Pros and cons of robots in the workplace
The prospect of robots playing a role in our lives is no longer the realm of science fiction films. Whether it’s on an industrial production line or as a customer interface in a department store or supermarket, robots are now starting to be used in a variety of practical ways.
They don’t all look like the robots depicted in science fiction films, of course, but they do have the power to make a significant and long-lasting change to the way we work as part of what’s being seen as the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
Change of any type can always be exciting and a little daunting – and requires HR to manage things smoothly.
So, what are the pros and cons of the newfound role of robots in the workplace?
Make life quicker
Human beings need breaks. They also need time to think and work out complicated queries and calculations. By entrusting this function to a computer, we can ensure that tasks are done much quicker, allowing businesses to become more efficient. In many ways this marks the natural extension of the digital revolution that we’ve already seen in the workplace.
Can make work safer
Working at extreme temperatures or heights or handling dangerous chemicals or materials is tricky for businesses and can put humans at risk of injury or illnesses. By putting robots into the ‘firing line’, this risk can be reduced.
It’s ‘only human’ to make mistakes. Tiredness, pressure, stress or a lapse of concentration can all cause a mistake that proves costly for a business. Robots can accurately and reliably carry out instructions given to them by human beings, often acting in a more precise way.
Free up people
Best of all, robots allow people to be freed up to do the things they are best at. In HR, that means letting experts deal with the skilled one-to-one work that helps to resolve issues and keep employers happy (and productive). They can also remove the burden of boring and repetitive work which people may find demotivating.
There’s no hiding from the fact that some of those strengths outlined above will mean that some roles will no longer be required in the workplace. Estimates vary wildly about the number of jobs that robots will take, but it’s fair to say that their introduction could wipe out some roles entirely. This is something that businesses need to begin to address, with HR teams central to the task of identifying the roles at risk and providing re-training of staff so that the rise of robots doesn’t become a source of conflict in the workplace.
It might be technologically plausible to use robots in the workplace, but is it yet cost-effective? An industrial robot could easily cost upwards of £100,000, which is a significant outlay to make.
Interaction and unity
Yes, humans get sick, but so too do robots. Well, not sick exactly, but they can malfunction and do require maintenance and repair work. This can, again, be costly and time-consuming to fix – and requires expertise.
The human touch
While robots are good at carrying out the work they’ve been programmed to do, they’re clearly going to lack the human touch. How many times does a work day simply pan out exactly how you’ve planned? People are able to adapt and move on to the most appropriate task at the most appropriate time. Robots lack that flexibility. They also lack intuition, imagination and empathy – all things that are required for businesses to meet, and address all of the challenges they face.
It’s important to realise that robots can and will play a role in the workplace. The strengths they bring have the power to transform most workplaces. However, their work should supplement and support the human beings in an organisation – freeing them up to do the things they’re best placed for and adding extra skills and speed to those they currently possess. Businesses that get this right – and aren’t blind to the limitations of robots – will be best placed to prosper as the world of work continues to be transformed by technology.
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