Chris Huff of Kofax is smiling into the camera in front of a grey background.
Chris Huff. Image: Kofax

6 ways a remote workforce can harness automation

9 Jun 2020

Chris Huff, chief strategy officer at Kofax, explains how remote and hybrid companies can make use of automation.

Automation has been at the heart of many conversations around the future of work. But it may be more important now that many companies have shifted to remote workforces, according to Chris Huff, chief strategy officer at US process automation software company Kofax.

According to Huff, automation bridges the gap between “dislocated workers and disparate systems by removing friction from how we work”. In practice, this means that mobile, automation and cloud solutions can be drawn on to better support remote workers.

“By providing the necessary communication, collaboration and productivity tools, all while automating low-value repetitive tasks, teams are able to focus on higher-value purpose-filled work,” Huff explained.

“With more time spent on high-value work, employees are more engaged and efficient, especially while they’re working from their homes where there may be more distractions.”

Six steps companies can take

Below are Huff’s recommended steps for harnessing automation as a remote-first business.

1. Put people first

“Recognise the effect Covid-19 is having on your employees, customers and partners,” he said. “The shift to remote working can be challenging and everyone will need to rethink how to remain productive. That’s why it’s critical for businesses to expand their virtual capabilities.

“A good starting point is to provide productivity tools to help employees handle data, including PDF and electronic-signature tools that drive productivity across everyday interactions.”

2. Look at digital solutions

“Step two is to infuse digital solutions into previously manual and time-intensive processes, such as investing in automating the accounts payable process through a SaaS-based solution that can be up and running within a week.”

3. Rethink transformation

“Step three is to rethink and accelerate the digital model transformation to ensure business continuity and resilience moving forward.”

4. Tackle operational disruptions

“Many businesses find it challenging to maintain operational efficiencies with fewer people and uncertain future demand,” Huff added. “Companies can do one of two things: they can become paralysed by the uncertainty and hope things go back to the ‘old normal’, or they can make informed, bold decisions based on data, intuition and experience to ‘win in the turn’.

“A paper out of the National Bureau of Economic Research titled Job Polarisation and Jobless Recoveries states that 88pc of job loss takes place within 12 months of an economic downturn and that lost capacity is backfilled with investments in automation.

“History’s telling us that successful businesses use this time to invest smartly in automation to overcome operational disruptions and drive improved operational efficiency and growth.”

5. Prepare for the ‘new normal’

“Organisations have been investing in digital solutions and using human-centred design to meet customer demands, including 24/7 availability, 100pc dependability and frictionless personalised experiences,” Huff said.

“Covid-19 is accelerating shifts that may very well define the ‘new normal’. Early indicators point to shifts, such as manual-to-automation, static-to-mobile, centralised-to-decentralised technologies.

“The new normal will see a future of work where mobile, automation, cloud and AI technologies provide the means to develop business moats. Those that learn to leverage the full capabilities of these technologies to deliver the ultimate customer experience will prevail in the new normal.

6. Build resiliency

“Assess how prepared your organisation is for potential future disruptions. A primary benefit of a digital workforce is that it’s resilient to disruption.

“Companies most likely to thrive in the post-Covid-19 world will be those able to seamlessly integrate human and digital workforces and effectively manage both at scale. The latest intelligent automation technology ensures seamless collaboration while orchestrating, managing and scaling both.”

Automation for hybrid workforces

Many companies may adopt a hybrid working model in the coming weeks and months as Covid-19 restrictions are eased. So, as businesses begin to operate with staff both on and off the premises, is automation still possible?

It is, according to Huff, who said such companies could even reap greater benefits from automation than fully remote ones.

“Businesses and organisations that aren’t fully remote can benefit from automation even further when it comes to tasks needing to be performed on-premises,” he said. “Organisations that are centralised and co-located often take advantage of proximity to underinvest in automation, leading to excess capacity and underperformance.

“An uptick we’re seeing at Kofax illustrates this example: back in the office, accounts payable has largely been an underinvested area because Joe and Sally were co-located and could print paper and walk invoices around the office for signatures.

“Once Joe and Sally were forced to perform their work from home, they quickly realised they needed an automated accounts payable and workflow solution, so they rapidly shifted to a digital process.”

Where to learn more

For anyone curious about automation and remote work, Huff gave some of his recommendations for reading and listening material.

“Some of the best intelligent automation 101 sources are those that are unbiased and truly get to the heart of what it is, how it’s implemented and the value it drives,” he explained.

“A few sources I’ve found helpful over the years include Deloitte’s guide to robotic process automation, the RPA Bible and the AI Network podcast.”

Lisa Ardill
By Lisa Ardill

Lisa Ardill joined Silicon Republic as senior careers reporter in July 2019. She has a BA in neuroscience and a master’s degree in science communication. She is also a semi-published poet and a big fan of doggos. Lisa briefly served as Careers Editor at Silicon Republic before leaving the company in June 2021.

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