How One of the Big 4 Is Helping Workers Cope With the Bots

The workplace is transforming, as companies take advantage of developing technologies and tools. The digital transformation of the global business ecosystem will ultimately impact employees at every level and every company. So how can businesses work with employees to help them navigate these shifts?

At EY, we deploy numerous technologies ourselves, including robotic process automation (RPA) — an innovative technology capable of performing multi-step, highly repetitive processes at great speed and accuracy. Nearly 200 RPA “Bots,” as we call them, work “alongside” our human employees, gathering and processing data associated with tax returns and other tasks. We find that different groups of employees react differently to this digital partnership, so we’ve learned to support them in unique ways tailored to their reactions.

Recent college graduates and young millennials live up to their digital native hype. They’re excited at the prospect of working side-by-side with disruptive technology. They’re also eager to offload repetitive tasks, which can take up a large percentage of their work, allowing them to spend more energy adopting new skills and learning how to be relevant in a new tax age. And they feel they have the time to adapt and take on new roles and responsibilities without jeopardizing their career growth.

In order to succeed in a rapidly shifting work environment, recent graduates will need to be high-quality, high-potential, well-trained professionals right from the start. To accomplish this, businesses must work with universities to help shape curriculum, and to build relationships with students earlier. Through this kind of collaboration, we can advance knowledge and skills for the future, and prepare students to be “Day One Ready.”

Experienced professionals and middle managers may likely view new technologies as a threat. These professionals often think they’re too veteran to easily pivot and take on an entirely new role. We at EY recognize this struggle and know that we must help them through the transition process. We are continually finding ways to ease their concerns and, in fact, gain their buy-in that digital technologies are a positive step forward for them individually, for the firm, and for the future of work.

Guidance and storytelling allow us to ease the transition. Continuing with EY’s automation example, we know that automation is the future; it’s yet another important tool that helps tax professionals do their work. When Microsoft Excel first came out, tax professionals worried that its functionality would deem many professionals irrelevant. Quite to the contrary, it made jobs easier. Tax professionals were able to deliver deeper levels of analysis to clients quicker and with greater accuracy. We see similar benefits — for both our people and our clients — with process automation.

We further help mid-level employees develop uniquely human skills that complement these new tools. We call this ongoing education “upskilling,” and it provides an immense opportunity for experienced professionals. As BOTs take over repetitive tasks, they free up humans to carry out higher-level, purpose-driven work, and to focus on domain knowledge, relationship building, project management and predictive analysis.

At the senior-most level, experienced leaders can see the big picture. They’ve witnessed how technologies and digitization are transforming the business landscape and know it’s only a matter of time before every industry will need to innovate. As leaders, they’ve already been around long enough to experience the inevitability of change and have weathered other evolutions of processes and tools in our industry.

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To help leaders succeed during continued disruption, and to enable them to be ambassadors for change, we must keep them informed about new developments and exciting technologies. At EY, specifically, we employ numerous learning and development programs designed to do just that. Experts in different technologies teach their peers. In this way, all of our leaders champion the evolution, and help their teams adapt to a new, digital workplace.

Disruption will impact all employees. Thus, employees at every level of the organization have a role to play — to prepare both themselves and the broader business for change. The workplace of the future isn’t just a physical workplace. It’s an entirely new environment, complete with new technologies and tools, and human employees able to pursue purpose-driven work.