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PHOTO: Charles

The hybrid workplace is here to stay. Employees will continue to work from home at least part of the time, as survey after survey confirms that at least 53% of employees prefer the flexibility and balance of working from home (WFH) and 43% attest they are more productive with a remote work model. It’s clear that we need to reimagine how technology can empower employees to work smarter — and part of that includes intelligent automation.

Intelligent process automation (IPA) is a growing category. IDC defines IPA as "a collection of software tools and platforms used to simplify, automate and manage processes, and to coordinate, connect and control distributed processes." It’s an estimated $17.3 billion market according to IDC, being pushed forward by the convergence of AI with automation tools such as intelligent document processes, task and process mining, and predictive analytics. So how can intelligent process automation support this new era of hybrid working?  

Where IPA Fits With Employee Productivity

Employees still spend a lot of time on unnecessary stages, skipping steps, searching for information inside company documents and duplicating tasks. In fact, 90% of employees say their job is made more difficult due to challenges accessing data in documents to serve customers, and nearly a quarter (24%) lose a full day of productivity per week doing so. These numbers are not ideal as companies struggle to balance a digital skills gap and continue to lose employees during the Great Resignation — all while striving for economic recovery. It’s easy to see the impact efficiency in document-centric processes can have on employee productivity. This is of particular significance when you consider 80% of processes are document-centric, according to Gartner. This is where IPA comes in.

Today, tasks like finding and extracting data from physical documents are automated by solutions such as robotic process automation (RPA) robots and/or intelligent document processing (IDP). However, this doesn’t mean that employees will sit idle in an office chair. Automating processes allows them to focus on more simulating tasks like building relationships with customers, analyzing data for new opportunities and creative problem-solving.

Organizations with remote and distributed workplaces invest in intelligent automation to make data from documents more easily accessible and add new document types into their workflows to support their workers in their new hybrid environment.

Related Article: The Role of Robotic Process Automation in Digital Transformation

Striking the Balance Between RPA Bots and Humans

Intelligent process automation works in the background, often without employees realizing. And with the World Economic Forum predicting AI will create 133 million new jobs this year, and increase the world GDP by $15 trillion by 2030, it’s no surprise that businesses are looking to invest in more solutions that leverage AI for intelligent automation.

Among the most popular over the past few years have been RPA bots infused with cognitive abilities. These bots can help improve efficiency and collaboration and ease the burden of administrative tasks. It’s why 46% of employees say they spend up to two hours a day working with RPA and by some estimates could save 54 days per year by using it. However to gain these efficiencies, the processes the RPA bots are automating must first be operating as effectively as possible with minimal human involvement to fix bottlenecks, deviations or broken processes.

Related Article: Why We Need Universal RPA Design Standards

Avoiding Proximity Bias in the New Way We Work

From a leadership perspective, organizations will need to work out how to equitably support both remote workers and those who chose to return to the office. People have reasons for working where they do: whether it’s working from home to avoiding long commutes or to take care of family, while others feel more productive in the office. People work differently. And organizations need to understand and accommodate varying scenarios and circumstances.

However, the perception that employees working in the office are better workers (aka proximity bias) is unreal and untrue and must be curbed at its onset. The right technology can potentially help here. Instead of seeing employees as better workers because they are in the office, it’s important to evaluate performance based on productivity.

A full understanding of the deepest aspects of business processes and the content that fuels them will be required here. Part of this is evaluating, monitoring and measuring how employees interact with software applications to complete tasks within a business process. It provides the foothold needed to make the leap with new intelligent automation initiatives. For example, the finance industry is extremely process-centric, as teams tackle time-consuming tasks relating to procurement, purchasing and invoices. Having the ability to analyze their tasks within processes and understand how they interact with systems to complete them enables IT and innovation teams to identify opportunities for improvement and increase the speed and accuracy of performing processes. It can also provide details down to the individual worker on their performance which can help identify if more training is needed, or perhaps a better way of completing a task can be found. Easing the burden of admin-heavy tasks and improved workflow are important steps to accurately evaluating employee productivity and avoiding proximity bias in the long run.

The rise of the Great Resignation, the ongoing drain of Zoom fatigue, the lack of in-person interactions, and the constant adjustments to a new way of work are just some of the challenges employees have faced over the last two years. Intelligent process automation can help organizations improve staff productivity, have better alignment with digital colleagues and avoid proximity bias to make hybrid working productive, balanced and fair.