We all know the term ‘digital worker’ by now – used to describe the non-physical (or non-human) entities that run some of an organisation’s automated processes. They’re the robots themselves. They might be automated processes that run with no human interaction, or they might require initiation or input from your organisation’s human workforce.

Either way, they’re bits of technology, right? Well, yes – to a point. However, if we continue to think about them as just that, our digital workforce programmes are destined to fail.

It’s time for a mindset shift – and a name change.

Moving a mindset

Benefits for introducing digital colleagues to a business are plentiful – including improved customer experience, faster processing and turnaround times, greater accuracy, and improved compliance with lowered risk. Not to mention increased scalability and setting the stage for increased artificial automation (AI) within a business.

However, what you’re ideally aiming to do when introducing automation is create a unified workforce that helps you achieve your vision more efficiently and effectively. A digital workforce can drive business transformation, but it’s the mindset and the approach to implementation and change management that make the difference, more than the technology itself. A McKinsey article goes so far as to say, “Automation is not about technology deployment but about managing complexity and cultural change, capturing impact and building capabilities.”

Success then, depends on how an organisation adopts and brings to life a new technology within the business. We need our human workforces to adopt (and like) their digital colleagues as part of a new way of working. We want them to be motivated to come up with better ways of doing things and invested in how they can best utilise their digital colleagues in achieving the vision. After all, transformation comes from having an organisation that is sustainable and evolving. It also comes from having a mindset – in all your people – that inspires constant thinking about opportunities and ways to improve or innovate.

However, change isn’t as simple as just flicking a switch – it takes time for people to adapt and change. That’s why change management – and bringing them along on the journey – is vital. It’s also why the words we use when we introduce or promote these concepts matter.

What’s in a name?

It seems like an obvious statement to say that words matter, but science backs up my point that how we talk about things influences how we feel about them. The research shows that we respond to words at a visceral, autonomic level. David Hauser, a doctoral candidate from the University of Michigan Department of Psychology, and his colleague Norbert Schwarz, provost professor of psychology at the University of South Carolina, conducted five experiments to uncover how the everyday context of a word sways people’s judgment and decision-making.

“Some words have a meaning to them that we don’t often think about but yet still affects us, which has applications to persuasion, social influence and bias in our judgments and decisions,” Hauser explains.

So how does this impact a digital workforce? Let’s start with a look at the term ‘worker’ – as in digital worker. A worker connotes an employee or a labourer, usually blue collar, and historically could have been substituted for the words peasant, proletarian, slave, or serf.

Now let’s take a look at the idea of a colleague. Suddenly, our minds are awash with terms like team-mate, ally, or partner. We think of a companion or comrade, even a buddy. And this is exactly my point. A digital colleague is someone (or something) that your people work alongside in a collaborative or synergistic manner – in much the same way as they would a human colleague.

This is what we need in order to maximise the benefits of a digital workforce in an organisation. Digital colleagues help your people – whether by providing customers with more up-to-date information or faster turnarounds for a better experience, or by taking the load off already overstretched teams.

Organisations are still, and will remain, comprised of people. And digital colleagues represent the next great chapter in the human-machine collaboration, if we can evolve our mindsets to see them as such.