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A Farewell to the 9 to 5 Office Workday

by wrich

How automated tools are empowering HR professionals and a new hybrid approach to work  

By: Albert Rees, SVP and Head of Business Consulting at EPAM Systems, and Cassidy Reid, Manager of Intelligent Automation Consulting at EPAM Continuum

The 40-hour workweek in the United States dates back to the 1860s and the Chicago labor movement, when workers who often toiled in factories 12-14 hours a day, six days a week, went on strike to protest the long schedules they endured.  Today, over 150 years later, American enterprises now operate in a global economy that is insensitive to downtime and sleep.  Prior to COVID-19, most American knowledge workers would spend 8+ hours a day – starting at roughly the same time every day – primarily performing routine tasks and did so because their organizations’ heartbeats had been largely set around that schedule.  Business processes worked because the predictability of inputs and outputs revolved around that schedule.

If COVID-19 has revealed anything about the American workforce, it’s that many employees are more productive and happier when they are afforded flexibility. While those who had never worked remotely may have had some growing pains as they shifted from an office to a home workplace, in many cases, some are discovering new-found freedom while others enjoy having this option to reduce the pressure of having to choose between family and career. In a 2020 survey of company leaders representing human resources, compliance and legal, among other sectors, 42% intend to allow employees to work remotely permanently, while 82% will allow it part of the time. Either way, a hybrid model offering more flexibility will likely become the new normal, and companies will eventually have to adapt if they want to attract, assess, develop and retain top talents. 

For HR professionals tasked with hiring and managing a hybrid workforce, a range of automated tools have been developed to help improve critical processes such as recruiting performance, payroll and internal communications. Recruiting has become increasingly more difficult, as many companies are now competing for talent from a wider demographic pool, which is why automated tools for geotargeting and geofencing are becoming indispensable. They allow recruiters to establish a virtual ring around a specific area, targeting individuals within that ring with personalized employment ads.

New training apps have been invaluable for onboarding new employees from a distance. When Ericsson launched its first smart factory in the U.S.—pre-pandemic on March 4—its engineering professionals were trained with almost no face-to-face interaction. Thanks to the use of virtual reality, employees were able to learn directly from peers in the company’s Tallinn smart factory 8,000 km away. Now fully operational, the factory is one of the most advanced manufacturing complexes in the world, producing 5G base stations to enable rapid 5G deployments. 

Intelligent Automation, and even hyperautomation, are more than the latest buzzwords circling around the automation community; they provide real solutions that help organizations digitally transform and automize work. With the current economic climate, businesses across all industries are taking a critical drive when reviewing overall revenue and costs, ultimately determining how new technologies like intelligent automation can be applied to alleviate financial challenges and administrative pain points.

To this point, the team at EPAM Continuum has worked with many clients on implementing hyper-automation by re-engineering processes with a human-centric approach to develop a cohesive end-to-end solution. One such client, a global consumer product goods company, was faced with this challenge when discrepancies were discovered in how different staff members executed standard processes, like customer orders, with no discernable need for deviation.

In order to address these differences and help the client find broad value across the region, EPAM Continuum used robotic process automation, machine learning, end-to-end process re-engineering and advanced analytics to reimagine the process and build an efficient solution. After incorporating a platform with hyperautomation, the company was able to significantly improve human capacity KPIs, along with a high user adoption rate of the technology. The results speak for themselves – a 29% reduction in full-time equivalent hours and in one country, there was a 40% reduction in order aging (the time between order receipt and order delivery).

This one example highlights the importance of building self-reporting directly into the automated processes. Companies will come to both understand the value of automation as well as the next logical targets for more cohesive hyperautomation. Taking it even further, automating and standardizing processes upstream can significantly reduce the complexity and error rates, simplifying downstream automations. 

Although the last year has been extraordinarily challenging on every level, HR professionals have much to look forward to with more options for the way we work. As the 9-5 workweek gradually shifts to a hybrid model, issues will undoubtedly arise. When they do, it will be important to have best practices in place to recognize those who are reaching peak performance as well as those who need more support. Either way, the wheels have been set in motion. Whether they keep rolling depends on how well employees and employers adapt to the changing times and the available technologies designed to keep them productive, connected and safe.

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