Increasing office automation makes it easier for a small business to compete with larger competitors, but progress always comes at a price. For example, when personal computers first became an affordable option, many businesses could offer better and faster service to their customers. But when certain work skills became obsolete, human resources departments had to find ways to maximize the positive effects of the changes while minimizing any negative effects on employees.

Effects on Labor Demand

Positions that require relatively few skills -- such as clerical workers and lower-level office staff -- tend to disappear as office automation increases. For example, as word processors and computers became more prevalent, drafting and designing business documents became more efficient. On the negative side, fewer workers were needed to perform the same amount of work, so unskilled entry-level positions began to decrease. On the positive side, rapidly changing technology always creates a demand for knowledgeable operators and technicians, so increased office automation tends to lead to a demand for skilled workers.

Effects on a Business' Structure

Regardless of whether a business trains old employees or hires new employees, the structure of an organization is likely to change in the wake of office automation. For example, automation often fundamentally alters the nature of the work performed, according to a report published by the U.S. Congress Office of Technology Assessment. New tasks are introduced while old tasks are discarded, and the order of the work process might shift. The positive effect is that the new system can improve the function of the business, making it more competitive. But the unavoidable negative effect is that old employees might not fit into the new structure.

Role of Human Resources

A business’s human resources department must analyze a proposed change in office automation to determine its potential positive and negative effects on current staff and future hiring protocols. For example, suppose an accounting firm wants to switch from a physical filing system to an electronic database system. The strategic goals of such a move might be to expedite filing and to cut costs, but the technological change likely would have negative effects, such as employee layoffs if formerly necessary tasks are rendered obsolete. In other words, the price of the improved system is that some employees would need to be replaced with people who had the technical skills to operate and manage the new database.


In some cases, a human resources department might be able to minimize the negative effects of office automation by offering training programs to help staff members transition to the new office environment. For example, if a company adopts a new computer program to handle transactions, the software vendor might offer training options to help employees learn the new system. However, in cases where training is impossible or unaffordable, a business and its HR department must make the difficult choice between technological progress and loyalty to the current staff.