Don’t View Your Cobot as Competition

We’re seeing more robots and machines being used in more types of work: customer service, fast food, retail, construction, office jobs, healthcare, and many other fields. Whether or not increased automation is a good thing depends on who you ask. However, it’s clear that machines are here to stay regardless of how you feel about machines in the workplace. We will continue to automate whatever we can as technology improves and allows for it.

So instead of worrying about how we feel about robots entering the workplace, we should turn our attention to how robots make us feel while we’re working with them. Humans have feelings, and it doesn’t take another person—or even another living thing— to stir some of those feelings.

People can develop an attachment to or fondness for non-living things. It happens all the time. People give their vehicles names; they talk to their trucks and scrub their sedans every night. Maybe you have a favorite spatula that is bent at the perfect angle for flipping omelettes—you would never part with it. Maybe you have a coffee pot that goes on family vacations with you. Perhaps you once had a special shirt you loved, and you felt a twinge of physical pain when it got ripped or stained.

The way we view robots matters

Behavioral psychologists are examining how the presence of robots makes workers feel and how it affects their job performance. Corinne Purtill wrote an article for BBC which examined what people are looking for in a robot coworker.

  • We do better with robots when they’re not viewed as competition.
  • People also did better when they viewed the machine as a tool rather than a rival.
  • People get frustrated when machines don’t do the task they were designed to do properly. We don’t want our machines to be too capable, though.
  • It turns out that people like it when machines make mistakes; we get bored and disengaged if machines are too good at what they do.
  • We also don’t want our robots to look intimidating: scary, overly sophisticated, or too intelligent.
  • Robots should be predictable we need to know what they can do, and where they are going to move.

It’s important to think about the relationship that people can develop with inanimate objects as machines, AI, and robots become more common in workplaces.

Imagine clocking in every day and sitting in a room with a perfect and shiny robot that’s doing what you do, only better; it doesn’t make mistakes, it doesn’t take breaks, and it may one day replace you. That would take a toll on any employee.

The way that we frame things influences how we view things. Recognizing machines as helping us rather than as competition or as a replacement can make a difference in how we feel with robots in the workplace.