is Workforce Automation?
At its core, management of workforce automation is all about achieving balance. Balancing the needs of customers, employees, managers, and business goals with all your other daily tasks can be tricky. Some of the duties involved in that include scheduling, performance management, planning and reporting, among others. All of these, while they may seem disparate at first, contribute to the big picture goals of the business.
A key step in optimizing your workforce is examining what processes can be automated. Taking a careful look at what core tasks can be done by technology can help determine where you can boost efficiency and productivity. You don’t want your employees devoting half of their time to chores like paperwork — that’s a waste of both time and money.
That’s a pretty roundabout answer to the question of what automation actually is. Simply put, automation is letting technology do the heavy lifting for you. With advanced AI tools, many tasks can be done by the software without you ever lifting a finger — all you’ll need to do is give your system a bit of guidance before it begins its job.
An automated system is a bit like having an employee specifically to complete menial tasks. Very few managers hire their employees because of their ability to file paperwork. The sad reality is that those kinds of tasks take time away from the duties you actually hired your employees to complete. Automating those small jobs frees up your employees to do more of what you hired them to do.
What Management Tasks Can Be Automated?
You’ve carefully selected your employees for their unique skill set, not for their ability to fill out their time sheets every week. Automating these kinds of tasks increases productivity by eliminating the need for employees to complete these tedious activities. You might be asking what specific tasks can be automated — and that’s the right kind of question to be asking. Knowing what your automation options are will help you decide how automation can best help your business.
We spoke with Rebecca Skillbeck, Head of Customer Insights and Market Research at PageUp, and asked for advice on how to determine whether or not automation is a good solution for your business. “My advice for any company looking to automate their HR system is to look at the improvements and benefits that automating existing operations will actually provide,” said Skillbeck. “Businesses should take a look at the potential return on investment of automating their HR systems, from attracting and identifying the right talent, to seamlessly onboarding new team members, to retaining the best people within the organization, to see the true value of a robust HR system. Identifying a vendor who has experience in understanding critical talent issues and who has experience supporting businesses to build and optimise their workflows using technology is key. This ensures your modernisation process can happen quickly and seamlessly, with the right support so your business can start to reap the benefits of a world-class HR system.”
In order to determine if automating HR processes will be a benefit to your business, you’ll want to be aware of what types of tasks a workforce management solution can actually automate. There are a multitude of HR tasks that your HR department completes on a daily and weekly basis, however many of those can be streamlined with the help of AI. We’ve broken down a few key ways that automation can help to relieve HR managers below.
There’s a lot of information to keep track of to get a clear idea of your employees’ availability. Many job functions require specific certifications to demonstrate the employee’s ability to complete their job tasks. For example, you might have restaurant employees who need regular recertifications to demonstrate their knowledge of food safety.
These kinds of certifications allow your business to run smoothly. Without them, you and your employees could be out of compliance with business regulations or even state legislation. If you have multiple employees, tracking these certifications and when they expire can be a calendar nightmare. An automated system can track all of that data and send you an alert when it’s time for one of your employees to recertify.
You may also find your software allows you to get electronic signatures from employees to document that they’ve read and understood your company procedure. This means that you’ll no longer have to track down individual employees like a fan trying to get their autograph. Some systems can also alert you when an employee is approaching overtime hours. This makes sure no employees are working overtime without prior approval.
There are countless factors to consider when it comes time to process payroll. Each individual employee will have varying hours of work, different rates of pay and different deductions to be taken out of each paycheck. Calculating all of this information manually is time-consuming. In fact, more than one-quarter of small business owners spend as many as 5 hours processing payroll each month — that’s almost a full day every month just to make sure your employees are getting paid.
Fortunately, these factors can be calculated automatically with an automated system. That will free up your HR administrators to focus on tasks that are not easily automated, such as interfacing with employees.
One way to see clearly how your business is operating is by looking at the data. Managers often spend time every month preparing this data and developing graphs and charts to present at meetings. While the data is helpful and your managerial staff may have a knack for graphic design, the time spent on preparing these documents is completely unnecessary. Automated systems can track this data, generate reports automatically and print them so they’re always ready for those monthly or quarterly meetings.
Sifting through paper timesheets can be messy. There’s always a risk that you could lose a timesheet, leaving no record of how many hours of work an employee should be paid for. An automated system can track all of these records for you by allowing employees to clock in and out through the software. It can also calculate what an employee should be paid automatically when it’s time to process payroll.
Fortunately, technology can address all of these concerns. An automated system can track all of these records for you by allowing employees to clock in and out through the software. Some solutions even provide biometric capabilities, such as fingerprint clock-in, ensuring that clock-in and clock-out times are always accurate. It can also calculate what an employee should be paid automatically when it’s time to process payroll.
Benefits of Workforce Automation
Workforce automation is increasingly becoming the norm rather than the exception. With advancements in the capabilities of AI and as system interfaces are more commonly designed with usability in mind, it is not unreasonable to believe that the future of HR will bring a rise in automation. Implementing technology that automates time-consuming HR processes such as talent management or performance reviews, can save your business both time and money as well as increase overall employee satisfaction. By using technology to streamline your workforce management operations, you’ll likely increase performance at all levels of your HR department.
Particularly for medium and large businesses, a full team of HR professionals might be necessary just to manage employees. Everything from payroll processing to report generation falls upon the shoulders of your HR team. For a business with more than a handful of employees, this can be incredibly daunting and time consuming. Automating your workforce management process allows advanced AI to complete many of these tasks with little oversight from HR managers. This saves your managers time and helps to keep business costs low. These systems allow your HR department to remain fully functional while requiring fewer HR managers and administrators to complete all of the necessary tasks to keep the business operating at its highest level.
Allowing AI to take over many of these responsibilities also decreases, and often entirely eliminates the potential for human error. A workforce management solution can generate schedules, track employee hours and utilize that information to automatically calculate payroll, ensuring that paychecks are always accurate and ready on time. Not only does this save HR managers the headache of completing all of these individual assignments, but it also boosts employee morale and job satisfaction. This type of tool provides your employees with the peace of mind that the next schedule will always be available that they won’t need to worry about paycheck errors.
Inviting artificial intelligence into your office can also help to improve your HR departments ability to make predictions for the future. Workforce management software can assess data faster and more effectively, helping to provide HR managers with the best information available to influence decisions. This type of analysis can benefit HR professionals with a variety of tasks, from what-if scenario planning to schedule generation. By enabling the system to generate forecasts for future needs based on past results, you’ll be letting the automated solution do much of the heavy lifting, allowing your HR team to do their jobs more efficiently.
Additional Considerations for the Management of Workforce Automation
Letting a workforce management system do the heavy lifting sounds like a pretty good deal, but is it too good to be true? Though there are a handful of factors to consider, automating your HR activities is overall a great investment. While automation is an excellent way to streamline your workforce automation processes, it is not a perfect solution. There are a few potential risk factors you’ll want to consider before deciding to automate your HR department with a workforce management solution.
Whether your system is based in-house or in the cloud, there is always a risk that your data might be compromised — though fortunately, that risk is low. Whether choosing to implement a cloud-based solution or a system based in-house, you’ll want to be sure that you’re considering your security protections when you automate your workforce management processes.
Additionally, workforce management solutions are susceptible to the same challenges that all other software products face, including downtime. Though technology is an excellent tool for any business, it is not perfect. Cloud-based products are reliant on an internet connection, and in-house systems rely on your own servers to run the program. Unfortunately, sometimes internet connectivity can be unreliable — but thankfully this is becoming an increasingly rare occurrence — and internal servers might fail you. While these risks are certainly something to be aware of, they do not commonly present problems for businesses.
Finally, the cost of automating your workforce management process is often a concern for businesses. According to Skillbeck, many HR managers are tentative to automate their operations because it can be difficult to clearly define the return on investment. Additionally, there are often fears that an automated system will have hidden costs, such as training or implementation, or that automation will not deliver what was promised. Fortunately, all of these fears can be easily addressed.
“The key to overcoming this fear,” said Skillbeck, “is showing HR leaders that people like them have bought the system and had success. In our case studies, customers speak to excellent implementation experiences, awesome customer service and hard numbers. For example, up to $1M saved in the first 12 months or a shift to 100% direct sourcing. There are always plenty of stories of how customers are spending the time saved on repetitive tasks now they’re automated.”
The Wrap Up
The future of HR is automated, and with many businesses already utilizing workforce management systems to streamline their processes, integrative solutions will become increasingly popular. This should come as no surprise, considering all of the benefits of automating your workforce management processes. If you’ve decided that automation is the next step for your business, then take a look at our workforce management requirements checklist to get a more thorough overview of all the things that a workforce management solution can help with.
Do you use an automated system in your HR department? Let us know which one by leaving a comment below.
Contributing Thought Leaders
Rebecca Skilbeck is the Head of Customer Insights and Market Research at PageUp. Her areas of expertise and passion are business intelligence: gaining actionable insights from organisational and market data, and thought leadership: what are the trends and ideas shaping the fields of HR and technology. Rebecca has over 20 years of experience as a research analyst in a career that has included academia, strategic consulting and equity investment. She is the author of numerous white papers on talent management.