4 Unique and Irreplaceable Human Skills that will Complement Your Digital Workforce

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HR Insights for ProfessionalsThe latest thought leadership for HR pros

Monday, January 18, 2021

2020 has been a transformative year in many ways. Apart from the seismic changes to social life, however, businesses have suffered unprecedented disruption as a result of national lockdowns around the world, and a digital migration of consumers to online services.

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4 Unique and Irreplaceable Human Skills that will Complement Your Digital Workforce
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As a result, intelligent automation has become an essential tool, enabling businesses to deliver services to many customers who—still largely confined to their homes—expect to be able to access what they need from wherever they are. In addition, automated platforms have been able to facilitate the rapid rise in remote working and assist homebound employees in their roles.

These changes aren’t all brand new. However, they do herald a new era in workplace digitization, one that’s driven by an intelligent digital workforce able to automate numerous tasks and drive time-savings, accuracy and cost efficiency.

In turn, this has given rise to fears that robots will replace humans in the workplace. This simply isn’t true. Even in roles and industries that can be heavily automated—repetitive, rules-based tasks such as data entry and predictable physical activities—humans have an irreplaceable role to play in delivering value to the organization.

Naturally, some roles will need to be revised, and some employees may need to re-evaluate their skillsets or learn new skills to unlock the value of their uniquely human abilities. The reality is that an entirely automated workforce just wouldn’t work, because robots lack these human skills. As such, a hybrid approach to digital transformation is the best way to tap into the benefits of intelligent automation.

1. Collaborative interaction

While digital workers can automate most tasks that reside in the electronic space and require rule-based thinking, they’re not so good at activities that require independent thinking and business decision-making.

What they can do, however, is free up human employees to focus their time and abilities on maximizing the use of these skills. The ability to interact in a fluid manner with colleagues and collaborate effectively on sometimes abstract projects is one such skill, relying on communication, understanding, and empathy that software robots lack.

This collaborative interaction is what drives the innovation and team spirit of your organization and forms the bedrock of how your teams approach the overall business strategy. Without it, there would be little personality to the entire operation, and nothing would ever change or grow.

A digital workforce can help by easing the burden of time-consuming or repetitive tasks such as data processing and file transfers, so employees can spend time analysing the data and determining how to communicate or present it to colleagues.

2. Creative problem solving

Advanced machine learning mechanisms have enabled intelligent software platforms and digital workers to learn patterns and improve in accuracy as they read and process more data. This is problem solving of a sort, but it’s no replacement for the capacity to think in non-linear ways about how to resolve an issue in the workplace.

Only humans have that skill: the ability to assess and analyze multiple potential outcomes and use intuition and creativity to choose the best course. That’s why McKinsey estimates that less than 5% of all occupations are viable for full automation. Some human resourcing will always be required.

3. Emotional intelligence

Digital workers are pre-programmed and work to rules. They can adapt based on advanced data annotation and machine learning, but they don’t react in real-time to crucial elements of business, like emotion and intent.

The ability to sense emotions and make tacit judgements is essential in customer-facing roles and sales meetings, for example. While intelligent automation can make the process around these interactions much smoother—chatbots, for example—there will always be a need for human empathy in certain situations. Imagine a software robot trying to sell a service to a client. If that client deviates from the rules-based programming of the robot—and they will, every time, because humans vary in tiny and unpredictable ways—the whole process is going to grind to a halt.

4. Relationship management

Emotional intelligence, as well as business acumen, is also key in ensuring successful relationship management with all stakeholders. Key to relationship management includes                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          skills like listening, asking questions and providing information in a meaningful and context-correct manner. As yet, robots aren’t so good at that, which means that human involvement in the building of fruitful relationships is irreplaceable.

These examples don’t constitute an exhaustive list. There are myriad tasks and responsibilities within any organization that can only be performed well by human employees capable of exercising judgement, empathy and creativity. Indeed, the proliferation of automated technologies has the potential to create new jobs and even give rise to entire industries (such as software-as-a-service).

The McKinsey report referenced above concludes that, in this regard, this technological shift is akin to long-term technology-enabled shifts away from agriculture as the predominant workforce in developed countries throughout the 20th century. These changes didn’t cause mass unemployment because new roles were required in order to manage and supplement the new technologies used.

This all leads to one conclusion: a hybrid workforce is the future. Organizations cannot afford to miss out on the productivity boost and cost savings offered by digital workers. At the same time, the uniquely human skills explored here remain essential to the success of any organization.

There are fundamental changes underway in society and in the workplace, and they’re changes that pose potentially massive benefits in productivity and employee satisfaction. In order to unlock these benefits, a new degree of cooperation between humans and digital workers will be required.

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