You see it in movies all the time – robots take the place of people, performing menial tasks such as garbage collection and order-taking. We have machines selling us airline tickets, movie tickets and flowers. In some countries, robots even govern the sale of such items as iPhones, Lego sets, and wine. But the use of advanced technology is creeping its way even further into the world of work in the rise of a concept known as the robo-boss. Robobosses (or just robosses) are being given charge of the human workforce in ways never before seen. You may even find yourself working for a roboboss someday.
What can robo-boss do?
The greatest and most obvious strength of machines is analysis. Robo-bosses, especially when they are first used, will be able to micro-manage employee turnout quickly and efficiently. They will also generate performance reports that can shape employee productivity in real time. This will increase productivity more quickly than any other performance analysis currently available. Robo-bosses will perform their work using big data (have you ever heard about people data?), comparing employee performances with data from large quantities of data collected from all over the globe. Big data uncovers previously undetected trends and correlations, providing something that performance reviews severely lack – fresh, unbiased perspective.
Human managers are limited in their capacity to form unbiased yet informed evaluations of their labor force. Whereas the human manager must rely on past performance of the individual employee, the roboboss can track and analyze the tiniest details of performance – as data. According to a prediction from Gartner, “These smart machine managers will look at data derived from worker performance in new ways because of their ability to dispassionately discover previously undetected relationships and correlations, test their hypotheses, and then elevate them to production status.” Robobosses can then compare this data with that of a much larger sample than just “Joe from the next cubicle.” This data can refer to, well, pretty much anything. From cost analyses to work assignments, to billing and invoicing, to time sheets, robobosses will be equipped to handle it all.
The strong analytical powers of robo-bosses will return more than simple number-crunching. They can develop business plans based on market trends. Beyond that, they can pare these plans down into projects and even tasks which the roboboss can then assign to the teams and employees best suited for the work, all based on data which it has collected and stored. As more data is collected, these plans can become more thorough. As is the nature of automated processes, they will learn from their mistakes and will run more and more smoothly the longer they are in operation.
Micromanagement, the Greatest Strength of the Roboboss
The business world is on a “never ending quest for productivity”, according to the BBC, and robobosses are uniquely capable of allocating tasks based on information that humans can’t keep track of. A computer algorithm can analyze available tasks and compare them with employee skillsets to assign tasks and adjust payment. Also, a roboss can do the bureaucratic work for a manager: poke each employee to work on this or that task, measure the time invested in each activity, demand activity reports, track each step of the team…
Assigning tasks is one thing, but when productivity is on the line, the temptation to use robobosses to crack the whip can be a tantalizing prospect for employers. In the same BBC article, one woman described working in an online retailer’s warehouse. She said that she was given a handset that would tell her where to retrieve an item, and then count down how many seconds she had to complete the task. If she underperformed, the computer tracked this as well. What this micromanagement capability does is enable the human boss to manage a wider group of employees. Instead of being responsible for doling out tasks and monitoring performance, the manager can look at a spreadsheet generated by the roboboss to determine how to manage employees.
What Are the Limitations of the Roboboss?
Even at their best and brightest, robobosses will be tools. Once the analytical and administrative gruntwork is handled by machines, this will free HR directors and managers to do what they do best – empower people to succeed. Also, let’s be honest. Robo-bosses have very little power to, tell, “boss” anyone. While they may take on the bulk of the processing work, they lack the respectability needed to command or inspire. Anyone who works for a machine exclusively does so based on an internal motivator only – threat of job loss. So, the purpose of the roboboss is to allow people-bosses the freedom to lead like leaders instead of just “the boss”.
Machines are masters of data management, but people make the best managers of people. This doesn’t mean we should shy away from the use of robobosses in the workplace, but it also doesn’t mean we should expect machines to take the place of people entirely. Managers will find themselves with the time and space to focus on more people-related activities, such as team-building, employee wellness programs, supplemental training, and communications efforts. Without embracing robo-bosses, we resign ourselves to work lives spent combing through mountains of paperwork. If managers spend most of their day wading through administrative activities, they lose out on the productivity benefits that come from having the time to invest in employees.
What Should We Think About Robobosses?
Automation is nothing to fear. Technological advances like the robo-boss will continue to rise. We can’t stop the advancement of technology that enables us to manage labor and productivity for optimal output. What we must do, though, is learn to integrate with robobosses as a team. Used wisely, machines don’t replace people, they make the work people do more effective, as discussed in this article from for-managers.com.
Our society may not be ready to accept robobosses in every area of work for the foreseeable future. But as older generations retire and younger, more tech-friendly ones rise up to take their place, rubbing elbows with machines will happen more and more. When the future is here, we can embrace robobosses as the effective tools they are intended to be.
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