The way that we interact in the workplace is changing. While the importance of face-to-face meetings cannot be underestimated, the influx of millennials in the workforce has led to a significant shift towards electronic communications. Recent research from PWC found that 41 per cent of millennials prefer to communicate via instant messaging, or text as opposed to in person.

While this has been well documented, this is just the beginning. There is another new technology making an impact on how we communicate and work: artificial intelligence. Its full potential is yet to be seen, however a recent report from Gartner has estimated that by 2022, one in five workers engaged in mostly nonroutine tasks will rely on AI to do a job.

What does this mean for collaborative work? Here are three ways AI can revolutionise the workplace in the coming years:

 Facial recognition technology

Largely thanks to companies like Apple, facial recognition is no longer an emerging technology that’s reserved for MI5 and those with high-security clearance, but instead is part of an average consumer’s every day. But its uses aren’t limited to user authentication, and gradually we’re going to see the incorporation of facial recognition technology in other areas of the enterprise. For example, facial recognition in remote productivity tools will provide a practical way of reading visual cues. Right now, when it comes to making big decisions, be it closing a deal, or interviewing a candidate, many still prefer face-to-face meetings as they can take into account cues that don’t translate well over the phone. But, by applying analytics to facial images on video, meeting hosts will be able to pivot their conversation if needed, and inform more effective post-meeting follow-up. This “meta-meeting”, which focuses more on the feeling of the meeting (body language, tone, etc.) rather than the actual conversation will gather insights and learnings that help the meeting host facilitate better human connections and drive positive results.

Virtual assistants

AI-powered virtual assistants are making their mark on the enterprise, and it’s already evident that there’s endless potential for the technology to have an impact on the collaboration space. By integrating AI within collaboration tools, low-value tasks, such as organising meetings, dialing in to conference calls, and transcribing audio calls can be taken on by the assistant. Although they may not sound like time intensive tasks, if an employee spends an hour a week carrying them out, that adds up to around 6.5 working days each year, suddenly becoming more significant. If virtual assistants can take on these jobs, employees are freed up to focus on higher value tasks, in turn increasing productivity within the company. And for business leaders who want to see a financial incentive before implementing new technology, a rise in productivity will drive more an improvement on the bottom line.

Although there have been concerns raised that virtual assistants and AI will rise up to replace the human workforce, the truth of the matter is that the rise of virtual assistants will allow us to focus more on the actual work and less on mundane tasks that can be automated. However, to ease any transitions, companies should educate employees on where virtual assistants will be used within the company and how they’ll be an advantage. Similarly, if roles are changing, existing and new employees should be given the adequate training and support.

The future collaborative work spaces

By enhancing the collaboration tools we use, AI will also shape how and where we work. We’ve already seen a rise in mobile, on-the-go working, and the emergence of the gig economy, but AI powered technology, especially with respect to collaboration tools, will encourage this even more. Employees no longer need to be chained to a desk in an office, with technology giving us the freedom to work wherever is convenient. Yes, emailing from the bus on the way to work might not seem so novel, but with AI, the types of jobs we carry out away from the office will change. For example, as alluded to above, facial recognition technology and the meta meeting could encourage business leaders to carry out important business meetings remotely, as opposed to face-to-face.

Working remotely and hot-desking are already a given in many companies who recognise that the needs and wants of employees are shifting. Similarly, collaborative office spaces are already being seen as the first-choice option for many freelance workers and small businesses, allowing them to access all the benefits from a permanent office without the high rent prices. AI and collaboration technology will only facilitate these styles of working even more.

What’s clear that the way we work is evolving, largely due to an increasingly tech-savvy workforce. thanks to technology. Collaboration tools are already fostering remote working, but as they become more advanced, this small shift in working has the potential to become seismic. AI-powered technology will be a main source of fire that fuels this change, allowing employees to get more out of their enterprise software, be it through virtual assistants or facial recognition technology. Companies who recognise this will be able to attract employees, increase productivity and revenues, and edge ahead of their competition.

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Senior Manager, Product Marketing, Collaboration Products at LogMeIn. Alix has been at LogMeIn since 2012 and has held roles in product and marketing - leading messaging, content, and campaigns for join.me. Outside of work, Alix lives in a Boston suburb with her husband and (almost) one year old son.