The future of work: automation, localization, choice

There is no single panacea, whether automation or remote work, to solve the various problems facing the world of work. Instead, companies that make the most of the tools currently on offer and involve their people in all key decisions are likely to thrive.

The Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated a slew of workplace trends, including remote working and flexible working hours.

Labor shortages – accelerated, among other factors, by what has come to be known as the Great Resignation – may offer employees greater bargaining power, but most workers in emerging Europe remain less well paid than their Western counterparts, and often with fewer rights.

According to PwC’s Global Workforce Hopes and Fears Survey of more than 52,000 workers in 44 countries and territories, conducted in March 2022, salary is unsurprisingly the top factor driving people to work. changing jobs, with 71% citing it as a main reason.

Yet money alone is not enough to retain workers, who were almost as likely to cite intangible factors related to meaning. Professional fulfillment and the ability to be yourself at work ranked second and third among employees considering a job change.

Margareta Mucibabici, director of public affairs and social impact at UiPath, a Romania-founded unicorn that makes robotic process automation software, says tackling these issues is a key part of the company’s philosophy. .

“How can we ensure that in addition to productivity, efficiency, return on time, engagement, we can help our customers, but also their employees, to benefit from automation to become a force for good?” she said.

Speaking to Sam Burke, editor-in-chief and main moderator of Real Vision at the Future of Emerging Europe Summit and Awards in Brussels in June, she confirms that Covid-19 was a turning point.

“During the pandemic, a very important thing happened: we realized that we had very little time to go digital.”

One of the areas that saw a lot of automation during the pandemic was healthcare.

“In the healthcare industry, it was very important to take care of patients,” adds Mucibabici. “We have witnessed the automation of an impressive amount of paperwork and bureaucracy, repetitive tasks that doctors and nurses have to deal with in addition to looking after patients. It was one of the first kind of automation solutions for good that UiPath developed. »

Don’t be afraid of automation

If there is one message Mucibabici is keen to convey, it is that automation should not scare either employers or workers.

“Automation automates tasks, not jobs,” she says.

Indeed, contrary to popular fears that robots are destroying jobs, the rise of automation in European economies actually increased employment by 1-2% between 2004 and 2018, according to a research paper published in January.

Ronald Bachmann and Myrielle Gonschor from the RWI – Leibniz Institute for Economic Research in Germany and Piotr Lewandowski and Karol Madoń from the Polish Institute for Structural Research (IBS) studied how the increase in the installation of robots influenced worker flows , such as layoffs and new hires, and hence employment and unemployment levels in European economies.

“The general message that emerges from our research is that the adoption of robots in Europe has not led to an increase in unemployment,” Gonschor said when the study was released. “The number of industrial robots per 1,000 workers quadrupled between 2000 and 2017, and the effects on employment were considered to be mixed. But it turns out robots aren’t stealing our jobs — they’re changing them.

The challenge for employers is to ensure that this change is for the best.

Andreea Baciu is UiPath’s Chief Culture Officer and says old job descriptions are outdated.

“When people think of jobs, they should think of allowing the employee to present their best side and contribute in a meaningful way.”

She thinks where the work is done – at home or in the office – is now less important than the work done.

“It’s about the work they do,” she says. “If this work is meaningful, useful, if it puts their strengths to work, if it’s something they can contribute to, something bigger than themselves, then it will make them happy, wherever they go. are found.”

It’s an idea that Michael Green, CEO of the Social Progress Imperative, agrees with.

“Old dinosaur economists like me always believed that economic growth and low employment guaranteed good social outcomes. I think what we are finding is that the quality of work is the critical issue going forward. We need to talk about the quality of work, we can’t just have a lot of people in bad jobs,” he says.

Quality of life

In the context of Europe’s emergence, perhaps the biggest challenge for the future of work is keeping people in the region.

A 2020 study by the medical journal The Lancet suggested that if current trends continue, the region would experience a massive 55% decline in population by 2100, from 185.35 million people to just 83, 25 millions.

Even before the Russian invasion, Ukraine was expected to see a 60% drop (over 27 million people) to 17 million, Romania was also expected to see a 60% drop to just 7.77 million, while that Poland will see its population reduced by 59 percent to 15 million.

Bulgaria’s population, which currently stands at 7 million (compared to 8.9 million in 1988), will fall even further to just 2.62 million, a decrease of 62%. In terms of percentage of population lost, Latvia will be the hardest hit in the region, however, with a 77% drop that will see its 2.6 million people reduced to just 430,000.

The trend is substantially the same throughout the region. Montenegro, Estonia and Albania will experience the smallest drop, 27%, still slightly above the European average.

But Michael Green is optimistic that these trends will not continue. “Perceptions lag behind reality,” he says.

“There has been an amazing story of convergence across Europe that people outside the region haven’t really noticed yet.

“Countries like Czechia and Estonia have already surpassed the United States in terms of real life quality. Poland is lagging behind, Bulgaria and Romania are a little behind but converging. It is already happening.

He adds that migration patterns are better explained by social progress than by economic patterns.

“People are moving to where there is a better quality of life. If we are thinking about retaining talent and attracting it again, it is not only about the economic factor.

Investors, he says, have a role to play if they want the desired stable environments where there is a reliable workforce.

“Investing in the factors of social progress is such an important part of a development strategy. Fortunately, we see that emerging Europe is on the right trajectory,” he suggests.

Let your employees choose

But does location matter even more?

“We’ve seen in the business process outsourcing (BPO) space that working from anywhere is becoming the norm,” says Peter Ryan, influential and trusted BPO and CX research analyst and principal at Ryan Strategic Advisory.

Vedrana Likan, managing partner for Croatia, Slovenia and Bosnia and Herzegovina at Colliers, says employees should have choices about where they work.

“Companies that have decided to involve employees and test their preferences thrive, they do better than those that have imposed policies.

“The hybrid life that we will live from now and probably forever is that we have the right to choose,” she adds.

This change, she suggests, will alter buildings and office space.

“Common spaces, spaces of power, zones of creation and innovation are becoming more and more open and inviting. The biggest benefit of office spaces is the chemistry, energy, creativity and innovation that can hardly be recreated in online meetings. We work much better when we are together.

All this leads to the conclusion that there is no single panacea, whether automation or remote work, to solve the various problems facing the world of work. Instead, companies that make the most of the tools currently on offer and involve their people in all key decisions are likely to thrive.

“I wouldn’t see technology as the only key enabler in this conversation,” says Margareta Mucibabici. “It’s a lot about the evolution of the relationship to work. How do we want to position ourselves in this new relationship and this new social contract?

And just as businesses that successfully answer this question will prosper, those that don’t will likely suffer.

Margareta Mucibabici, Andreea Baciu, Michael Green, Peter Ryan and Vedrana Likan spoke with Sam Burke at the Future of Emerging Europe Summit & Awards in Brussels in June. You can watch the full discussion below.

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