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human interactions at work

Is workforce management preventing human interactions?

Look outside the window. What do you see? Singapore, a living, breathing South East Asian metropolis which is home to over 5.5million? An advanced city state light years ahead of the competition? Probably all of the above. But, as we rely more and more on workforce management software, payroll and HR software and increasingly set to automating tasks, is technology threatening the humanity of work?

In the case of workforce management software, it’s easy to understand why some feel a little concerned. It’s not just companies in Singapore’s globally renowned high-tech sector which are rapidly removing people from HR and management chains through increasingly mind-blowing technologies.

Automation is happening in every sector, but when you’re talking about jobs that traditionally involve human interactions – and rely on social skills – it’s hard to argue there are risks some things will be lost. But that doesn’t mean those teams will become redundant.

On the face of it the conversations involved in successfully managing shift workers and other staff may seem mundane and – thanks to payroll and HR software – unnecessary. But these interactions facilitate closer bonds between ourselves and those around us. If we have no reason to pick up the phone or head to the 17th floor because the company has been successful in attempts at automating tasks, we are surely likely to miss out on asking colleagues how they are, offering congratulatory words, helping new arrivals settle in during onboarding or even forging plans for the team night out.

Or perhaps it’s not quite so simple.

“The biggest benefit of workforce management automation is being able to let a computer do what it does best, while people do what they do best – interact on a one-to-one human basis,” says Andrew Northcott, Roubler’s CEO, who’s understandably keen to see more firms adopt automation where appropriate.

“Employees need managers on the floor to guide, support and train them – that’s something technology can’t do.”

He continues: “A lot of workplace technology has just made work more accessible and flexible.

“Cloud technology and being able to get on the internet mid-flight to check your emails has certainly opened up more places to work. But there is a distinction between technology that enables work, and technology that automates it. Workforce management technology is designed to reduce workloads by automating manual tasks. And if it doesn’t do that, it isn’t built correctly.”

The point being, managers need to view their roles in the 21st Century as more pastoral. It’s true they will more than likely still need to perform some administrative tasks – not everything can be automated with workforce management software or HR and payroll software, and not everything should. Nevertheless, thanks to the advancement of technology used within these departments, time can now be better spent ensuring a harmonious environment. Which is arguably the most difficult thing to achieve.

“Technology can be a great ally, so automate spreadsheet and paper-based processes whenever you can – creating rosters, creating or approving timesheets, printing out payslips,” Northcott replies when asked what steps management should be taking to maximise time for face-to-face human interactions.

“Anything that’s manual that requires you to sit at a desk on your own prevents you from having meaningful conversations with your team.

“Also prioritise team meetings, even if it’s just a huddle for 10 minutes in the morning once a week or at the start of a shift. You can also help managers get the most out of their one-to-one time by giving them a list of really specific questions they should ask employees to uncover challenges or achievements, rather than wasting time with a generic ‘What’s been going on for you?’ conversation that often goes nowhere.”

What this means is that simply freeing up time to talk with colleagues, team members and staff isn’t really enough unless we are willing and ready to really make the most of that time. A well-managed department is only possible when questions – both difficult and easy – are being asked and answered, by and for people, in an effective way. Without that cemented within company culture, it’s impossible to identify and tackle any personal issues and professional problems staff may have, let alone actually solve them.


Words by Richard Trenchard.


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