December 14, 2021

Is the “Digital Worker” a Solution to the Current Labor Shortage?

By Simone Putnam, SPHR, SHRM-SCP, Partner-in-Charge, Managed Human Resources Services

Is the “Digital Worker” a Solution to the Current Labor Shortage? Managed Human Resources Services

There has been a lot of talk recently about “the great resignation.” How do organizations continue to attract and retain talent? There are many ways to be an attractive employer, which I have written about in previous articles. But even if an organization positions itself as the “perfect employer,” there are many reasons for resignations over the past several months that have very little to do with the organization. No matter how great a work culture an organization has, and no matter how competitive its pay and benefits, employees will still leave. So, how are leaders supposed to address their staffing shortage?

Great change is generally born from great disruption. I view our current labor market less as “the great resignation” and more as “the great disruption.” Organizations still have missions to achieve, professional services firms still have clients to serve, and manufacturing companies still have product to make…so how do organizations grow and thrive when there are not enough workers to fill crucial positions?

Just like leaders were forced, seemingly overnight, to accept that COVID-19 permanently changed the working environment as they knew it, leaders are now being challenged to adapt their concept of a “worker.” As a human resources professional, I am all about the human, and as a leader, I am all about helping organizations operate at their optimum ability. So what can we do when there are not enough humans to fill all of the open positions?

One option that has gained traction within organizations is the concept of a digital worker. Incredible gains have been made in the space of robotic process automation, including at Marcum, utilizing “bots.” These automation building blocks work alongside human employees and execute on a variety of complex tasks that are part of repetitive, transactional processes (i.e., monthly payroll accruals). This automation allows an organization’s human workers to focus on more strategic tasks and provides an immediate increase in capacity.

In recent years, technology has played a huge role in maximizing efficiencies in both our personal and our work lives. While it may seem (to non-IT professionals) like we are using as much technology as is available, the world of artificial intelligence and automation remains relatively new and underutilized in the workplace.

As we all become better educated in this space, it will become easier to identify pieces of individual jobs that could be performed effectively and efficiently through various forms of automation. Will leaders redesign positions and engage digital workers? How would that shape the future workforce? Is this a fad or a long-term trend? Once technological advancements are adopted, they are rarely abandoned. If today’s labor shortage drives us toward automation, do we then go back to “the way things were” once the labor market changes? I highly doubt that would be an option.

If we go down the path of embracing the digital worker, it’s likely that fewer process-based and entry-level positions will be available to human workers. How then does this affect the education system and the increased demand for skilled knowledge or information workers? I don’t have a crystal ball, but I do believe that we will see a ripple effect of the current labor shortage, the extent to which none of us can comprehend at this moment in time.

We often heard “we are all in this together” during the pandemic’s initial impacts, and I believe this same refrain is appropriate as leaders work together to redefine the future of the workforce.

If you are interested in learning more about digital workers or how you can better engage technology to help your organization grow and thrive, ask your Marcum professional to introduce you to our IT professionals at Marcum Technology for a consultation.