Today’s modern workplace is a product of decades of creative innovation and the automation of processes and tasks—from chatbots to food-delivery robots—saving customers and businesses time and money over the years. Since in business—and in life—does anything beat more time and money? The future of work will inevitably be marked by an ongoing need for workplace automation, as hybrid work adds new complexities to the workflows and tools you need to serve your customers. 

Below is a guide for your hybrid workforce as it evolves and grows, plus ways you can continue this pattern of time- and money-saving through automation. 

We’ll uncover: 

  • What workplace automation is
  • The pros and cons of workplace automation 
  • Types of automation in the workplace 
  • The future of automation and how Meraki can help 

What is workplace automation?

Workplace automation is the application of processes or systems using technology (software and/or hardware) to do repeatable or predictable workflows without requiring manual intervention. 

The result? Speeding up the way you work by removing manual steps to increase productivity and efficiency. 

Nowadays, automation in the office has largely become software-driven. Along with the migration toward cloud-based tools and applications, APIs, big data, machine learning, and artificial intelligence (AI) have paved the way for new advancements in analytics, driving even more efficient automation and the optimization of workflows. 

“Automation is at the heart of any API system. Investing in technologies and platforms with APIs makes it easy for any small business or large enterprise to automate a variety of use cases and save countless hours while seamlessly connecting tools,” says Ana Nennig, Solutions Marketing Manager for Ecosystem and Developers at Cisco Meraki. 

Benefits of automation in the workplace

With the advent of robotics and technologies, the notion that human jobs can be replaced by machines continues to simmer. 

According to a 2021 PWC survey, 60% of U.S. employees believe tech developments will improve their job prospects. Globally, 61% believe automation is putting many people’s jobs at risk.  

The reality is more nuanced and less definitive. New technologies have, for the most part, allowed us to work more efficiently while offloading wearisome tasks. 

Here are four ways you can benefit from automation in the workplace.

1. Higher productivity and performance

There’s nothing quite as soul-crushing as doing repetitive and mundane tasks all day that require little skill or effort. Reducing manual work can free up time for employees to focus on higher-value work. This can drive more innovation, giving your business a competitive edge.

In a 2021 Zapier report, 88% of SMBs said automation allows them to compete with larger companies by enabling them to move faster. 

2. Cost savings

Less time spent on mind-numbing workflows and tasks can not only result in greater productivity, but also greater cost savings. As an added bonus, this can lead to greater employee happiness, output, and even pay. 

In the height of the pandemic in 2020, conversational software company LivePerson said they saw their call-center agents’ pay increase by about 15% when they became “bot builders” to train their AI chatbots on how to answer questions. 

3. Increase safety

Employee safety is paramount in any workplace, and eliminating risks or dangerous procedures benefits everyone, particularly in manufacturing and labor-intensive environments. 

For example, with social distancing and sanitation being a major concern the past few years, companies have been able to use robots to clean floors, windows, and more. 

4. Reduce human error

When it comes to manual tasks such as data entry and invoicing, automating tedious workflows can benefit both companies and employees. Fewer mistakes translates to fewer errors, and in many cases greater employee satisfaction. 

According to Zapier, 34% of SMBs say automating tasks like data entry reduces errors. 

Disadvantages of automation in the workplace

Will robots replace all of our jobs one day? 

The Paradox of Automation says that “…the more efficient the automated system, the more crucial the human contribution of the operators. Humans are less involved, but their involvement becomes more critical.” 

Rather than replacing human jobs, it’s trending that robots may instead displace and shift jobs to new needs. MIT scientist Andrew McAfee has said, “I would put more emphasis on the way technology leads to structural changes in the economy, and less on jobs, jobs, jobs. The central phenomenon is not net job loss. It’s the shift in the kinds of jobs that are available.”

Four key challenges to keep in mind with workplace automation

1. More training

To keep your automated systems running smoothly, your employees may need to acquire new skills. New business workflows also tend to impact multiple teams and processes, meaning more training is required across your organization. 

Recommendation: Document new tools and workflows and create mandatory team or organization-level training sessions to orient teams on new processes or new policies to keep your systems running well.  

2. Initial costs

As you digitally transform your workplace, understand that implementation and maintenance costs, potential recurring fees or licensing, and investments in keeping up with the latest technologies come with the territory. 

Recommendation: Calculate the long-term ROI of investing in new technologies. Ensure it maps back to your longer-term business goals, and that the vendors you work with include a full suite of customer service and support, should there be any issues that surface. 

3. Less flexibility

Unless you invest significant efforts in building your own automated workflows for maximum customization, tool and software integrations can be limited to certain use cases or tasks. 

Recommendation: To ensure future flexibility as you grow, integrate with software providers and platforms with open APIs so you have more customization options and the ability to integrate with other services and providers as your needs evolve. 

4. More security needed

Adding new workflows, software, and applications could open up room for potential vulnerabilities in your business networks. Particularly as cybersecurity attacks have risen by 3-4x since 2020, with the shift to a hybrid work model.  

Recommendation: Deploy resilient cybersecurity solutions with threat protection to safeguard newly added applications, devices, and users in your networks. Schedule regular software and firmware updates or opt into automatic security updates when possible. 

Types of automation in the workplace to consider

Nearly all teams can benefit from automating their workflows, whether it’s an HR screening process, IT ticket routing and assigning, or even AI-controlled robots for surgery. 

The use cases are limitless. You can start by prioritizing your biggest business challenges and operational bottlenecks to uncover where repetitive work exists. Then look into flexible technologies, platforms, and ecosystems that let you improve, streamline, and automate tasks. 

Here are four powerful workplace automation ideas to help boost efficiency and employee job satisfaction.  

1. Hybrid workplace automation

For a safe return to the office, keeping spaces clean and optimizing how your spaces are used can create an inviting workplace that employees look forward to returning to. Facilitating these hybrid work experiences can be done through seamless technology integrations. 

Technology provider exampleAutomation examples
PlaceOS connects your devices, databases, buildings, and systems to help you automate room and desk booking, schedule cleaning based on space usage, and even get insights about how people use your workplace. 
Watch how PlaceOS works
Smart cleaning: Cleaning service notifications can trigger cleaning protocols by cross-checking occupancy data in your workplace Smart delivery: Enable service providers to deliver packages to employees, wherever they’re based in your building

2. Smart spaces with digital tags

Replacing physical price tags or labels with digital tags and electronic shelf label (ESL) solutions can open up new revenue streams for retailers, manufacturers, and offices. You can automatically sync, update, and optimize pricing, as well as update in-store stocking to create better customer experiences.

Technology provider exampleAutomation examples
SES-imagotag lets retailers turn physical stores into highly automated, data-driven digital assets that can connect in real time to customers and brands, all using their digital price tags and IoT hub. 
Watch how SES-Imagotag works
Increase sales: Automate prices via real-time updates and promos and detect out-of-shelf items in real timeEnhance shopper experiences: Show rich content on shelves and guide customers to the right products

3. Smart spaces with asset tracking

Manually scanning or hand-counting products at your warehouse can create burdens when it comes to traceability and reporting, while potentially introducing human error. Automating your entire logistics and supply chain through smart-tracking technologies can open up visibility and enable new operational efficiencies. 

Technology provider exampleAutomation examples

Tag-N-Trac lets manufacturers, retailers, and logistics companies automate inventory tracking and gain insight into the entire supply chain process. 

Their ultra-thin, ultra-low-cost Bluetooth® labels have built-in sensors for monitoring temperature, tampering, shock, and more. 
Watch how Tag-N-Trac works.
Inventory management: Save time by tracking global inventory levels in real time; no need for manual scanning Pharma and biotech compliance: Seal items with the QR code of the Tag-N-Trac label during packaging, while getting full access and visibility to tracing and serialization throughout the logistics lifecycle 

4. Marketing automation 

To deliver memorable customer experiences, personalization matters. Accenture found that 47% of customers are willing to pay more for an experience that exceeds their expectations. Infusing more personalization into your customer journey while automating marketing steps along the way can go a long way to delivering happiness. 

Technology provider exampleAutomation examples
Purple turns your locations into intelligent spaces by using your guest Wi-Fi and providing insights to help you understand how guests use your spaces. You can then improve visitor experiences with personalization.
Learn more about Purple.
Increase loyalty: Collect key demographic and behavioral data from customers logging into your guest Wi-Fi to build better customer profiles and enhance the customer experience Personalize campaigns: Retarget customers with specific campaigns tailored to their interests and automate communication around relevant events and promotions 

The future of work and how Meraki can help 

American philosopher Elbert Hubbard once said, “One machine can do the work of fifty ordinary men. No machine can do the work of one extraordinary man.” There’s a clear and indispensable need for both automation and humans, today and in the foreseeable future. 

The Meraki cloud-first platform powers IT and IoT technologies that let you deliver exceptional experiences for your hybrid workforce throughout your digital transformation journey. 

It all begins with our intuitive dashboard and an extensive library of open APIs and technology integrations to automate your workplace. 

In the words of Ana Nennig: “The Meraki Marketplace features an exclusive catalog of applications developed by ecosystem partners using our open APIs. They help businesses solve their operational challenges of IT and IoT and stay competitive by deploying apps in specific outcomes and experiences such as hybrid work.” 

As you innovate for the future, join our webinar and hear from Meraki Marketplace experts, Ana Nennig (Solutions Marketing Manager) and Joe Maestri (Ecosystem Business Development Manager), as well as Sabrina Venish (Global Head of Platform Solutions) from PlaceOS, on how you can automate workplace tasks and much more.