Empowering a Remote Workforce with Process Automation

As companies transition to the new normal, best practices emerge for streamlining workers’ tasks.

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Nearly one year after the onslaught of COVID-19 forced the global shift to remote work, IT leaders are experimenting with technology-enabled initiatives aimed at boosting employee productivity. At the same time, they are creating new rules of engagement for a labor force that is unlikely to return to the work patterns of pre-pandemic days.

A recent #IDGTECHtalk Twitter discussion found employees still at fully remote work or in a hybrid model. Most were grappling with an array of challenges, from spotty bandwidth and intermittent communications to the necessity of maintaining relationships with fellow employees and customers. The inability to read body language over video, the ever-present back-channel communications, and the on-going struggle to maintain work/life balance while collaborating with colleagues in different time zones were among the many pain points voiced by chat participants.

“Remote work just can’t do everything,” said Wayne Anderson, a security and compliance architect with Microsoft’s M365 Center of Excellence. “You lose nuance and presence. There is no substitute for body language and non-verbal cues.”

The transition to remote work has also caused a huge mental shift for many leaders who had a more traditional view of what effective working looked like. “My biggest challenge as a manager was building trust with my staff and peers,” said Amelie Koran.  “While the work output [of remote staff] was no different than that of on-site employees, [managing workers] did prove challenging for organizations that were `butts in seats’ oriented.”

Mitigating Remote Work Challenges

While there are technical challenges, many related to security and continuity of workflow, the current emphasis is on building relationships and trust among a team. A focus on virtual group events such as book clubs, game nights, and Zoom happy hours has proven to be effective for connecting people and forging bonds.

Leadership also needs to be more deliberate and engaged with employees. “Managing by walking around is over—managing by engaging is needed,” noted Jason James, CIO at software maker Net Health. “Leaders must be more aware of the needs of their team, including how personal commitments could interrupt work hours.”

Process automation can streamline business practices, simplify routine workflows, and drive digital transformation to empower more effective remote work. Process automation can be trained on removing friction and making mundane tasks more efficient, but it can also encompass machine learning to extract insights from complex data and augment human brainpower by delivering additional intelligence.

Optimizing Process Automation in the Era of Remote Work

Automation has been sold as a time saver or simplifier, and that is still the case during the COVID era. However, as in the past, there needs to be planning and prioritization of processes to be automated—not everything is a candidate. Employee onboarding, security patch and vulnerability management, and user deprovisioning could all benefit from process automation. In addition, expense audits, supply chain ordering and execution, and financial and operational reporting could gain automation efficiency.

Experts in the Twitter chat advised companies to start small with process automation, keying on pain points, capturing lessons learned, and communicating success stories to the enterprise audience. Creating reusable building blocks to make subsequent process automation efforts easier is an important best practice. And fostering alignment between the business and IT to identify processes that are good automation candidates is critical to success.

Like most journeys, it’s important to understand the starting point and the goals and to be realistic about what’s possible. “Many tasks can be automated, but not all should be,” said Arsalan Khan, a speaker, advisor, and blogger focused on business and digital transformation. “Automation without prioritization and optimization is a recipe for disaster.”

Learn more:

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