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The pandemic has transformed how we work. If remote work was gaining acceptance before, the pandemic has accelerated it into the mainstream. The work-from-home arrangement has worked out for many knowledge workers, and even as pandemic-related restrictions lift, hybrid workplaces are here to stay, and with good reason. Remote work offers flexibility to employees and helps them achieve better work-life balance. In fact, 90% of remote workers report the same or higher productivity levels working from home compared to working from the office.
Having established that, it's time to focus our resources on ensuring that the work-from-home routine is optimized for the employees. Although good for a lot of reasons, the remote work structure does not come without its own set of issues and concerns. Therefore, some organizational leaders and managers are still hesitant to embrace remote work fully. This could be either because they believe that the operational success of the workplace is dependent on in-person interactions, because they are wary of the communication gaps, or they might even have trust issues with respect to their employees.
Whatever the reason may be, managers seek a productive and efficient workforce that stays true even when the workforce goes remote. This is where Robotic Process Automation (RPA) bots can be helpful.
RPA Bot: What is it exactly?
Simply put, Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is software technology that you can use to automate digital tasks.
As workplaces go virtual, digital tasks pile up. Now, imagine if some of those repetitive tasks could be automated so that you didn't have to go through the drudgery yourself.
RPA Bot automation does exactly that. Using RPA, you can create bots that learn business processes and execute them. Based on machine learning principles, these bots then observe human actions in the digital sphere, learn to mimic them, and implement their learnings in similar situations.
Effectively, a bot can interact with apps and software systems the same way that you would. The only difference is that RPA bots can do it much more efficiently, accurately, and reliably. In a nutshell, you get the actions of a human being with the efficiency and precision of an algorithm. Can you think of anything better to achieve productivity in daily operations?
RPA Bots at Your Service
The bots are here, and they're ready to serve you. Ask any remote employee, and they will tell you that some tasks—like scheduling, inbox management, etc.—are time-consuming, draining, and monotonous. Yet, these tasks are also crucial as the virtual space is the only point of contact among team members in a remote team.
Bots developed using RPA can take over such repetitive manual tasks—primarily administrative actions such as data entry, scheduling, and data management. If a task is outlined clearly, where different options are laid out as responses to different scenarios, the bot can learn the responses and take over the task. Once you've delegated the mundane, rules-driven processes to the RPA bot, you can then focus your energy and time saved towards thought-intensive activities and higher value-added tasks, such as improving products, serving customers, engaging with creative sales, etc.
Bots can free up precious time from the knowledge workers' schedules so that they can take up complex, creative, or strategic projects. What's more, RPA bots can seamlessly integrate with other software products and tools that businesses often use in their remote tech stack. So you can easily delegate work to bots, who will ensure the updates go through the entire organizational tech stack. As a result, you reap the benefits of operational cost savings and enhanced efficiency, and not to mention an increased employee and customer satisfaction. It's a win-win for everyone!
RPA Bot Automation Benefits
We're all working digitally. RPA bots can be potent ammunition as you fortify your digital, distributed workforce. These bots can perform various functions like copy-pasting, scraping web data, calculations, parsing emails, connecting to APIs, and more. Bots are also highly adaptable as well as easy to set up and share. Much like any other automation initiative, RPA bots allow for increased productivity, more flexibility, increased responsiveness, and other benefits, as enumerated below:
The use of automation in the workplace can help boost productivity, according to 68% of the global workforce. All business areas can benefit from RPA bot automation. Let’s take production as an example. Automation can help increase output and quality in the supply chain by not allowing any room for manual errors. For the finance department, automation can help reduce costs and make reasonable forecasts.
Another aspect to consider here is that RPA bots take over the menial tasks that no one likes to do. This allows team members to focus their time and energy on the fulfilling part of their jobs—the part that they actually look forward to. Happy and fulfilled employees, in turn, become productive and motivated employees.
- High-value tasks
Over 60% of workers agree that RPA bot automation opens up space and time for executives to focus on strategic work that can help the organization make major strides. This is especially important in remote teams, where coordination and communication can eat up precious time.
- Cost savings
Did you know that repetitive administrative tasks can cost companies trillions of dollars? Yes, that's right. Reportedly, office workers spend 69 days a year on administrative tasks. Now imagine if an RPA bot were to perform these administrative tasks and you had these 69 days for other tasks. Think of how much deep work is possible and just how many big-picture action items can be handled in this time.
Inefficient processes are also known to cost companies up to 30% of their revenue each year. Using the RPA bot to tend to repetitive processes can crease inefficiencies right out of the operations.
Because automation replaces manual work, it eliminates the scope of any human errors creeping in. In fact, 57% of executives report that automation reduces manual errors. This, in turn, leads to better customer service, delivery, and satisfaction.
RPA is widely agreed to be a major component of the digital transformation upon which the modern, remote workplace is built. What makes RPA bots so preferable is the ease with which they integrate across platforms, applications, and software tools. They often require no coding, APIs, or plug-ins to enable seamless data transmission from one tool to another.
When people don't have to worry about updating the data across the entire organization, they can focus on the task and innovation rather than a logistical issue.
- User Experience
All of these benefits stated above—productivity, efficiency, accuracy, more time for human and creative tasks—together lead to a superior user/customer/client experience.
If you've ever worked as a part of a team undergoing an operational change, you'll know the pains of change in management and the disruption that comes with implementing a new system. In the case of RPA, the implementation is not disruptive at all. Instead, it can easily work with legacy systems, making it uniquely positioned as an enabler for digital transformation.
Pre-built bots are even ready to download and use. They come pre-trained on the mundane functions they are meant to handle, like invoice processing and onboarding.
For the same reason, RPA is a good option for organizations looking for scalable, enterprise-ready platforms.
Some Use Cases and RPA Bot Examples
As we can see from the above list, RPA bot automation can be extremely helpful in saving time and money. Most importantly, it allows team members to focus their energy, creativity, and strategic thinking towards things that machines cannot do, like engaging with customers and users.
The bottom line is that if you're performing a mundane task that makes you feel like a robot, you should perhaps delegate it to a robot-like RPA bot, which can execute such tasks better, faster, and without errors.
Let's look at some use cases for RPA bots.
- Invoice Processing
Manual data entry and invoice creation can be very tedious. Yet, invoice processing is one of the most unavoidable and important parts of running any business. We inevitably work with multiple vendors who all share their invoices in various forms: some send PDF documents, some fax or mail it the old-fashioned way, yet others use online signing software or a simple email. For the accounts team, this means entering the data manually into the central organizational system. Of course, due to the sheer volume of invoices, manual errors are bound to creep in.
What if we told you there was a way to automate it and boost the accuracy of the data? If we use RPA bots and put them up to the task of invoice processing, they can get this done, end-to-end, right from the receipt to the payment, in a matter of minutes. Not only that, they can give an error-free account and perform other allied functions, which can be menial tasks such as data input or error reconciliation, and bigger tasks like analysis of expenses and generation of reports.
- Data Extraction and Migration
If done manually, data migration can be a painstaking task. If you've ever gone through the exercise, you know how tricky it can be to make sure every aspect goes smoothly. RPA bots can help you with data tasks, especially where the volume of data is high. Think of tasks like merging databases, consolidating your knowledge infrastructure, and upgrading legacy systems. These tasks can be done by an RPA bot, which can easily process, extract, or migrate data with precision and accuracy.
- Scheduler Bots
Did you know that the prevalence of the remote work model has also led to an increase in the weekly meeting time by 10%? That's three additional meetings per week, per employee.
In your work-from-home set-up, how many times have you let out a sigh in frustration because you have to set yet another meeting? Checking availability on calendars, calculating time zones, getting everyone to RSVP … it goes on and on. An RPA bot that helps you manage your meetings more efficiently can be a blessing in a remote work setting. Since teams are often distributed across time zones in a remote setting and meetings can happen cross-departmentally or even with external partners, having someone to take care of your scheduling needs is a boon.
An RPA bot can identify conflicts in your calendar and also send messages to the organizers of the meetings you can't attend, asking them if you'd like to reschedule. They can avoid overlaps without having to make awkward conversations.
- Translator Bots
Working in distributed teams with members from different countries who have different first languages can be tricky. How about a bot that can translate your documents into multiple languages? RPA bots can be taught this skill so they can translate one or more Office documents, plain text HTML, or PDF documents to another language quickly and correctly.
- Inbox Assistant
As all communication moves through our virtual mail boxes, the inbox can quickly become a dreadful swamp. While some people like keeping things clean with the inbox zero approach, others don't mind having a pile of unread emails. However you look at it, an inbox assistant that classifies your mail, arranges them in order of priority, or even schedules reminders for you to reply can be very handy in making your team's life easier. By extension, they'll have more time to work on strategic tasks.
- Attendance Bots
These RPA bot automation features can help HR keep track of employees' work schedules, send them automated reminders, log their attendance and work hours, work around their vacations, and alert other members to an employee's availability.
Other useful bots include expense management bot, virtual assistant, customer service, etc.
Challenges of RPA Bot Deployment
Any new technology is bound to create a stir in the operating models of an organization. Therefore, it is important to take pre-emptive measures to ensure that RPA bot deployment has minimal negative repercussions for your firm.
RPA deployment in remote work settings means enterprise-grade security becomes even more crucial. The software tools and the functions of the business should be resilient. And this can only be achieved through proper planning.
Not only are there tangible changes but also psychological implications of such solutions too. Employees will find their roles altered or even substituted by the bots, which could create avoidable unrest and confusion about their job relevance. To prevent this from happening, the deployment of RPA bot automation processes should come with a clear set of guidelines regarding the work being delegated to the bot and the work that human resources will carry out.
The principle undergirding the whole process should be this: If the work can be done by a bot, delegate; if the work requires the magic of human touch, value the human effort that goes into it.
RPA bots can help us solve a complex problem that most organizations face: establishing efficiency in the way we work from home. They make it possible for you to automate processes related to different functions for seamless work-from-home operations. While they cannot replace human effort, bots can free up enormous time for your employees to focus on the kind of deep, creative work that requires human cognition and emotional attendance.