However, people are leaving the workforce. Over the past 20 years, the workforce participation rate has declined, particularly in developed nations (See Figure 1 for the US). One of the reasons is that large numbers of baby boomers reaching retirement age.
The labor shortage increases further due to:
- The Covid-19 outbreak leading to the great resignation
- Migration slowing down because of preventive measures being taken by developing nations in response to the pandemic and the broader political climate
Therefore, businesses must find the ways of:
- Increasing worker productivity
- Ensuring employee satisfaction to avoid turnover and its ensuing detrimental effects
An augmented workforce can boost employee satisfaction and productivity. We explain the concept of an augmented workforce in this article to help businesses manage the current labor shortage.
Figure 1: US labor force participation rate
What is an augmented workforce?
An augmented workforce is a situation where human workers cooperate with digital workers, cobots or intelligent virtual assistants to improve safety and efficiency of work. This means that intelligent automation lies at the core of the augmented workforce.
Humans always remain in the loop in an augmented workforce. So, commands of people control the workflow. Thanks to conversational AI, augmented workforce technologies can interact with human staff, comprehend their needs, and provide the appropriate resolution.
An analogy of the augmented workforce is the inexperienced workers that follow their superiors’ instructions. Like junior personnel, AI can gain knowledge from experience and feedback. And because a wide range of different tasks can be automated through them, they provide flexibility for the organization.
For instance, you might ask your digital assistants to pull data from Salesforce and create a chart for your presentation or draft your emails.
3 technologies that augment your workforce
1. Digital workers
Digital workers are a kind of semantic automation tool that combines RPA with conversational AI. Through chat services like Slack, WhatsApp, and others, people can interact with digital employees as if they were conversing with a coworker.
Digital workers with conversational AI capabilities can understand the context with a high level of certainty, ask further about tasks if anything is unclear, and then automate a variety of tasks such as scheduling events, sending and drafting emails, extracting data from databases, and interpreting data when required. This is how digital workers augment your workforce.
Digital workers vs. RPA
Digital workers are different from traditional RPA bots since:
- RPA bots are only designed to automate specific tasks. However, employees can automate a variety of tasks using digital workers. This allows companies to customize how they utilize digital employees based on their timetable. For instance, Figure 2 represents how sales executive Carol uses digital workers to complete different tasks.
- Digital workers can learn from experience and gradually improve their comprehension of human communication thanks to AI. They can be trained as junior personnel as a result.
- Digital employees offer an interactive form of automation. Thus , they are more human-like than RPA bots, which people might enjoy.
Figure 2: Digital workers automate variety of tasks
2. Intelligent virtual assistants
Intelligent virtual assistants (IVA) are another example of semantic automation tools that augment the workforce. Alexa, Siri and Google Assistant are famous examples of IVAs. They can communicate with people like digital workers thanks to conversational AI. Thus, digital workers and IVAs generally share features, advantages, and capabilities.
IVAs vs. digital workers
The major distinction between IVAs and digital workers is; IVAs respond to human speech and frequently give responses mimicking the tone and the structure of human speech. Therefore, potentially, IVAs provide a more human way of communication.
However, with present technology, IVAs are unable to understand some accents, which might be challenging for today’s global workforce.
For instance, the video below demonstrates how Alexa struggles to recognize Scottish accents.
Cobots, or collaborative robots, increase the workforce for manufacturers. They can collaborate with their human coworkers through their sensors, intelligence, and design features that ensure their safety (Check the video below for how their design ensures safety).
Cobots are an effective alternative to typical assembly lines for jobs that require constant human supervision. Cobots may be reprogrammed easily as well. As a result, they offer businesses better scalability.
The below video introduce cobots:
4 ways augmented workforce reduce the labor shortage problem
- Automate mundane tasks: As we indicated at the beginning, 5% of jobs are entirely automatable. Even if interactive automation systems are capable of doing more than just repeated operations, they can still manage the 5% of tedious tasks like sending mass scheduled emails. Therefore, on average, firms will not be impacted by a 5% decline in labor participation if they augment their workforce with digital workers, IVAs and cobots.
- Increase employees’ productivity: Corporations must make better use of their workforce if it is diminishing. But without data extraction, chart interpretation, and report handling, it is impossible for staff to handle activities with a greater return. For instance, instead of looking for new clients and brokers, the average insurance underwriter spends half of her time gathering customer information, using that data to score risk, crafting emails to colleagues, and scheduling meetings. Now, digital workers or IVAs can complete such repetitive or semi-technical tasks, freeing up underwriters’ time to work on sales.
- Support innovation: Employee time that could be spent on company strategy, new product development, establishing a business booster corporate culture, etc. is lost due to a lack of intelligent automation adaptation of firms. Thus, businesses stuck with the old ways could be pushed aside by newcomers’ innovation. In the era of digital transformation, this process is accelerating, forcing businesses to evolve in order to survive. For instance, since 2000, digital disruption has led to the exit of 52% of Fortune 500 corporations, either through bankruptcy or acquisition.
- Reduce employee turnover: You may increase employee happiness and retention by automating repetitive jobs, which will help you manage your way through a labor shortage. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that the average employee stays with a company around 4 years. When an employee switches jobs, the business should look for a replacement and invest time and resources on the new employee to receive the same return as before. Therefore, organizations must improve employee satisfaction, especially during a period of high resignation rates, in order to keep their employees. On the other hand, repetitive and mind-numbing tasks bore employees could result in loss of interest, human errors, and eventually a resignation.
You can also read our article on combating with Great Resignation to finds out tips to fight with labor shortage.
If you need further information regarding technology providers and best practices that ensure an augmented workforce you can contact:
Cem has been the principal analyst at AIMultiple since 2017. AIMultiple informs hundreds of thousands of businesses (as per similarWeb) including 60% of Fortune 500 every month.
Cem's work has been cited by leading global publications including Business Insider, Forbes, Washington Post, global firms like Deloitte, HPE, NGOs like World Economic Forum and supranational organizations like European Commission. You can see more reputable companies and media that referenced AIMultiple.
Throughout his career, Cem served as a tech consultant, tech buyer and tech entrepreneur. He advised businesses on their enterprise software, automation, cloud, AI / ML and other technology related decisions at McKinsey & Company and Altman Solon for more than a decade. He also published a McKinsey report on digitalization.
He led technology strategy and procurement of a telco while reporting to the CEO. He has also led commercial growth of deep tech company Hypatos that reached a 7 digit annual recurring revenue and a 9 digit valuation from 0 within 2 years. Cem's work in Hypatos was covered by leading technology publications like TechCrunch and Business Insider.
Cem regularly speaks at international technology conferences. He graduated from Bogazici University as a computer engineer and holds an MBA from Columbia Business School.
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