Artificial Intelligence and us: embracing workplace automation
Artificial intelligence isn’t just a buzzword anymore. It’s a powerful tool reshaping our work lives in ways we would never have imagined a short time ago. But with great power comes great apprehension, as the importance of humane AI becomes more apparent.
Work management platform Asana has released new data from its Work Innovation Lab. Based on a survey of 2,741 UK workers, the data reveals attitudes towards AI use in the workplace.
A panel of speakers, curated by Asana, came together to discuss the data in London’s Gherkin Building. Panellists shared their insights on the impact of technology on working practices, job security, and humane AI.
The conversation reveals that, while there’s widespread excitement and optimism about new technology, there’s also an underlying concern about its effect on employment — and a glaring disconnect between execs and their teams. Below are some of the main takeaways from that discussion.
Relief from tedium
You’re sitting at your desk, going through the tedious and time-consuming process of number crunching, data analysis, and setting goals. It’s not exactly the most exciting part of your workday, is it? But what if there was a way to automate these mundane tasks?
That’s the promise of Artificial Intelligence. It can handle the repetitive aspects of our jobs: research, analysis, finding patterns in data, or collating information from multiple sources, freeing us to focus on the aspects we enjoy.
With 4 in 10 UK employees reporting a high burnout rate in their organisations, AI presents a solution. AI can be like a highly efficient assistant that never makes mistakes or gets tired.
Asana’s study found that almost half of UK workers see AI as a tool to help their companies achieve their goals more effectively than traditional working methods. However, despite the opportunities it presents, only 5% of companies are using AI to assist with goal setting.
The fear factor
According to Asana’s data, 92% of employees favour using AI to enhance certain aspects of their job. They approve of its implementation in development and training (61%), and customer service interactions (50%). Other areas mentioned were decision-making processes (32%), and hiring processes (26%).
However, some people hesitate to embrace Artificial Intelligence at work. It could be due to fear of the unknown — they worry that AI will take over their jobs, making them redundant. Trust could also play a part as people wonder if they can rely on AI to do their work accurately.
One of the significant findings of Asana’s data is the difference in opinion between executives and employees regarding AI. Only 30% of employees understand their organisation’s AI plans clearly. In comparison, 39% of executives believe that they have been transparent. Similarly, 61% of executives think AI will help their businesses achieve their goals and targets. Whereas only 46% of employees agree.
AI buy-in staff vs management
So, how do you remedy the concerns of non-digital employees? According to the panel, not enough people are using AI in the most effective ways at work because they haven’t been appropriately trained. This is why bringing employees along for the ride regarding training and implementation is essential.
“You’re dead in the water if your own people can’t put their hands up and say, ‘I know how this works’,” says panellist Rebecca Hinds, head of the Work Innovation Lab at Asana. “There need to be straightforward blueprints across every level of the business so that the core functional roles are involved every step of the way. That would increase their buy-in.”
Asana’s study found that 25% of execs say they provide adequate training on new AI software, which is already low. And yet, only 11% of employees agreed.
Hinds says that it’s crucial to spend time understanding the new tech, and how data will be used and analysed before using it and implementing it business-wide.
She continues: “Decades of research shows that implementing new technology fails in most cases not because the technology isn’t efficient, but because humans naturally resist change. We must prioritise change management, upskilling and reskilling, and experimentation to make Artificial Intelligence successful.
“And this requires a time commitment. I encourage my team to dedicate 30 minutes daily or even 30 minutes weekly to learning how to incorporate AI into their work.”
Bridging this gap means aligning everyone’s understanding and vision of AI. According to Sanj Bhayro, general manager of EMEA at Asana — who hosted the panel — states that implementing AI will significantly change the responsibilities of leaders and organisations.
While some employees may welcome AI, they need transparency from executives regarding the AI plans and policies. Bhayro stresses that with leadership guidance, employees are more likely to understand, adopt, and trust the use of AI tools in their companies. This understanding and trust will be critical for companies moving into the new era of AI and work.
The panel concluded that employees must be included in AI decision-making. They should be given practical training to use AI tools to achieve this. The goal is to take incremental steps and ease into the AI world, ensuring everyone feels comfortable and confident.
Ethics and transparency
According to the panel, adopting a human-centred or ‘humane AI’ approach is critical as we progress towards an AI-powered future. That means using Artificial Intelligence to enhance our human skills — rather than replacing them. We need to be transparent about how we use AI and ensure that we use it ethically and responsibly.
Transformations in the job market are beginning to reflect this. Similarly to the rise in demand for remote work opportunities post-pandemic, many job seekers now prefer human-centred AI.
Adoption of a humane AI approach (44%) listed in the top three AI-related career considerations. The others were company transparency about AI use (56%), and offering training on AI (40%).
Innovation forecaster, Shivvy Jervis, also sat on the panel. She said that business leaders need to understand the importance of humanity in AI, and ensure that the process is human led. She added that businesses must pay attention to this as staff turnover and retention will be impacted, not to mention the commercial fallout of not considering it.
Moreover, Jervis added that a lack of transparency and ethics in AI practices can result in reputational fallout, with media and stakeholders holding companies accountable for their actions. As job seekers look for companies adopting a humane AI approach, businesses that fail to do this risk losing out on top talent.
Managing expectations — and risks
The technology is advancing way faster than we’re adopting it, which the panel observed will continue. AI has proven its effectiveness in various areas, such as freeing time, market intelligence and data analysis, enhancing supply chain issues, reducing expenses, digital learning, and upskilling.
It also improves customer service. By providing faster solutions and effective help centres, businesses can increase customer retention, improving the overall customer experience.
That’s not to say that there is a lot of legitimate concern regarding AI in the workplace. There is the potential to obsolete jobs, leading to many redundancies. And perceptions still need to change — a third of all workers believe that they will be perceived as ‘lazy’ for using AI in their work, despite its potential to drastically improve their productivity and time management.
As Inken Kuhlmann-Rhinow, chief marketing officer at recruiter Hays said: “The opportunities we face are exciting, but we need to be aware of the risks.
“Artificial Intelligence is still in its infancy, so regulating how assets are generated, and processes are monitored is crucial. Bias can lead to skewed messaging, and data can be compromised if safeguards are not considered… with automation, we can free up the time we need to spend with our most important asset. People.”
The panel agreed that despite any initial concerns, there’s no need to fear the increasing use of sophisticated algorithms. In fact, these tools can liberate us from tedious tasks. It can free up more time for creativity, innovation, and collaboration with our peers. With these newfound opportunities, we can pursue our passions, develop new skills, and make a more meaningful impact in our work.
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