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Not only will the productive automation of tasks require that we reinvent the organization of work, but so will the lasting impacts of COVID-19. This, in turn, demands that leaders make the critical choices about what kind of future-focused workplace they want to create and now at a much-accelerated rate. 

COVID-19 is a tipping point between the integration of humans and automation. A new normal will set in as learned behaviors and empowering technologies tested during the pandemic become standard, or more boldly, become required. The challenges to future viability and existence in the digital era remain largely unchanged—but the timeline for success has sped up dramatically given today’s situation.

In responding to COVID-19, organizations are moving from Reaction (triage) to Resilience (managing) to Recovery (resetting/planning) to the New Reality (adapting to the new world) at different paces. There will be winners and there will be laggards through these transitions—not everyone will make it through. Those who move through these phases with purpose and intention are more likely to come out on top. The need for accurate workforce forecasting and planning had never been more critical amid the onset of AI and robotics, and COVID-19 has just fast-tracked this urgency and criticality. It is forcing organizations that want to continue to thrive to bring forward their strategic planning efforts and apply them to more immediate futures.

We hypothesize that future-ready organizations pursuing strategic change that bring humans and machines together in a productive environment will not only survive and thrive with AI but also shape a future fit for humans and machines to coexist, and ultimately be better suited to handle the level of disruption we find ourselves in today. With that said, productivity gains will not happen simply by automating current work tasks within current processes. Nor will forcing AI into legacy processes or technologies. It needs to be reinvented and built.

The opportunity is to create a connected enterprise that fosters the productive collaboration and division of labor between humans and machines. We must also be very mindful, more pronounced now by what’s happening with COVID-19 in our working (and personal) world, that AI is only as good as the strategy and design behind it and that improper application of it can quickly lead to a dehumanizing version of scientific management coupled with extreme surveillance and micromanagement of our workforce. For instance, if going forward more than 50 percent of our workforce is remote, how do we manage the fine line between overbearing monitoring and allowing for “breathing space” for the workforce?

We foresee that leaders who are seeking to create a balanced workforce of the future will take a strategic approach that applies a digital mind-set to the reinvention of work. We are seeing organizations responding to the inevitable need to “build something” as AI and digital technology, and unforeseen disruption, demolish aging and soon-obsolete workplace structures while delivering modern new “building blocks” for heightened productivity, competitiveness, and success.

Success, as noted earlier, will require organizations to ensure that this approach reflects these attributes:

  • Connecting the enterprise end-to-end and understanding along the way the impact of change on the enterprise and customer experience.
  • Ensuring that everyone in the organization has a productive role to play as an innovator regarding the breakdown of tasks between humans and machines.
  • Providing everyone an opportunity to be a “leader,” building autonomy and a growth mind-set to act while meeting business objectives.
  • An innovative and flexible culture with a growth mind-set that encourages experimentation, collaboration, and change.

While no one can predict entirely what will happen as the “New Reality” sets in, or when we will get there, but what organizations can control now (or as soon as they get out of crisis management) is to plan for various scenarios that may occur and prepare for that future makeup of the workforce accordingly, one that will most certainly include forms of automation.

The excerpt was taken from KPMG Thought Leadership, Reinventing Work: A sequel to the Rise of the Humans series