Future of Work: Humans and digital labor working together

16 August 2018 | automation

Future of Work: Humans and digital labor working together

Change is coming. Digital labor, in the form of intelligent automation, is going to change the future of work. And, while there are many people that like to tell you we haven’t been here before. We have, but perhaps in slightly different ways. Since the industrial revolution (or earlier depending who you speak to), industry leaders have always looked for ways to leverage technology to augment workers. They have used advancements in technology to change, or augment peoples labor to deliver efficiency and productivity — while cutting costs. Today, we face a new wave of intelligent technology in the office which is going to change the way in which people work. 

Which raises the questions; How is the future workforce changing? How will people and digital labor colloborate? While there isn’t a clear cut answer to these questions. Let’s look at some examples of each and how we are heading towards a collaborative workplace.


Augmenting workers  

We, as a human collective, have always looked for ways to improve the way in which we perform work. And, in doing so, have created a workplace which is in constant flux. This is explained by the fact that the fundamental concept of automation hasn't changed very much. We have always looked for ways to shift menial work away from people and onto technology. To demonstrate this let’s look at bank tellers in the 20th century. A common role for a bank teller used to be to dispense cash to the public, until the development and deployment of the Automated Teller Machine — more commonly referred to as the ATM. The key role of this position changed from the simple task of handling cash withdrawals, to interacting and upselling with customers. And, while some may expect this to mean that the number of bank tellers actually went down, in fact, bank tellers numbers increased between 1988 and 2004. Why? Because the base line costs for the bank decreased and the banks used the extra money to compete for market share through “relationship banking”.(*1 ). “Relationship banking” meaning the augmentation of the bank teller position; away from manual basic tasks to more valuable and enjoyable relationship building with clients.


The tide of AI and digital labor to office based workers is no different.

When office tasks that are menial and low value can be shifted to digital labor, work can be completed faster, without error and free up your valuable resources to perform value added tasks. Of course, this changes the way in which people work and the structure of the workforce. But, like the bank teller, office workers will be reassigned to perform creative, interesting and “human touch” based roles within the business, therefore increasing employee satisfaction and engagement. 

Automation and digital labor is changing the workplace away from the drudgery of low value manual work, giving them the opportunity to do so much more. Employees will be free to unleash their creativity and engage properly in business plans for the future. And, ultimately, reach their full potential and advance their careers. Whether that be in expanding their augmented positon, or perhaps into a newly created area of the business which involves automation.

How will people and digital labor collaborate?

When an organisation deploys digital labor, many simply automate one process or look for a quick win to deliver value in the short term. However, to achieve the most from digital labor, organisations must look beyond short term wins. In our experience, organisations that have managed to derive the most value from digital labor have thought about the long term gains from their investment. 

Doing more with less

Every business wants to be able to do more with less. And, people only have a limited capacity when it comes to performing tasks. Whether that is due to role specialities, or the human factor that we can’t physically work 24/7. By combining digital labor with human labor, you can provide consistent service to your clients and resource for any eventuality. Digital labor can take the pressure off of your staff members by performing time consuming, yet low value administrative tasks. And, as digital labor uses Artificial Intelligence technology, it will learn to perform more tasks as time goes on and give more time back to your staff. 

Transforming functions and being creative

Automation is revitalising the way people work and what it means to be an employee at organisations. In a report on executives by service now(*2), 93% of executives believe automation unleashes creativity and can produce improved business outcomes. By freeing your staff from working on repetitive and robotic tasks, they can instead work as a team to decide on new ways to change the business. Putting their energy into areas of the business that they always wanted to change but never had the time to.

Giving that “Personal Touch”

Providing a personal touch for your customers can be delivered by people and enhanced by digital labor. With digital labor, you can collate the information on a customer from multiple systems in an instant. Think of the information that may be spread across an organisation's systems that would be ideal to have to hand for a customer service agent, but they don’t have the time in that moment to manually look through multiple logs with a customer already on the phone. The digital labor can pull all of this information and provide the customer service agent with what they require. Then the human can do what they do best and interact with the customer, using their judgement to see what offers the company currently has to offer best suit the customer's needs. This level of personal touch makes the customer feel the agent truly understands their needs and enhances the business outcomes through collobaration between the two parties.


Tomorrow's workplace will be dramatically different from today. But, not in the way that many expect. The future of office work will dramatically change and the new normal tasks performed by human employees will continue to flux, as digital labor continues to develop. However, organisations that have only been looking at short term gains will not gain the full benefits from digital labor. It is key to think how collaboration can enhance business outcomes by combining digital labor and human labor. Those who don’t will be left alienating one of their key assets — their workforce.



1. http://www.imf.org/external/pubs/ft/fandd/2015/03/bessen.html  

2. https://www.servicenow.com/content/dam/servicenow-assets/public/en-us/doc-type/resource-center/white-paper/sn-state-of-work-report-2017.pdf