AI: 5 Ways to Reenvision the Workforce Before the Next Big Wave

What do you do when you’re not ready? Either get ready or wing it. So, imagine that waiting outside that door is your brand new team. They’re nice and shiny and, per the paperwork, each is extremely well qualified. In fact, they are specifically qualified to do their job. Because they are robots.

Let’s not get all I, Robot here. But I’m watching a new wave of artificial intelligence (AI) heading towards today’s world of work, and you’re probably watching it too. You may be wondering when we’re going to have to face this new trend. “Trend” is not actually the term I’d use to describe such a profound and inevitable shift, but that’s what Deloitte calls it in their 2017 Human Capital Trends study. They’re certainly not wrong, but the reason this is more than a trend is that it’s not going to go away.

We’re now in the early stages of adoption — including denial, curiosity, and a whole lot of “not ready.” As Deloitte reports:

  • 41 percent of companies report they have fully implemented or have made significant progress in adopting cognitive and AI technologies within their workforce.
  • 34 percent are in the midst of pilot programs.

Well, I recommend graduating to acceptance. And here are five ways to prepare for the world of work 4.0, or as we like to call it, Here Come the Machines:

  1. Get leadership and managers in gear. Deloitte’s study also found that a mere 17 percent of global executives believe they’re ready to manage a blended workforce of people, robots, and AI. (Remember when a blended workforce meant multigenerational?) That’s the lowest readiness level for a trend in the five years of the Global Human Capital Trends survey, according to Deloitte. The first blind spot is how to actually run things with this new shift — tasking, decision making, workflow, time to execute, who checks what, and the analytics to track how it’s all working.
  2. Leverage its strengths to fix your weaknesses. Jobvite’s CEO, Dan Finnigan, has an interesting take on AI. A Jobvite survey found that 56 percent of the job seekers it polled are concerned about being outsourced or replaced by robots. Instead, as he says, AI and machine learning can help us be better recruiters, and help job seekers find positions that fit. Chatbots are already used in sourcing and hiring that (or, who) can answer potential applicant questions, and increase the odds of their turning in a resume. Chatbots can also screen for skills, measuring responses and engagements in ways humans may overlook. What we need more of, as we know in this era of Big Data, is intelligence. What we need less of: bias. AI can offer a bias-free, objective layer in recruiting and hiring: there are a lot of interesting takes on that.
  3. Seam it into existing functions. This is related, but not entirely the same thing: how can you tap into AI, robotics, and cognitive tech to augment your existing processes? Use AI in your L&D (learning and development) to capture meaningful employee data, and better tailor the learning experience to each user. In terms of work functions, if you can shift a battery of tedious tasks to machines, you not only free up your people, you may also be able to leverage machine learning to find out how to make these tasks far more efficient, with a better outcome.
  4. Don’t underestimate the value of humans. You can free your workforce from some of the mind-numbing busywork, enabling them to take on more supervisory roles. And, raise their skill levels in the process. Another byproduct may be better work/life balance — since people are freed from in-house tasks. As Deloitte’s 2016 report on millennials found, 16.8 percent of those surveyed listed work/life balance, and 13.4 percent listed the opportunity to grow, as key factors in assessing job opportunities. The two will remain a key concern as the workforce becomes even more dominated by this generation.
  5. Bolster the people side of your organizational culture. It’s critical that companies be transparent and positive about what’s happening here. Some in the workforce will see clear benefits to letting machines take over certain jobs, while others may feel downright devalued. At the cusp of change once again, focus at your workforce: Do you recognize them on a regular basis? Are you soliciting and taking their feedback? If not, get on that. Yes: the best recognition software is actually made possible by AI. But it’s going to help: We want to be appreciated, praise has a direct correlation to engagement, and whatever can make it work, I say go for it.

Our view of work is going to change in ways we still don’t understand. As the World Economic Forum (WEF) reported, some 65 percent of children entering primary schools today will likely work in roles that don’t even exist yet. Certainly, we can anticipate how AI and cognitive technology will change office and administrative functions, manufacturing, and production roles. But we also need to envision learning instead of simply data; tasks instead of jobs. And it’s happening soon. According to WEF, by 2020, there will be a new normal. Get ready.

Photo Credit: martinlouis2212 Flickr via Compfight cc

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