Artificial Intelligence In The Workplace: What Most Leaders Don’t Understand

What do these three things have in common?

  • When I want to drive at a constant speed, I can set the cruise control in my car.
  • When I want to hear music in my lounge room, I say to my Google Home assistant, “Hey Google, play some music” – and it automatically plays my favourite music.
  • I’m writing this article in Microsoft Word, which allows me to edit and change it quickly.

This is not a very difficult question, and the answer is simple: These are all examples of technology helping me in my life.

OK, that’s pretty obvious, but I wanted to make this point to lead in to a discussion about artificial intelligence (AI) in the workplace.

Every indicator shows the integration of AI in the workplace is growing – and growing rapidly:

  • 85% of executives believe AI can help them gain a competitive advantage (MIT Sloan Management Review).
  • Employer demand for AI-related roles has more than doubled over the last three years (Indeed).
  • 82% of leaders expect their employees and machines to work as “integrated teams” within the next few years (Dell).

Many employees also look forward to working with AI. According to MetLife’s 16th Annual US Employee Benefit Trends Study, 56% of (American) employees were positive and optimistic about AI. And a Workforce Institute survey found employees would welcome AI that increased fairness or improved decision-making.

But it’s not all unicorns and rainbows!

The Australian government report “Australia’s Future Workforce” predicts up to 40% of jobs in Australia are likely to be automated in the next 10-15 years. That doesn’t mean the robots are coming for all our jobs, but 40% is a significant amount. So, “robophobia” – the fear of AI, automation, and related technology – is real.

But that doesn’t mean we should all give up!

Just as with the three examples I gave above about technology helping people, that will be the way with AI as well. People and machines are better together than either of them alone.

For example, here are ten situations where AI is already operating in modern workplaces:

  1. AI chatbots answer simple questions instantly in sales, customer service, and internal support.
  2. AI helps HR and recruiters find suitable candidates and identify potential people problems.
  3. AI manages simple, repetitive tasks like scheduling meetings.
  4. AI and IoT devices constantly monitor the workplace to create safer, more productive, and more effective work environments.
  5. AI handles complex repetitive tasks, such as reading and interpreting contracts.
  6. AI records meetings and transcribes conversations to simplify search and retrieval.
  7. AI monitors physical assets and inventory levels to optimise maintenance, ordering stock, and employee workloads.
  8. AI analyses user sentiment on social media and other communication channels.
  9. AI listens to sales calls in real time, and offers coaching tips to salespeople to improve their future calls.
  10. AI integrates with online learning tools to guide employees to improve their learning.

In these scenarios, we’re using the technology to do the “heavy lifting”, and it can simplify – and sometimes eliminate – the boring, repetitive work for humans. That frees up people to make better decisions, exercise judgement, and apply their emotional intelligence skills.

If you’re a leader thinking about adopting AI in your workplace, my first piece of advice is: Yes, do it!

The second piece of advice is to reassure your team members that AI is just like other technology: It will help them do their job better, and that’s a good thing.

Listen to My Conversation on ABC Radio

I discussed this topic of AI in the workplace last week with Barry Nicholls on ABC Radio. You can listen to that interview here:

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