How end-to-end automation helps a newly remote workforce

Words to live by: It’s never too late to automate.

Apr 06, 2020 by Jess McCuan

A man shows the benefits of end-to-end automation for remote workers.

Automation may have spent months or years on your list of rainy-day projects. “Someday when I have time,” you said, “I’ll map out how my team can do X, Y or Z more efficiently.” But the weeks passed, work got done at a reasonable pace, your team grew, and there was no need to streamline.

Suddenly, the need to work more efficiently is urgent. The world faces a long coronavirus-related recession, meaning businesses are slashing budgets and staff in order to survive. With many areas just now tentatively emerging from lockdown, teams that could once talk through problems while sitting next to each other no longer have that luxury. Long after the threat of coronavirus has passed, a remote workforce is likely to become the new normal, as corporations cut down on expensive real estate costs for whole categories of white-collar workers. 

What’s left: two types of companies

The companies that figured out automation long ago are now seeing the benefits of those efforts. They’ve already assessed, streamlined and sped up their core business processes. If they chose an end-to-end automation platform, they’ve moved beyond simple RPA and now use technology that can adapt and scale as their workload changes. They’ve cut out manual, repetitive tasks for knowledge workers. While their newly-remote employees may have all sorts of other hurdles to overcome, spending long hours on tedious tasks will not be one of them. 

Businesses that chose not to automate are likely now feeling some pain. A crisis like the current one can expose long-standing inefficiencies in an organization, as customer service teams get swamped with emails from anxious customers, loan officers get buried in applications, and lines jam with frantic requests. Manual processes are simply harder to manage from a distance. Think of printing out documents for a manager to sign. Picture this happening hundreds of times in a company each week, and the ensuing logistical nightmare when employees are forced to recreate the process from home.

Businesses that chose not to automate are likely now feeling some pain. Manual processes are simply harder to manage from a distance.

Not too late to automate

Never fear: No matter which camp your company falls in, it is not too late to explore or improve automations. Whether the task you’re looking to automate is large or small, the potential upsides are many. 

Let’s say your shipping company has shut down its call center and is now seeing soaring volumes of customer service requests via email. Whatever the nature of those requests — price quotes, address changes, package status checks — automation can save your team hours of time responding. 

Intelligent automation means combining artificial intelligence with RPA to address the task at hand. In this case, it might mean creating an AI model to scan and understand the intent of all those incoming messages. Based on that intent, automation software can either send a response to the email or route it to the proper department. 

For a global logistics company, Automation Hero used a two-step AI model to automate responses to 60% of their incoming inquiries. This led to an 80% workload reduction, mere seconds in response time, and overall higher customer satisfaction. 

Tasks can be simple or intricate

Perhaps the task you want to automate is more complex and multi-step. Let’s say employees at your company log into several different systems each day to extract data, close contracts, and send those contracts out to customers. In a normal economic climate, it might have been fine for such work to occupy hundreds of full-time employees around the clock. But now the size of your team has essentially shrunk by half, and you’re left scrambling to close contracts more efficiently.

You can design a simple automation that helps each employee zip through logins automatically and pull in data from each outside system. Without stepping away from their current task — let’s say they’re looking at a screen in Salesforce — they can speed through login, data extraction and input, meaning their Salesforce screen can be fully populated with closed contracts in seconds, instead of hours or days. 

Working with employees at a large German health insurance company, Automation Hero streamlined several data extraction and data compilation steps, pulling relevant information into PDFs for e-signature. It saved the employees the equivalent of 18 years’ worth of work. 

Getting started

If your normal work routine has been upended recently and you’re home on the couch for a few weeks, it’s as good a time as any to step back and look at the big picture. Where do you and your team spend most of your time? Which tasks are the most repetitive? These are likely areas that could be easily automated. As you move through the brainstorming, keep in mind how the small parts of the puzzle might also integrate with other teams or departments. No matter where this takes you, the first two concrete steps in end-to-end automation projects are almost always these: (1) identify use cases, listing your organization’s biggest process pain points; and (2) create a strategy and consult key stakeholders inside your company.

Now is a good time to take a step back — especially if you’re home on the couch for a few weeks.

Buckle up for an automated future

In a blog last month, Matt Mullenweg, a founding developer of WordPress, said a remote workforce is like managing a staff that’s all in different time zones. Overcommunication is critical, as is a general embrace of asynchronous communication. He couldn’t be more right. In our view, what’s equally important is a streamlined digital workflow. It should both eliminate tedious tasks and give managers a window to peek in on long-running, complex business processes that require multiple checkpoints. Which tasks are in progress? Which have been completed? An end-to-end automation platform at the core is the only way to achieve this. 

You knew, back in the pre-coronavirus good old days, that automation was important. It’s long been shown to save time, money and boost productivity. More and more young people are now looking for meaningful work, so good managers should have already been thinking about ways to cut down repetitive tasks. Now, in the current crisis, automation could not be more critical. It can solve small problems that give your company a quick boost in efficiency and ROI. Down the road it can help you slim down and improve core business processes as the pace of digital transformation picks up speed.