Automation is often referred to as a way to increase productivity and get more done. But what do the facts say about this statement?
Essentially, productivity is the rate at which a company, team, or individual can conduct their work and produce results. By extension, it defines how much a person can achieve within a set period of time. Some examples we’ve all encountered are:
- How many items can you cross off your to-do list on a regular work day?
- What side-project are you working on in your free time?
- How many times do you work out per week?
This search for optimization and efficiency applies to most areas of our lives. However, as research on the topic piles up, it can be challenging to pin down the actual reasons behind productivity (or lack thereof).
Lately, the question of productivity at the workplace has shifted to a number of factors, including:
- Company culture
- Employee wellbeing
- Effectiveness of business processes
- Leadership and team support
- Available tools and resources
And automation, which has the power to influence all of the above.
In this article, we will analyze the relationship between automation and productivity, go over the available data on the subject, and see what tomorrow has in store for us.
What is automation?
The term automation describes technologies that help reduce human intervention in processes. It comes in many forms, including:
- Artificial Intelligence
Automation has always been propelled by the desire to get more done, reduce costs, and limit the possibility of human error, all at once.
Over the past few decades, automation has become an unavoidable feature of how we live and work, bringing unprecedented value to both, and also raising important questions about our future as well.
Take the digital process automation market, which is expected to reach a value of $16.12B by 2026.
These digital solutions are leveraging automation technology to help companies streamline business processes, across industries and job roles:
Human resources: Using automation to screen resumes or job applications
Marketing: Targeting advertising campaigns with smart algorithms
Customer service: Answering customer questions using chatbots and virtual agents
Sales: Forecasting, automating data entry and analyzing calls
It is likely that you’re already familiar with some of these. According to a McKinsey study, 31% of businesses have already fully automated at least one function. But while automation might seem like a perfect solution, what is the actual impact on company productivity?
Random online resources can be biased, not giving a full picture of the intricate relationship between automation and productivity. To cut through the noise, we sorted through academic research and trustworthy sources to highlight concrete, data-backed findings on the topic.
Let’s dive into it.
7 data-backed findings on the impact of automation on productivity
To provide a comprehensive view of the question, we’ve broken down this article in sections, each one covering a significant subtopic of the automation-productivity dynamic.
Let’s start by addressing the elephant in the room.
1. Implementing automation does not need to equal job losses
One of the most common and widespread fears is that “machines will take our jobs”, and that automation is a threat to society.
It is not entirely unjustified, as automation does drive massive changes in the workplace. After all, 47% of U.S. workers have a high probability of seeing their jobs automated over the next 20 years.
However, research from the World Bank 2019 World Development Report highlights that the new industries and jobs in the technology sector outweigh the economic effects of workers being displaced by automation.
This can be illustrated by a shift between industries and jobs as technologies become widely adopted:
(Image Credit: The Atlantic)
In another interesting paper, the International Federation of Robotics highlights the example of collaborative robots. In summary, these machines are designed not to replace human work, but to increase its productivity and reduce the risk of workplace injury.
For example, BMW’s Spartanburg factory features robot assistants to help fit doors with sound and moisture insulation, a previously strainful task for workers.
This transition led to a 50% productivity increase without job losses, as employees that were previously in charge of these tasks were promoted from machine operators to robot programmers.
2. The productivity effect: Automation could actually increase the demand for labor
Continuing on the previous finding, research shows that a “productivity effect” could actually increase demand for labor thanks to automation.
In a paper for the National Bureau of Economic Research, researchers Daron Acemogly and Pascual Restrep summarize a framework on the implications of automation and AI on the demand for labor, wages, and employment.
Acknowledging the displacement caused by these technologies in the workplace, they argue that the cost savings generated by automation actually increase the demand for labor in non-automated tasks.
As more repetitive, menial, and hazardous tasks get automated, we can also observe a resurgence for labor-intensive services in consumer markets. Look around you, and see how certain businesses have soared over the past decade:
Local organic supermarkets
Wineries and breweries
While these services can be automated or mass-produced, the demand for a more human/local experience has been an indirect reaction to automation. This resulted in business opportunities and economic growth in industries otherwise ripe for automation.
3. Automation is not limited to manual labor and lower-wage jobs
The impact of automation on productivity is not necessarily limited to manual labor or correlated to a company pay scale.
As a matter of fact, a McKinsey study shows that an estimated 20% of a CEO’s working time could be automated using current technologies. This could include tasks like:
Analyzing reports to inform decisions
Sorting through emails
Preparing staff assignments
Reviewing status reports
Effective business process automation results in productivity gains at every level, and with the average CEO salary standing at $155k, the implications can be quite significant.
Interestingly enough, the report also shows that occupations with lower wages (such as home health aides, landscapers, and maintenance workers) are not necessarily easier to automate with current technologies:
4. Most occupations can be partially automated
While only a few jobs can be entirely automated, most paid activities could benefit from partial automation.
A 2017 McKinsey study shows that 60% of all occupations have at least 30% technically automatable activities. This is something you can observe in your company today, looking across roles and departments.
Most salespeople, for example, spend a significant chunk of their time on administrative tasks, instead of focusing on what matters to them (selling):
Sending emails and reminders
Entering data in their CRM
Prospecting in different channels
Researching information on leads
Drafting proposals and presentations
Automation can help salespeople streamline these menial tasks, boosting their productivity and, ultimately, the company bottom line.
This applies to other business areas as well: A study by Unit 4 revealed that globally, office workers spend 69 days a year on administrative tasks, costing companies $5 trillion a year.
5. Employee happiness impacts productivity, and automation can help
It is commonly believed that employees are more productive when they’re happier. But what do the numbers say?
A research at the University of Oxford, UK, collected data on the topic. It discovered that workers were on average 13% more productive in weeks when they self-reported as being very happy, compared to those weeks when people reported being very unhappy.
There are many factors that can influence employee happiness at work, including:
Relationship with colleagues
Feelings of achievement
One of the most overlooked consequences of automation is employee satisfaction.
Studies show that 74% of employees in the most automated companies say automation improves job satisfaction, compared to 53% in highly manual companies.
(Image Credit: Workflow)
For most people, the perspective that some of the most strenuous parts of your job can be lifted off your shoulders comes as a relief.
By automating repetitive and boring tasks, automation has a direct impact on employee wellbeing and, as a result, on their productivity.
6. End users also benefit from automation
Business process automation helps companies maximise their resources. But as a result, automation ends up impacting the end-user experience too.
For example, it has been estimated that by 2022, 70% of customer interactions will use machine learning technology in virtual agents. This form of automation has direct repercussions on both customer support operations and the customer experience.
By reducing the steps required to contact customers and sort through conversations, chatbots improve both user experience and customer service efficiency.
The ability to automatically answer queries has a direct impact on the productivity of customer-facing teams. Studies have shown that even a 10-minute wait to respond to an inquiry drops the likelihood of qualifying a lead by 4, while responding within 5 minutes generates 9x more meaningful conversations.
7. Inefficient processes cost money throughout the value chain
Last but not least, missing out on automation has a very real cost: Inefficient processes cost companies 20 to 30% of revenue every year.
In an analysis of the potential long term impact of automation, PWC notes that automation and artificial intelligence can impact productivity all along the value chain. Examples of business areas that can benefit from automation are:
Strategy: To reduce risk, time and costs from strategy to execution
Innovation: To help with generating and analyzing insights
Production: To increase output and quality in the supply chain
Logistics: To reduce time and resources required
Marketing: To improve information symmetry between producer and customers
Finance: To reduce costs and risks with better planning and forecasting
Human resources: To remove human bias and deliver best candidate matches
Companies that automate not only cut costs, but are reported to outperform their peers:
(Image Credit: ServiceNow)
Now that we’ve gone over facts and findings on the impact of automation and productivity, let’s take a look at some of the remaining questions on the topic.
Challenges and questions about automation, productivity, and the future of work
The benefits of automation are well documented, but questions about productivity and the future of work are far from being resolved. Let’s go over some of the biggest challenges automation and productivity are facing right now.
The second productivity paradox
Similar to what happened in the 1970s and 1980s, the 2000s have seen a discrepancy between IT investment and its impact on the U.S. economy.
While the workplace has become increasingly automated and technological, global productivity growth is slowing down:
Let’s not jump to the conclusion that technology doesn’t have a significant impact on productivity.
The reasons behind this paradox are still being discussed, as the phenomenon could be caused by a variety of factors, such as:
Mismeasurement: We might be failing at properly measuring the economic output in the digital age
Individual vs. societal impact: Technology might have a lower impact on a societal scale than expected
Time: Innovations like AI might take time to expand and reach their full potential
While there is no definite answer, we’re inclined to believe in the last hypothesis, as transformative technologies take time to bloom and reflect on society.
With this in mind, it is safe to expect that the dramatic amount of innovation we’ve observed over the past decade will have visible consequences and results in the years to come.
The paradox of automation
Mentioned by cognitive psychologist Lisanne Bainbridge as part of the ironies of automation, the paradox of automation says that as an automated system becomes more efficient, the involvement of humans becomes more critical.
English economist Tim Hartford illustrates this concept with the crash of Air France Flight 447, where pilots were not able to properly take over from the aircraft’s autopilot system:
“First, automatic systems accommodate incompetence by being easy to operate and by automatically correcting mistakes. … Second, even if operators are experts, automatic systems erode their skills by removing the need for practice. Third, automatic systems tend to fail either in unusual situations or in ways that produce unusual situations, requiring a particularly skillful response.”
- Tim Harford (source)
The automation paradox highlights the need for highly-skilled operators to manage automated systems, creating jobs and opportunities as a result.
Diminishing returns and exhaustion of opportunities
At the heart of automation is the principle that organizations can leverage technology to reduce human intervention when possible.
Hypothetically, a fundamental flaw is that as more processes become automated, there are fewer processes left to automate.
Similarly, as a process becomes more automated, we can consider that there will eventually be less quality improvement possible.
These limitations are subject to evolve along with technology, but the concepts remain valid and applicable to areas ranging from automation to personal productivity:
(Source: PMC Training)
Needless to say, automation may as well not be a zero-sum game, which would render this possibility as highly improbable.
To conclude our exploration of the relationship between automation and productivity, there’s one last item that is worth considering, and that is the opinions of today’s tech leaders.
Let’s take a look at what they think about automation and productivity.
What do tech leaders think about automation and productivity?
Some of today’s most innovative and successful tech companies have been championing automation for a long time.
One of them is Amazon (of course).
The ecommerce giant has been implementing large-scale automation throughout its warehouse operations through programs like “Hands off the wheel”, which started in the early 2010s.
In addition, Amazon has been automating repetitive work while keeping employees, transferring them to other roles where they can provide more value to the organization.
This positive outlook on automation is heralded by Amazon’s Founder and former CEO Jeff Bezos:
“I predict that, because of artificial intelligence and its ability to automate certain tasks that in the past were impossible to automate, not only will we have a much wealthier civilization, but the quality of work will go up very significantly and a higher fraction of people will have callings and careers relative to today.”
- Jeff Bezos (source)
But even at the helm of the tech world there are debates around the impact of automation and artificial intelligence on society.
After automating Tesla’s production lines and failing to meet its 2018 car delivery goals, Elon Musk shared his views on the topic:
“Yes, excessive automation at Tesla was a mistake. (...) Humans are underrated.”
- Elon Musk (source).
In a similar tune, Microsoft’s co-founder Bill Gates reminds us that technology serves as an enhancer. Automation, much like any other innovation, isn’t a magic solution:
“The first rule of any technology used in a business is that automation applied to an efficient operation will magnify the efficiency. The second is that automation applied to an inefficient operation will magnify the inefficiency.”
- Bill Gates (source)
This diversity of opinions around automation is a testament to how divisive the topic is, and to the importance of relying on data to make decisions touching upon it.
Throughout this article, we were able to get a closer look at how intertwined automation and productivity are nowadays.
So, does automation increase productivity?
Data shows that on an organizational level, automation can dramatically improve productivity in a variety of ways. Using automation platforms, companies are able to automate their entire workflow, going as far as building and scaling an actual business with a reduced team.
While the societal impact has yet to be fully grasped, we can confidently say that automation is one of the key factors when it comes to improving productivity.
In a world that needs to make better use of its resources, that is no small news.
This article was written by Thierry Maout and first appeared here: https://www.integromat.com/en/blog/does-automation-increase-productivity
My name is Iain Miller, and I run the outdoor adventure company Unique Ascent, based in County Donegal on the northwest coast of Ireland. I provide fundamentally two services:
The first is a unique and extensive guiding service, where I guide people on experiences of true adventure to remote unclimbed sea stacks, previously unclimbed sea cliffs, and difficult-to-access sea caves on and around the uninhabited islands of western Donegal.
The second is a mountain training service, providing formal qualification courses and assessment for accredited awards in Ireland and the UK.
In an average year, I'll be out between 250 and 300 days, either climbing on my own or providing one of the above services. Out of these 300 days, I only consider three or four to be work. The rest of the time, I'm simply having as much fun as is humanly possible doing what I love.Â Â Â
Laying the foundation with SEO
It was in 2008, when I was involved in the first ascent of Cnoc na Mara sea stack, that I made the decision to start a business. It was my best climbing day to date, and I realized it would be possible to make a living doing this. Make a living while exploring full time? It was a no-brainer to give it a try.Â
The first thing I did was work out the minimum I needed to earn annually, monthly, and weekly. It may seem very basic, but it works on almost any economy of scale: every business has a breakeven point where, ideally, you don't want your earnings to drop below. I also made sure to keep my overheads low, not buying equipment I didn't need yetâthings like that.Â
Once I'd established my minimum earnings, I built a website. But not simply a brochure site advertising my servicesâit's an in-depth rock climbing in Donegal information site. Content for each climbing area is available as a free PDF download, and I'm constantly updating the individual PDFs with new climbs as I do them. The Donegal sea stacks guidebook is by far my biggest download.
This kind of content marketing has helped the website gain reasonable domain authority, making it easy to find on Google. And that makes a difference: I currently get 80% of my business from people who aren't looking for me specifically. They do a search for "rock climbing Ireland," and there I am.
A deep dive into local search engine optimization (SEO) is well beyond the scope of this article, but there are certain features every local business's website should have these days. Here's how to complete an SEO audit to help grow your business.
The best part: I'm building my SEO presence by going out and climbing in previously unclimbed locations. It gives me new, unique content for my website, social media, and press releases. And it's all because of things I would be out doing anyway, even if I wasn't running a business.Â
Building a brand and creating a needÂ
When I first started, the county of Donegal was pretty much unheard of. I had to establish Donegal as a good climbing and adventure venue, but I also had to establish Donegal as a place to go, period. That was the first step. I wasn't really promoting myself. At most, I was promoting myself just through my association with Donegal.Â
This initial part of my marketing strategy attracted visits to the county by Outside magazine, The Globe and Mail, The Guardian, Red Bull Canada, and Forbes. Donegal was also awarded the coolest place on the planet by National Geographic for 2017, and in the same year, Star Wars: The Last Jedi filmed in Northern Donegal. And both organizations cited sea stacks as one of the primary reasons for their visits.
It was through my promotion of Donegal and its world-class sea stacks that I gained publicity. And in time, this publicity began to creep toward articles being written about me rather than about Donegal. The lesson: you need to learn to promote yourself, but promoting your industry or town or anything else you're associated with is all part of the process.
Raising the bar
My unique selling point (USP) is that I'm the world's only full-time professional sea stack climber. It's this level of expertise in a very niche facet of rock climbing that would be near impossible to replicate in anything less than a decade of full-time pursuit. This, combined with the extremely specific and fickle nautical conditions required to play safe on the west coast of Ireland, means any potential competition has a huge barrier to entry.
Even with this USP, I can't rest on my laurels: I continue to find ways to raise the bar. But if my competition is non-existent, why do this?
It allows me to explore and grow as a climber. I love it.
It ensures that anyone hiring my services will have the best experience possible.
As we go through life, we pick up skills that can't be taught through formal educationâit's called experience. To become a full-time professional climber, I needed to first and foremost to be a very experienced climber. It takes time. And if you're going to run a business, especially as a solopreneur, you need to have experience with what you do. If you just started baking bread during stay-at-home orders, you shouldn't start a baking business. You need to be an expert first.
But you also need to continue to be an expert. No matter how unique your service is, if you're not offering an essential serviceânot that sea stack climbing isn't essentialâpeople can always just choose not to do that thing at all. So continue to flex your skills, gain new experience, keep practicing, and raise the bar.Â Â
Going outside your comfort zone
Of course, being a good climber (or baker or anything else) is the absolute minimum requirement. You'll also need other skills: everything from photography to social media to writingâthe list goes on. My industry is particularly nice to look at, so I made sure to grow my skills with filmography.
I make a video, upload it to YouTube with an SEO-friendly description, and accompany the footage with a blog post or information page on my site. Then I promote my video far and wide. I've found reaching out to journalists works well. I link to the footage in the first sentenceâI need to get whoever is reading to watch the video, and they may be opening thousands of similar sounding emails a day. If I impress them, press agencies and journalists will often ask to embed their own version of my footage on their domain. That's ok, but I like to be sure I get a link back to my video, blog post, or website.Â
Here's an example of a video I made that did very well in getting backlinks from news sites all over the world.
After two years, I still have over 30 high-domain authority backlinks for this video.Â
A summary of the dream
I'm very lucky. I've managed to transform my near-lifelong hobby into a highly successful business doing exactly the same activities I did prior to going professional. The key to success was a solid foundation, expert skills, and the right kind of marketing.
I am, quite simply, living the dream.
This was a guest post by Iain Miller, a rock climber, mountain instructor, and guidebook author living, working, and playing on the sea cliffs, sea stacks, mountain ranges, and uninhabited islands of County Donegal in Ireland. Want to see your work on the Zapier blog? Check out our guidelines, and get in touch.
This article was written by [email protected] (Iain Miller) and first appeared here: https://zapier.com/blog/making-your-passion-your-job
As a kid, I used my mother's old physical address book, wrote fake contact information, and pretended I was an important person. (I was a weird kid.) Back when phone numbers and addresses were stored in physical address books and Rolodexes, all you had to do was not lose them and write clearly.
With digital address books, it's more complicated. The ease of digital communication means there's more contact information to store than ever and more options on where you can keep it. You can save info in a phone app, spreadsheets, Customer Relationship Management (CRM) solutions, or just hope it comes up in an email search. Contact management automation would make things much more manageable.
If your contact management is a mess, you can use Zapier to help make sense of it. Our automatic app connections, which we call Zaps, can send contact information where you want it.
Click on a Zap below to begin automating your contact management and we'll guide you through the set-up process. You can read more about setting up Zaps here.
You'll need a Zapier account to use the workflows in this piece. If you don't have an account yet, it's free to get started.
Automatically save contacts
When I need to email someone, I often search through my inbox hoping their contact information is there. If you're frequently interacting with someone at work or plan to establish a long-term business relationship, you'll want to make sure their information is at your fingertips.
These Zaps will save information from your email as a new contact.
Tend to take more calls? These workflows will create contacts from new appointments made in a booking app.
Go paperless with your business cards
I have a tin of business cards I've received from people I've met at conferences in the before-times. I am fairly sure their information isn't saved anywhere.
You can digitize your business cards with a card scanner app. If you need that contact information in more than one place, these workflows will automatically copy new scanned business cards into your app of choice.
Want to convert those business cards into leads in your CRM instead? These Zaps will do it for you.
If you have contacts who aren't ready to have a full sales conversation but could use a little nudge, add them to a mailing list with these workflows:
Add your contacts to a spreadsheet
With so many options to store your contacts, sometimes the simplicity of a spreadsheet is all you need. You can cut down on the manual data entry by using Zapier to add new scanned business cards to your spreadsheet automatically.
Need to verify information in your spreadsheet of leads? Use a Zap with a contact verification tool to double-check your list of email addresses when new rows are added.
Most contact management apps can bulk import contacts from CSV files. If you'd prefer to upload contacts as they come in, these workflows will automatically add new spreadsheet row information to your contact app.
Send follow-ups automatically
We're not done with those business cards. It can feel awkward to make the first overture after you've exchanged contact information. You can get past it using a Zap that will automatically draft an email once you upload a card to a business card scanner or contacts app.
If you work with tools not included in this article, don't worry! Zapier works with thousands of apps. Head to our App Directory and search for the one you use, or browse to find the right solution for your needs.
Let automation keep you organized
Whether you're trying to capitalize on leads or organize your digital address book, automation can save you time on manual data entry so you can focus on making connections.
The best part about using workflows like these is that you'll never have to wonder again where to find a contact's information. It'll be exactly where you need it, so you can easily find it and keep your work on track.
New to Zapier? It's a tool that helps anyone connect apps and automate workflows—without any complicated code. Sign up for free to use this app, and many others, with Zapier.
This article was written by [email protected] (Krystina Martinez) and first appeared here: https://zapier.com/blog/automate-contact-management