Automation in the time of Remote Work
If your organisation can adapt to the disruption of remote work, then it can benefit from automation.
By Michael Ma – Intelligent Automation Solution Architect at Delv
It was a time that we mobilised against an unexpected upheaval to alter the way we work. Whilst remote working has been a water cooler topic since before the turn of the millennium, never have we seen such a broad concerted effort by businesses until the response to uncertainties posed by recent crises. The shift to a Work From Home (WFH) model alone has brought a multitude of challenges to both businesses and employees. Some of these issues have also been focal points for the uptake of intelligent automation. By recognising the overlapping spheres of influence by these two disruptive concepts, we can be confident in value of automation in alleviating the strains of WFH whilst building resiliency.
The socialisation of technology is critical for adoption and the forces that compel organisations into remote working also promote the mechanisms and methods necessary to conduct expected business operations. The reality of decentralised activities, engagement and control naturally presents opportunities for products and services that address those pain points. However, these responses often cannot account for the cyber safety and security risks. Without the controlled office environment, the onus of behavioural practices to prevent personal attacks or criminal activity has shifted to the employees. Furthermore, the application of process and controls to protect data, networks and systems becomes more difficult to enforce. The sudden departure from, or modification of, traditional work environments inevitably strain businesses and employees alike.
The pressure on organisations and technology is the loss of control and visibility in remote work scenarios. Outside of secure networks, there is an increased risk of unauthorised data access by both accidental insiders and intelligent attackers. The opportunity for unmonitored or unsanctioned devices to exchange data with business systems means ever increasing threat vectors to the business. Questions on privacy and confidentiality in work are also raised as the formal perception of the workplace becomes malleable and more synonymous with home life. There are several situations that come to mind where I have seen people post photos of their WFH setup or publicly share details. Innocuous commentary or items visible on their workstation or screen are potentially more pieces of the puzzle for attackers and can be accidental data leaks. When an organisation has a reduced ability to secure its edges, it is more challenging to defend itself and their employees.
The difficulty for employees in the sense of distance and isolation leads them feeling invisible to their organisations. There is a tendency to view organisations in isolation; business, technology, people and processes, and the factors that have prompted such a drastic shift to remote working also remind us of a more widespread impact to society at large. I have had many a conversation with those on the WFH rollercoaster: the blurred distinction between work and home life, the lack of communication and collaboration, and the new routines and coping activities that crop up along the way. The personal engagement that was once taken for granted now demands additional effort and time to muster up some semblance of human connection. I have seen a myriad of coffee catch-up meetings, social chat appointments and lunch time trivia sessions that must be juggled and squeezed in a calendar already struggling with the demands of teleconferencing for daily work. One salient mentality is “just getting it done”; a kind of fatigued approach to achieving outcomes. Out of sheer necessity, people create new processes or workarounds to deal with the new methods of accessing data, communicating with others, and performing tasks. These actions are likely to fall off the radar for businesses, much like how employees feel that they themselves have turned invisible with the disconnect.
Intelligent automation disrupts the way organisations handle their technology and people. Its successful application has always forced people to rethink their approach to work environments and employee engagement. Where remote work has be dictated as a response to uncertainty; reactive risk mitigation, automation is prescribed as a step towards digital transformation; proactive business improvement. Where remote work highlighted vulnerabilities with human factors, automation removes the human element from the equation. Organisations have proved their ability to evolve their mindset to overcome unexpected challenges and are already performing a more arduous task compared to the incorporation of intelligent automation.
The challenges faced in remote work pave the way for implementing intelligent automation. The idea of having digital workers operating out of a virtual office is juxtaposed with having human employees work remotely. With digital workers, they reside in a secure IT environment with all the governance required. There is no worry of unauthorised access nor accidental data leaks, and the human factor and economics is mitigated; no added frustration in using more security mechanisms just to get the same job done. In addition, the digital workers devices are all provisioned by the organisation and are not susceptible to the same vulnerabilities that human employees experience. Digital workers also conduct their work remotely except in an environment designed and implemented by the business. Here, the organisation retains full control and visibility of their digital workers with a consistent degree of audit-ability and logging that would otherwise not be possible.
Intelligent automation helps minimise the growing concern of employee welfare when under a remote work mode. Automation has traditionally been used to conduct tasks that were otherwise hazardous or ill advised to be conducted by human employees. In this current time, we see automation removing the human element to not only achieve business efficiencies but also stem the stressors of adapting to remote work. Lessening the work that is performed by human employees, or at least the extraction of manual effort from activities that require secure access and handle sensitive data, reduces the overall burden of work. In pulse checkpoints with customer facing teams, a common thread was the comfort of not having to handle tedious data entry or reporting, leaving more time for critical requests or team bonding. This benefit is notably emphasised in discussions within the current work climate. The rationale for automation is clear when comparing against remote work outcomes on employee experience.
The move to remote work out of necessity has shown that organisations can indeed manoeuvre to different approaches to work environments. What is also demonstrates is some parallels to the implementation of intelligent automation. The key difference is that one is viewed as a change to survive and the other is a change to improve. All that is needed is shrewd questioning, first of the business and then of the employees, to conclude that the disruption from intelligent automation overlaps those of remote work and can be utilised for great benefit.
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Michael Ma is an Intelligent Automation Solution Architect at Delv who leads the development and execution of automation capabilities, including building out data analytics and other complementary technologies.