The Next IT Management Challenge:

Kamyar Shah, CEO of management consulting firm World Consulting Group, says the biggest challenge for IT leaders who manage human robotic teams is to ensure that the work environment has and can sustain a spirit of collaboration. When bots are added to a team, human workers often assume the worst – that their jobs will be reduced or eliminated. “However, if IT leaders show that bots are put in place to help and not harm or take down service, it will calm human employees and make them more open to learning and collaborating with bots,” he said.

Robots have evolved so rapidly that they are becoming much more than just a piece of hardware that can perform some basic production tasks. “IT leaders need to address the role of defending the business value that these software-driven machines can offer today in manufacturing and warehousing,” says Jim Lawton, vice president and general manager of robotics automation at inventory tracking company Zebra Technologies.

Reassurance and support can go a long way toward calming workers’ fears, notes Anita Williams Woolley, associate professor of organizational behavior and theory at Carnegie Mellon University’s Tepper School of Business. “In general, the biggest challenge is building trust so that humans view robots as teammates,” she says.

a matter of trust

Building trust, both between humans and between humans and their robot colleagues, includes cognitive, emotional, and emotional components. The cognitive component includes knowledge of the partner’s capabilities; What are they good at versus their weaknesses or weaknesses. That way you’ll know when you can count on them to do the work independently, and, as expected, versus when you’ll need to monitor or re-check what they’re doing or how they’re doing it, says Woolley.

Zebra Technologies

Shah believes that training and communication are the best ways to make robot teams work effectively. “Once employees understand how a robot works and the purpose of working with them, the process of teaching employees how to work alongside these machines will be much easier and more efficient,” he says. In addition, by working closely with their colleagues in operations, IT leaders can determine exactly how the robot will work alongside humans.

Current generation robots are controlled by software that goes beyond simple repetitive motions. “Advanced systems regulate how the bot works with people, where it goes and when, all while collecting data that can be captured in data lakes,” says Lawton. “These innovations make IT involvement in the automation process critical.”

Ensure harmony between human and robot

Careful supplier selection and planning can go a long way toward creating harmonious human teams. IT leaders bring tremendous value, through expertise in designing user experiences for maximum impact. “When the process is easy and seamless enough for people of different levels to be comfortable working with and around robots, there is no doubt that the team will work together effectively,” says Lawton.

The best way to address complaints from team members is to listen to everything they have to say. “Don’t ignore any complaints; Take each one seriously,” advises Shah. Ask questions to achieve clarity. “A problem might be as simple as clarifying something or answering a troubleshooting question,” he notes. Also be prepared to take action, if needed. Shah suggests: “If someone has a serious problem with a bot, don’t just sit back and wait for it to be resolved – go ahead and help your team member address the problem.”

In contrast to human conflicts, it is often helpful to look beyond an immediate complaint and investigate any potential underlying concerns. Woolley advises managers to share their concerns about human-robot collaboration: “Are they concerned about losing authority or respect by handing over responsibility to a piece of technology? Is there sufficient transparency in the decision-making capabilities and capabilities of the fellow technology? Are they concerned about the level of authority they have? To override their teammate’s decisions or actions?”

Anita Williams Woolley-Carnegie Mellon.  jpg
Anita Williams Woolley, Carnegie Mellon

Some employees may be reluctant to work alongside robots due to negative personal experiences with early robotic systems. “Previously, the manufacture and storage of robots was restricted to completing repetitive tasks,” says Lawton. “People have realized that these machines are not able to adapt to the environment or contribute to continuous improvement.” Additionally, because many early robots were dangerous, employees were often warned to stay away from the machines.

Unlike its predecessors, today’s advanced collaborative robots, such as autonomous mobile robots, are specifically designed to work alongside people. “It’s in our nature as humans to be skeptical,” notes Lawton. “Overcoming this uncertainty and building human-robot collaboration begins with making sure that colleagues who will be working with robots are part of the strategy and implementation of any automation project.”


Lawton believes that robotics should be seen as a disruptive technology that has the potential to create better and safer workplaces. “With today’s innovation in automation, there is a real potential to free people from dirty, boring, and dangerous work to focus on what people do best: creativity, problem-solving and innovation.”

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