COVID-19 has pushed many companies headfirst into digital change. In a report on May 5, Forrester observed that “The COVID-19 crisis will accelerate enterprise automation plans.” And it’s easy to see where this idea has come from: amidst the limitations of the coronavirus, companies have moved towards automation to mitigate the impact of staff losses.

As the world begins to recover from COVID-19, these moves towards automation will only be accelerated, giving many companies the push they needed towards the technology. Forrester even goes as far to say that automation could save the economy from a post-COVID recession.

How is automation helping during COVID?

Automation has massive potential for improving the safety and efficiency of companies worldwide. Many factory workers face safety concerns every day. Automated machines do not face this same problem: they are not at risk of injury and can work 24/7, without food or rest.

During COVID-19, automation has become more important than ever. A requirement to reduce interaction between human beings has driven us towards automation. Machines, of course, cannot catch viruses. This means that, for many companies, automation was the only option to keep their business – and the economy – afloat.

It’s not good for everyone – but it’s not as bad as we think

Of course, this move is double-sided: while it improves safety and efficiency, it potentially puts thousands of workers at risk of unemployment. If automated machines can do their jobs, companies will implement further automation instead of rehiring post-COVID.

Forbes highlights the dangers of rushing to replace workers with machines and its potential to plunge millions into unemployment. Yet, as machines gain the capability to do manual labour-based jobs, new jobs will be created in manufacturing, supervising and maintaining these machines.

COVID has already spurred many companies towards innovation: from food delivery, to remote work, and even towards new online ways of doing business. This is merely an extension of that. However, we cannot ignore that rushing into automation could put many at risk.

Gradual but consistent innovation will be the key to abandoning workers. This will also mean preparing people for the change that automation will bring. We can do this through reskilling, upskilling and reducing the dependency on manual employment. Automation doesn’t need to replace us. It can, instead, improve the way we live and work.

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