Every year, Workfront produces a comprehensive report called  The State of Work that checks the pulse of the British workplace at large. Over the years, the report has corroborated what many of us know to be true- that emails are an annoying, but kind of a necessary evil. That we all wish we could work more flexibly and that most meetings are a waste of time. This year, however, one important finding was that many office workers are actually quite excited about increased automation in the workplace, 3 in 4 to be more specific.

Now, this stat may surprise those who’ve been banging the drum about a machine apocalypse a la Terminator, but I’d wager that it wouldn’t come as news to anyone who has been closely following the developments in automation and robotics, especially as they pertain to improving productivity in the workplace.

Man vs Robot

When we dug a little deeper, we found that the overwhelming reason workers welcomed automation was because it freed them up to focus on their primary work duties. Too many of us spend a large part our day on non-essential tasks. In fact, according to our research, only 40% of our working day is spent on the primary duties of our jobs. Our findings show that we’re itching to work on the parts of our jobs that require nuance, consultation and wisdom, elements that still require the ‘human touch’, and we’re more than happy to automate the rest. However, as the limits of automation expand further, what we consider “human-only” tasks has begun to shrink at a dramatic rate.

Tasks involving data analysis can be automated relatively simply, but what we’ve seen with recent technological advances are more soft-skill tasks like customer service and copywriting being automated as well. British workers don’t seem to be that concerned about these advances. In fact, 92% believe that no matter how sophisticated artificial intelligence becomes, there will always be the need for the human touch in the workplace.

It appears workers are bracing themselves for a future where humans and AI coexist, each doing the jobs the other can’t or won’t do.

Most of the scaremongering headlines we see about AI focus on how robots may displace humans from jobs in the future. When we actually spoke to workers about this, we found their response was quite nuanced. 38% thought in workers will have to compete with robots/machines and AI for jobs in the not-so-distant future, but 82% also expressed optimism about the opportunity to learn new things as the workforce moves towards automation. It appears workers are bracing themselves for a future where humans and AI coexist, each doing the jobs the other can’t or won’t do.

Disrupting the status quo

Several industries and fields are already utilising artificial intelligence in advanced ways that not only improve individual productivity but also fundamentally optimise performance in ways that simply were not possible before. Here are four areas where AI is currently making a big impact in how work is done:

1- People Analytics

AI is helping large companies understand patterns in unplanned absences and then pre-scheduling extra staff when the data tells it people are likely to be away from work. The automobile industry is already doing this, and many shift-based companies are looking into investing in technology that can predict behaviour based on established patterns. Some HR departments are already using software that analyses email metadata to better understand why some employees are more productive than others.

2- Algorithmic Website Personalisation

Website personalisation is the ability for a website to serve visitors with highly personalised and contextual information. It’s of great value to B2B or B2C companies. Artificial intelligence can monitor a website’s analytics every second of the day and enable content customisation based on a user’s location, demographics, online behaviour/history, and other factors.

3- Automated Customer Service

Businesses already collect a large amount of data from customers, from their browsing habits, purchases, customer-service inquiries, and even visits to brick-and-mortar locations. The vast amount of data collected can often present a challenge when it comes to processing it. That’s where artificial intelligence comes in. AI can analyse the data to predict a customer’s shopping behaviour and serve them with the relevant information on the website or through in-store marketing. Artificial intelligence can use that data to more quickly solve customer-initiated concerns and even anticipate issues before they occur.

4- Automated Resource Management

Resource management is a tricky beast. It involves balancing several variables, often out of one’s control. It’s not easy to figure out team schedules, weigh the impact of new projects against current priorities, and assign individual tasks in a way that keeps everyone busy and all workloads in balance. Artificial intelligence can automatically allocate tasks to those who are most available and relevant to the work, giving a manager final say whether to use or override the recommendations.

The Future is Now

So the future is definitely automated, but not in the Terminator or iRobot way that most people think. The future will see happier and purposeful workers who know they are spending every minute of their day doing things that not only matter… but things that only humans can do. That’s the kind of future we all want to see. That, and a robot that brings you your morning coffee.

[clickToTweet tweet=”So the future is definitely automated, but not in the Terminator or iRobot way that most people think.” quote=”So the future is definitely automated, but not in the Terminator or iRobot way that most people think.”]

Work automation tools are already working their way into future-ready organisations. These tools have made tremendous strides in putting an end to busywork, slashing the hours spent tackling email, eliminating days’ worth of unproductive meetings, and eliminating other productivity bottlenecks.

With these new platforms, employees now have more time and opportunity to focus on actually getting the job done through ingenuity, creativity, and strategy rather than wasting so much time on tasks that contribute virtually nothing to business success or the bottom line.

The workforce has sent a message loud and clear: they’re ready for automation tools that free them to apply their time and talents for the real jobs you’ve hired them for.

Vice President, Marketing at Workfront.

AI Readiness - Harnessing the Power of Data and AI


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