'Employee obsession' a way to prepare for automation, says TaskUs CEO

MANILA, Philippines – "Half of what we do today will be done by machines in the next 10 to 20 years," says TaskUs CEO, Bryce Maddock in an email interview with Rappler.

Maddock is well aware of the incoming wave of automation, currently a hot topic in the media. "It seems like not a day goes by without another article on how computers are automating jobs and rendering employees useless," he goes. (READ: DICT: 48% of employees to be affected by automation)

The Santa Monica, California-based company, at the start of 2017, had more than 7,000 employees spread across 11 offices, 6 of which are in the Philippines, and are targeting 10,000 employees by the end of the year. 

As the company's growth speeds up (it took them 8 years, from their debut in 2008 to the start of 2016 to get to 5,000 employees), the automation question looms bigger: What happens to the workers belonging in the half of what they do today? (WATCH: Rappler Talk: Should Filipino companies focus more on workplace culture?)

Maddock's take: "What will likely not be automated is highly complex and emotional customer service interactions which will grow more consistently complex and intense as simpler interactions are also automated... To survive, we need to move up the value chain into more complex work."

"To move up the value chain, we need to attract and retain better talent, and to do that we needed to become employee-obsessed," he said.

By "employee-obsessed," TaskUs is talking about their attractive work benefits: themed offices with gyms, free coffee, sleeping rooms, and video games; health insurance for employee and two family members; and a TaskUs scholarship, to name some. Their scholarships pay for the entire private education of one child of any employee who has worked with them for a year or more. The company also tracks employee satisfaction quarterly, and executive compensation is directly proportional to employee satisfaction scores. 

These, along with what Maddock says are "slightly above market rates for employees' salaries," may entice people to stay longer than the usual length for most other BPOs.

Incentivized growth

The thinking is that, if the employees want to keep these benefits, they'll have to find a way to be good enough to move up the value chain and learn the skills necessary for the "highly complex and emotional customer service interactions" described by Maddock. 

The more that their employees are motivated to stay, learn, and move up the value chain, the better their chances are at making it through "the dip" caused by automation as described by one US political expert at a recent Microsoft conference. As employees stay and learn, TaskUs may just be better suited to provide services that automation can't touch just yet.

Maddock also avoids giving their employees "robot work": "Highly repetitive jobs will likely be automated, and we support this. Our teammates want to be challenged, they want variety in their work, and they want to be valued and valuable. They don’t want to be treated like robots, so we don’t want to give them robot work."

Maddock also gave other examples from other tech companies that exhibit "employee obsession" like AirBnB's $2,000-a-year travel stipend and the free breakfast, lunch and dinner at Google's Mountain View campus. 

The jobs in these companies, Maddock implies are complex jobs that are somewhat safer from the clutches of automation, and says that the competition to keep talents is so intense in the tech scene that companies try to find with employee-centric ways to retain them.

It's unlike the repetitive jobs in companies like "Walmart and McDonald's," he says, which "have clearly decided that their employees don’t matter that much because they are so easy to replace today and are likely to be permanently replaced by a machine in the next two decades." – Rappler.com

Gelo Gonzales

Gelo Gonzales is Rappler’s technology editor. He covers consumer electronics, social media, emerging tech, and video games.

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