Research

The future of work: Debunking myths and navigating new realities

February 6, 2018

The 2017 - 2018 Willis Towers Watson Global Future of Work Survey reveals how employers are moving beyond workplace automation myths as they determine how to manage the many emerging work options, from contingent labor to AI and robotics. Our report examines not only where breakthroughs are needed but also how to plot a course of action.

Highlights of this report include:

  • Why workplace automation is expected to double in the next three years
  • How automation now plays a more transformative role in the workplace — supporting not replacing talent
  • Why HR has a critical role to play but is unprepared to do so, with support needed in deconstructing and reconstructing jobs, and defining reskilling pathways
  • How employers must determine how to manage an increasingly diverse talent mix with fewer full-time employees and more contingent workers.

Workplace automation — the essentials

Workplace automation involves the use of various technologies — such as AI, robotics and machine learning — to automate processes and workplace activities. While many employers may have originally viewed automation primarily in the context of labor substitution, over half now say the key goal of automation is to augment human performance and productivity.

It’s important to understand the three key automation technologies and the work for which each is best suited:

Enablers of work automation

Enablers of work automation
Source: Willis Towers Watson
  • Robotic process automation (RPA). The most mature of the three technologies, RPA, automates high-volume, low-complexity, routine business processes. Examples of these processes include tracking the status of a delivery, updating employee contact information or transferring data from one software program to another, such as from a spreadsheet to a client relationship management system.
  • Cognitive automation. Cognitive automation, which includes AI and machine learning, is often used to augment or replace human capability in nonroutine, complex tasks, for instance, retail investment banking using AI to support portfolio management and executing market activity and trading more efficiently. This allows human portfolio managers to focus on more strategic and complex issues related to the investment portfolio.
  • Social robotics. Social robotics combines physical equipment, AI, sensors and mobility, resulting in machines that interact with humans in the physical realm. Examples of social robots include driverless cars and autonomous drones.

Workplace automation can help employers get work done more efficiently and improve the utilization of talent by enabling human workers to focus on higher-value activities.

Download the report to learn more.