Author: Terry Walby, Founder and CEO of Thoughtonomy
7 May 2019
AI, when used in a knowledge worker environment to deliver intelligent automation, enables businesses to automate a range of workplace processes in a fast, effective and secure way. As a result, organisations are redefining how work is resourced across their operations, based on the relative strengths and capabilities of human and digital labour.
This hybrid human-AI workforce enables businesses to be more agile when responding to disruption and changing regulations, allowing them to pursue new opportunities that would be impossible with a traditional approach to resourcing.
Organisations need to tackle any internal resistance to automation head-on by highlighting the benefits AI can deliver to employees themselves
But it’s important to remember that the introduction of AI is about more than processes and technology. There is a significant ‘people’ element to AI and automation, not just for the staff who are seeing parts of their job become automated, but also across the workforce in terms of the skills, mindset and cultural behaviours required to make AI and automation a success.
Here, we outline five tips to prepare a workforce for the introduction of AI and to ensure a smooth, harmonious transition to a hybrid resourcing model.
Remove the fear by proving the benefits
Often, the biggest challenge with the introduction of AI is getting sceptical staff to see the benefits when so much of the narrative around automation remains highly emotive, fed by media reports that automation will lead to millions of jobs being replaced by machines.
Of course, there will be some job displacement in the future, but there will also be enormous job creation. Most industries will witness a whole range of strategic, high-value jobs being created in place of more tactical, lower-paid, back-office roles.
Organisations need to tackle any internal resistance to automation head-on by highlighting the benefits AI can deliver to employees themselves, as well as to the business. It’s about demonstrating how AI can remove the burden of mundane and repetitive administrative tasks and free employees up to focus on more creative and fulfilling work, learn new skills and enjoy a more varied career.
Be transparent and inclusive
You’d have to be living under a rock to be unaware that AI and automation are set to transform the world of work over the next 10 to 20 years. Yet, very few organisations are currently communicating with their employees about this shift in any meaningful way – this needs to change.
We’ve seen some wonderful examples of organisations that have educated staff about the benefits of a digital workforce in a creative way. Some have run competitions among staff to name their virtual co-workers, while others have had initiatives asking people from across the workforce to nominate the mundane and labourious tasks (the ones they really don’t want to spend time on) that would be ripe for AI and automation to replace.
These sorts of initiatives are good because they get the entire workforce thinking about how AI and automation could benefit them personally. As a result, they become invested in the journey to a hybrid workforce and comfortable with the idea of working alongside AI.
Focus on learning
The majority of us will see our roles and the types of work we undertake alter as AI is deployed more widely within organisations. This means we need to develop new skills that support and complement the contribution of AI and digital labour. Much has been written about the need for more digital skills within European workforces, but human workers will also need to display greater creativity, objectivity and agility to maximise the benefits of AI and drive their organisations forward. The World Economic Forum predicts that the average worker will need an extra 101 days of learning by 2022 to prepare for the introduction of AI.
In a fluid labour market, people simply aren’t prepared to spend time in unfulfilling roles. Instead, they demand stimulating work and expect employers to equip them with the most up-to-date skills. AI provides a platform for employers to develop a more attractive brand that differentiates it from the competition.
Create automation champions
It’s important that businesses ensure each department has its own ‘automation champions’ who can help their peers get to grips with automation technology and work effectively alongside machine employees. These individuals also have a crucial role to play in identifying a pipeline of processes that can be evaluated for automation on an ongoing basis
After all, it’s the people working on the front line within each department who are best placed to identify high-volume mundane tasks or process bottlenecks that are ripe for automation, rather than senior executives or the automation team.
Establish a culture of automation
The ultimate goal for organisations is to instil a positive culture of automation within the workforce, where people are proactively looking to automate some of their work to free up their capacity and feel comfortable handing over tasks to AI and virtual workers.
Such a culture can be achieved over time by communicating a steady stream of positive news about how the company’s virtual workers are helping individuals, teams and the organisation as a whole to be more successful. While it is critical that everyone understands the wider context of AI (faster processes, reduced costs, better customer experiences), more personal stories are often overlooked. Employers should encourage workers to share their experiences of working with AI and how it has impacted their morale, motivation and career prospects.
We talk about AI and the virtual workforce empowering people to maximise their full potential. It may seem counterintuitive, but the best AI and intelligent automation programmes are essentially about people, about how they can be best deployed to add value to the business and how organisations can achieve more with the same headcount. That’s why AI must always start and end with people.