Is remote work a fad or the new normal? Many debated that question before the 2019 novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, but in the past few months, the answer has become increasingly clear: remote work is here to stay.
According to a Gartner, Inc. press release following their survey of human resource (HR) leaders, “41% of employees are likely to work remotely at least some of the time” after the pandemic.
Furthermore, in many countries, remote work remains necessary as COVID-19 continues to play a major role in the “new normal.” In June 2020, one epidemiologist from University of California, Berkley even referred to working in a brick and mortar office at that time as “the most dangerous thing we do.”
This combination of necessity, benefits, and workforce trends creates a strong case for involving remote work in your regular operations moving forward.
To do this, however, you’ll need to work beyond the stopgap measures and short-term solutions you likely had to employ in your initial shift to remote work.
Even if your company shifts away from dispersed work down the road, you need a strategic, sustainable operational framework that addresses the challenges of managing a modern workforce.
Unlike smaller companies, the legacy systems and compliance demands facing enterprises make it difficult to adapt operations quickly. The risk of communication silos and the strains on information technology (IT) departments further complicate things. Together, these factors create barriers to a sustainable remote workforce.
Automation technologies like Robotic Process Automation (RPA) and artificial intelligence (AI) have a unique capacity to bridge the gap between short-term workforce changes and longer-term solutions to modernize legacy systems and operations.
That’s why savvy enterprises are leveraging automation technology to tackle the challenges of managing remote teams now—and to realize benefits at scale tomorrow.
Remote workers rely on flexible, easily accessed tools to do their work well. But legacy systems were designed for a different standard of work and don’t naturally integrate with the modern technology stack that makes remote work possible. In fact, 23% of remote workers rank dealing with legacy systems among their top five frustrations.
However, enterprises rely on legacy systems to do much of their core work. And that's usually because these systems are so deeply integrated into the business that the costs and potential risks of modernization seem too high.
One bank executive even compared replacing legacy systems to “changing engines on a Boeing 747 while in flight.” This is due to a few key reasons:
Legacy systems power your business—you can’t just shut down operations while you modernize.
Legacy systems accrue a lot of technical debt through years of exemptions and stop-gap solutions
Legacy systems perform customized functions and require specialized training that is complicated to duplicate.
Legacy system replacement often takes years to accomplish.
These factors make it that much harder for companies to sustain long-term remote work, because their core operations must first be untangled and rewoven on a case-by-case basis.
Without automation tools, it’s nearly impossible for companies to bridge their legacy systems with the tools and workflows needed to support flexible, remote work.
A 2019 NetMotion survey identified that, more than anything, remote employees “want quick and easy access to all of the data they need to get their jobs done, using mobile-friendly, responsive applications on reliable devices.”
When software underperforms, it hurts productivity, and legacy systems certainly make it harder for new tools to work as intended.
RPA bridges the gap between modern and legacy technology. The result for remote workers is that they have the flexibility they need. At the same time, enterprises have the security and stability to support core operations.
RPA mimics human workflows, which creates easy integration with all software. Compare that to application programming interface (API) technology which requires specific compatibility to function.
Recommended reading: RPA vs API Integration: How to Choose Your Automation Technologies
With the low-code, scalable framework offered by RPA, companies can quickly adapt legacy technology to fit the needs of their remote teams and support long-term modernization at the same time. This is what happened with one federal organization, whose work involved important monitoring systems that were blocked from remote workers by their security infrastructure.
Instead of compromising on security or depriving employees of a crucial tool, the organization quickly implemented software robots that take screenshots of the monitoring tool and send them to employees via Microsoft Teams, so remote employees could perform their jobs as usual. By adding RPA to the equation, this organization was able to quickly integrate their legacy system with a modern, remote-friendly technology stack.
To learn more about how RPA works and what it can offer your business, read our Overview of RPA for the C-Suite.
The sudden shift to remote work added a lot of pressure to operations staff, particularly the IT departments that had to maintain security while also helping newly remote workers adapt at a technological level. The remote workforce will continue to tax key IT resources—distracting IT from critical digital transformation and security initiatives unless the right support framework is put in place for the long haul.
“We’re seeing increased demand for IT services, including a 2x increase in overall IT support ticket volumes,” said Bhavin Shah, founder and CEO of Moveworks, during a chief information officer (CIO) leadership summit addressing the pandemic.
“We’re seeing greater demand for automation, to use AI [artificial intelligence] and machine learning to resolve support issues.”
With this pressure, it’s no wonder that improving IT operations and system performance is one of the top concerns for CIOs this year, according to an IDG survey sponsored by CIO magazine.
CIOs need a cost-effective solution that can be implemented and scaled quickly to succeed in managing remote teams in the long run while also avoiding the ramifications of weak security. Automation provides this solution by easing the daily technical support burden and assisting IT professionals in more complex work.
The use cases for RPA in IT are many and varied, but when it comes to remote work specifically, RPA makes a big difference in a company’s ability to support remote work at scale. One insurance company deployed software robots to automate the entire setup process for newly remote workers—from registering equipment to configuring virtual private networks (VPNs) to managing logistics data.
Other IT departments leverage AI-powered contact center automation to quickly respond to support tickets to keep their remote workers productive. Instead of chasing information across various applications and repeating tasks for multiple employees, IT professionals can build intelligent workflows that aggregate data, automate standard processes, and involve a human only when there’s an exception that needs addressing.
By automating repetitive, time-consuming work IT departments can create the capacity they need to lead the digital transformation initiatives. The initiatives that make or break organizations in our rapidly changing business environments.
Communication silos will damage the productivity, collaboration, and compliance of any team. According to ClearCompany, “86% of employees and executives cite lack of collaboration or ineffective communication for workplace failures.” When it comes to managing remote teams, however, gaps in communication that could be compensated for in person become more problematic.
This silo effect occurs when departments and teams don’t have sufficient communication, visibility, and collaboration. Which leads to inefficient processes, delays, and duplicate initiatives. Worse, company silos often cause teams to lose sight of the customer, damaging the customer experience.
Automating front- and back-office processes streamlines the flow of data across your organization and prevents silos from forming, even when employees are remote. Automation does this by:
Providing unified access to data. When information is scattered across the various systems used by sales, marketing, support, and IT, employees can’t work efficiently. Software robots allow employees across your organization to access all the data they need to work better, faster, and smarter with just a click of the mouse.
Creating consistent processes across the organization. Silos form easily when various teams and departments have their own tools and workflows. Process mining technology enables you to uncover operational inefficiencies and create consistent processes across your organization—without major disruptions to your teams.
Freeing employee time to improve collaboration. Employees overwhelmed with repetitive tasks have less time and energy to focus on strategic, collaborative work. Little wonder a commissioned study conducted by Forrester Consulting on behalf of UiPath found that “66% [of respondents] said RPA restructures existing work, enabling employees to have more human interactions.”
Employees who have the tools and information needed to better engage with their work (and each other) are employees who remain productive and provide customers with a high-value experience.
Automation empowers you to develop this kind of workforce and break down silos by increasing consistency, transparency, and data accessibility.
Remote work is here to stay for many enterprise organizations (especially after they’ve seen the benefits of remote work on their bottom lines).
Legacy systems, communication silos, and IT load create hurdles for enterprises managing remote teams. By implementing automation in these areas quickly, you can bypass the negative effects of these hurdles and enhance not only your remote workforce but your bottom line as well.
The UiPath Platform makes it simple to automate processes, augment expert work, and discover opportunities to improve efficiency. With UiPath, enterprises can design and implement automation solutions quickly within a scalable framework.
Learn more about how the UiPath Platform is leveraged by companies to pivot to remote work in the new normal. Or, if you’re ready to get started using automation to help manage remote employees check out our free package of ready-made robot assistants that perform a number of useful tasks for employees. All are quick and easy for employees to get started using.