Can robots and employees work harmoniously?

Human and robot hand connecting

By the Orbis Robotics Team

This was a huge question for us here in Orbis (a partnership between Surrey, East Sussex and Brighton and Hove Councils) and one that we were hoping would have a positive answer. Did it? Well, we haven’t quite fully answered this just yet but we have moved one step closer to getting there. Here’s our story…

We spoke in our blog last month about introducing robotics to the council, mainly because we needed to save money by finding more efficient ways of working. One of the thoughts behind doing this was that we utilise our employees more by getting them to do more ‘value add’ work rather than the mundane and monotonous data entry work.

However, this wasn’t quite how it was translating to some of our employees. Although there was a positive buzz around robots for some people, others saw the robots as a threat to their career, a forced change to how they work and a way of ousting them from the workplace. So, how do you change that kind of attitude?

The robots were in early stages; in fact none of them had physically been produced yet because our robot ‘experts’ were having to self-train themselves through YouTube and Google! The lack of understanding around robots meant that communication needed to be improved, as this really is key when trying to get employees on-board with change.

So, how best can you introduce robots as friends rather than enemy when they are currently feared? We decided to turn them from robots into our latest recruits by giving them names and personalities!

Ok, so it may sound slightly crazy initially – but this is where we showed how well we know our employees. As a council, our driving force is our community and something our employees can agree on is that we care about people. So, if this is the case, why don’t we turn the robots into people (not literally, of course), so that suddenly they become relatable? This is exactly what we did.

Emily, a member of our project team, named each of the robots (10 in total at this stage) and gave them personalities. For example, we have a robot called Molly who can take data from multiple systems, and another called Jude who can automate recurring tasks.

This was reinforced with workshops by one of our project managers and our process improvement analyst. They engaged with our teams to introduce the robots/new team recruits and got them to look at how the purpose of each robot would fit into a process, encouraging them to think about how this would work for their own teams’ processes.

Eight workshops later and engagement with over 100 employees, the attitude changed and people started to see the benefits rather than the threat.

So, can employees and robots work harmoniously? There will never be 100% acceptance but strong communication, employee interaction and making the robots relatable means that we just might find a way to all get along.

Can robots and employees work harmoniously?

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