How AI is changing the digital workplace
Artificial Intelligence (AI) is changing the workplace in many ways. For HR and comms people, it can be tricky keeping up with the impact it is having, and the potential it has for improving company culture and the employee experience. Here, we explore the human impact AI is making in the workplace.
Although it’s sometimes mooted by the mainstream media as a job-stealing technology, AI in the workplace isn’t something to be feared. It’s evident from the many applications of AI we’re already seeing across the digital workplace that it is enhancing the way we perform our roles, so the idea it could turn on us like HAL 9000 in 2001: A Space Odyssey is a little far-fetched.
AI is attracting a lot of healthy investment, especially in applications that enhance the employee experience (EX). A recent IDC report estimates that over £650 billion will be spent on future-of-work technologies this year alone, and that the largest growth in spending between 2020 and 2024 will be on software. This includes AI and analytics, enterprise and human resources applications, and content and collaboration tools.
Let’s look at some of the most interesting AI use cases in the digital workplace:
Learning and development
Learning and development (L&D) has always been crucial to business growth and success, yet the delivery of workplace training is an area that is undergoing its own rapid development. Traditional group-based learning doesn’t always provide the right learning environment, structure, or results for every individual, and in recent years there has been a growing emphasis on more tailored and flexible development programs.
Better L&D delivery can also help organizations recover from the pandemic. With workers more willing to quit their roles and pursue new opportunities as a result of the pandemic, this Great Resignation challenge has left many enterprises struggling to retain and attract skilled people. To prevent and overcome skills gaps, organizations need to consider effective L&D strategies to help re-skill their workforces.
L&D and coaching are both areas where AI and automation are making an impact. Rather than removing the human element, AI and automation are streamlining traditionally manual processes associated with coaching and development, helping to reduce time and cost. One way this is being achieved is by pairing learners with courses and coaches who are accurately matched to their specific learning styles and requirements. Automation of reminders to complete learning modules and practice new skills in real-life situations also helps learners to put learning into action.
AI-driven algorithms are also helping to identify where employees could benefit from training in specific areas that help them thrive both inside and outside of work, such as leadership skills, or help coping with stress, depression, or sleep issues.
Automating tasks and balancing workloads
The events of the last two years have seen the desire for workplace automation evolve from a nice-to-have to a business imperative, according to Forrester. The Great Resignation has been driven by employees taking stock of what they find meaningful about their roles and looking for new opportunities if the boring and arduous tasks aren’t outweighed by exciting and fulfilling ones.
The automation of manual, repetitive tasks allows employees to spend more time on fulfilling and value-add tasks that help to grow the business and their own potential. This helps to improve the digital employee experience (DEX) and reduce attrition, but when people do leave, automation of the manual portion of their workload can help to reduce the burden on their team when the individual is not replaced immediately. This also removes the need to rush a new starter into the role, and provides more time to find somebody who is the right fit.
Automation can also add value to time management, and the time spent looking for information, awaiting input from colleagues, or seeking approvals. AI-based systems that can identify which tasks need attention and when they need it can notify the right people at the right time, removing the time and stress of continually assessing priorities and chasing others for input.
AI-driven transcriptions and speech analysis
A raft of new transcription and speech analysis technologies based on Automated Speech Recognition (ASR) and Natural Language Processing (NLP) are allowing people to transcribe audio instantly. From making notes and recording minutes to understanding conversations with customers and clients and producing marketing content, employees no longer need to rely on hastily scrawled notes.
It’s estimated that the speech and voice recognition market will be worth $22 billion by 2026. One reason for its growth could be the rise of video conferencing in the wake of the pandemic. Where some employees may struggle to process or take note of all of the information shared with them during a virtual call or meeting, an AI-powered transcription plugin can autonomously produce a transcript of the call while it’s taking place.
Similarly, voice recognition and audio transcription technologies can improve both the employee and customer experience in customer service departments. Live transcription during a customer service call can help customer service agents comprehend what difficult-to-understand customers are trying to communicate. The addition of sentiment analysis technology can determine whether the caller is feeling positive, negative, or neutral, based on their tone. Some iterations of this technology will then suggest responses for the agent to turn a negative or neutral situation into a positive one.
Many of us have become accustomed to using virtual assistants such as Siri and Alexa, but now we’re beginning to see similar AI-powered assistants entering the workplace. Gartner predicts that by 2023, 25% of employee interactions will be voice-based communications, and that by 2025, 50% of knowledge workers will use a virtual assistant on a daily basis. Working with data is one area where this is proving to be particularly effective.
For example, people working with complex data sets can get the answers they need without spending time and brainpower crunching the numbers or running the data through various tools and calculators. Simply asking a virtual assistant with augmented analytical capabilities questions about the data can provide quick and simple answers to complex equations, and explanations of specific data points.
In the near future, we should expect to see deep learning capabilities in workplace virtual assistant technologies. This will enable assistants to understand employees’ decision-making processes, and apply those same processes to different scenarios, resulting in faster and smarter recommendations to aid decision-making.
Connecting enterprises through content recommendations
As the future of work becomes increasingly dispersed, encouraging engagement and facilitating connections between colleagues outside of their immediate teams will be essential to building a social workplace and upholding a strong and vibrant company culture.
This is where user-generated content on an organization’s intranet software becomes valuable. Getting that content in front of other employees can be a challenge though, especially when everyone is working across multiple digital platforms and digesting multichannel messaging. Ensuring individuals are exposed to content that aligns with their interests will also become increasingly important to make employees feel valued through personalized experiences.
“HR should always have a finger on the pulse of the current employee experience. What do workers want across their digital, social, and environmental experiences, and is your organization meeting those needs? Mechanisms and technology that allow for real-time feedback and sentiment analysis may ensure that workers feel heard and allow the organization to respond swiftly in the moments that matter.”
Interact allows individuals who are part of large enterprises to be matched with intranet content that will resonate with them. The AI understands their content preferences and ensures content that matches those preferences is automatically recommended. This serendipitous content discovery helps to unite and connect enterprises by encouraging employees to engage with intranet content generated by colleagues they may not otherwise engage with or even meet in person. This bolsters the idea of the social workplace and the general sense of belonging. Having a searchable people directory is another important part of this as the filling of user profiles helps colleagues to connect.
Enhancing the human experience
While these are just a few of the existing and developing workplace use cases, there are many interesting ways that AI is beginning to change the way we work. AI will continue to reshape the workplace as new and existing applications continue to evolve, and rather than turning work into a soulless, robotic exercise, its presence is only enhancing the human element of work, from the way we develop our skillsets, manage our workloads, and, perhaps most importantly, interact with each other.