“The robots are taking the job!” it is now an unknown complaint in many workplaces. And truthfully, we’ve all been exposed to situations where technology is taking the place of people: rows of automatic checkouts at grocery stores, chatbots asking and answering questions on various websites, software doing the work of some accountants. and tax preparers, and the list goes on.
But is technology replacing employees or helping them?
Chipotle introduces Chippy
In March, Chipotle announced that it was introducing a self-employed kitchen assistant, Chippy, who would take over the task of making tortilla chips, a task that employees had previously performed. Marissa Andrada, Chipotle’s chief diversity, inclusion and people officer, says Chippy wants to be a help to employees.
“Chipotle is always looking for innovative solutions to improve the employee experience and remove friction in restaurants,” said Andrada. “We produce our fresh chips in-house throughout the day and the process is a monotonous and laborious task that doesn’t excite the crew as much as other functions. The integration of AI into the chip station removes teams from this function, allowing them to to focus on the culinary duties that prompted them to join Chipotle. “
It’s a fair point and one that other employers and employees point out when discussing the role technology can play as helping employees and an opportunity for them to take on higher-level, more challenging tasks and roles.
Chipotle is testing this process and gathering input from employees and customers before considering a larger implementation. “Our restaurant employees are thrilled to have a cobiotic relationship with Chippy, working alongside the kitchen assistant in the restaurant,” Andrada said.
Making robot / human relationships work effectively, of course, requires trust, transparency and communication.
The importance of clear and open communication
Employers want to leverage technology when appropriate and feasible to help reduce the costs of doing business. Their human resources clearly make up a significant proportion of those costs.
But at the same time, employers also need to worry about attracting and retaining talent. No company wants to see a massive influx of employees looking for work elsewhere because they are worried that technology is about to take their place.
Understanding the importance of communication at each stage of the technology adoption process can help.
Sanya Nagpal is the head of human resources at Leena AI, a self-contained conversational platform powered by AI that helps companies improve the employee experience. When considering or introducing any type of technology that has the potential to change or eliminate employee tasks, transparent communication is key, Nagpal noted. Employers, she said, “need to be clear about the reasons for digital transformation and its benefits. Employees need to know how the adoption of digital tools will help them in their work and daily activities in the workplace.”
It is also important to understand that employees may have concerns and insecurities, even if they do not express them openly.
Focus on the benefits, address the concerns
Technology can bring great benefits to employers and employees. But employers need to clearly communicate those benefits in ways that will resonate with employees.
Nagpal advises employers to:
- Organize training and development sessions to address these concerns.
- Inform employees about the reasons and results of implementing the technology.
- Consider individual calls with employees who have raised concerns to address those concerns on a personal level.
Taking steps to bring concerns to light is the best way employers can address the insecurities that are natural when any kind of change occurs in the workplace, especially changes that, at least on the surface, appear to have the potential to negatively impact employees.
Slingshot is a software and app development company that has been in business since 2005. In the beginning, it saw many negative side effects from AI implementations: Employees didn’t want to use the new systems, the systems didn’t solve their problems. effectively and the implementation of the changes took longer than originally anticipated.
Over time, however, things have changed thanks to initial user feedback, particularly from user interviews and user testing. Involving employees directly not only has the potential to alleviate their concerns, it also provides vital input to ensure that the implementation actually achieves its intended results and works as intended.
When technology is an obstacle
Technology implementations don’t always go as planned. Sometimes the supposed solution to a problem creates more problems.
This is an issue that Teri Shern, co-founder of ConexBoxes, said she faced when the new technology was introduced to the company at the start of the pandemic. Rather than helping, technology has actually caused “a steep drop in productivity,” she said. Although the company saw the need for digitization, she added: “I think our employees were not ready to digitize so many aspects of our business.”
The company had initially checked with employees to see if they would welcome the technology to help them, but the implementation ended up slowing things down.
“There were problems with the technology – it was a little slow at times and some employees struggled to get used to,” Shern said. “Simply put, it didn’t work.”
The way the company responded sent a strong message to employees about the value of their contribution and their value to the company. ConexBoxes has removed the technology. “Sometimes it’s better to do things the way you were already doing them,” Shern said. “Sure, you can bring technology here and there slowly and get your employees to get used to it and thereby improve their productivity, but sometimes the technology just doesn’t work for your business and you have to recognize that when it does.”
This way you can send a powerful message to your employees, increasing the confidence that will come into play the next time a technology solution is considered.
Lin Grensing-Pophal is a freelance writer in Chippewa Falls, Wis.