The COVID-19 pandemic has re-emphasized the need for Artificial Intelligence and the role it plays in the workplace. A new study reveals that while supported by workers themselves, AI is not always leveraged to its full potential. Here are six examples of how businesses can develop and improve human-machine collaboration.
- Technology will not replace but rather augment human jobs
- White-collar workers support the use of machines but need help making the most of them
- 83% of those surveyed believe advanced software will help perform their tasks more efficiently
- Companies such as L’Oréal, IBM and Jaguar Land Rover have become digital champions by investing in skills
From social media, streaming services such as Spotify, Netflix to Google maps or Uber, most of us use and enjoy Artificial Intelligence daily and often without realising it. AI has become an intrinsic part of our existence, both in our private and professional lives. But while our acceptance of AI has grown, our understanding of it, especially when it comes to human-machine collaboration in the workplace, is yet to reach its full potential.
This is to the detriment of many companies that struggle to effectively and successfully use the AI technology in their operations. While 85% of executives, managers, and analysts expect AI to have a positive impact on businesses, they often lack a clear strategy for its workplace integration.
To help shed more light onto the topic and to offer a detailed guide on how to better leverage the use of AI in the post-COVID-19 world, BCG and The Adecco Group Foundation have published a joint study. The research looks into how white-collar jobs have been affected by the surge of new technology and how companies can successfully take advantage of the human-machine collaboration.
White-collar workers support but are often overwhelmed by technology
The research titled Artificial Intelligence in the Workplace focuses on white-collar workers from industries such as financial services, insurance, consumer, and retail segments and it is based on a survey of more than 1,000 workers and HR practitioners from across nine countries including the US, UK, and India. It concludes that:
- Technology will not replace but rather augment human jobs
- White-collar workers greatly support the future use of machines, with only a meagre share of them being concerned about their jobs being replaced
- However, many will need help with adjusting to the future of work as they are often overwhelmed by advanced software and technology in general.
The study finds that as many as 83% of those surveyed believe that advanced software will help perform their tasks more efficiently in three years from now while staggering 96% expect this technology to add value to their jobs.
However, despite this optimistic outlook, only 13% of respondents said they enjoyed working with AI, and only a third (34%) feel comfortable working with the advanced software. This is less than half and given that all those surveyed work in roles which will be significantly transformed by technology, the figures indicate a significant problem.
Not all is lost, though, as 55% also said they were either open or keen to work more closely with machines, meaning workers, unprepared as they may be, are willing to engage with technology going forward.
Six examples of how to implement human-machine collaboration
This is good news for companies and organisations that are serious about leveraging human-machine collaboration. For AI to be successful, however, workers’ willingness to use technology will not suffice. It needs to be complemented by a change in business culture and investment in skills. Here are six specific recommendations and best practices to help and guide businesses:
#1. Empower managers as digital champions: L’Oréal has trained over 1,000 executives
Managers have an essential role in the successful integration of AI in the workplace. They need to be seen as champions who support the development of workers and guide their reskilling. L’Oréal, the French personal care company, has previously set up a leadership development programme that helps employees acquire the right knowledge and mindset needed for the digital age. To date, over 1,000 executives have been trained to promote skills such as openness to collaborate, team autonomy and wiliness to experiment.
#2. Overcome resistance to tech change: Wipro rewards employees for using technology
Workers who lack faith in, have a weak understanding of or fear to lose their jobs to AI become resistant to change. And while the survey shows that the majority of white-collar workers are willing to engage with AI, companies need to do more to support and build their cultures to encourage positive attitudes towards technology. One way of achieving this is by creating incentives and rewards for using advanced software. A good example is offered by Wipro, the information technology company that has developed a concept called Botcoins. The scheme rewards developers and sales teams for using technology and provides cash rewards in exchange.
#3. Cultivate people’s ability to learn: Jaguar Land Rover organises mindfulness trainings to enable continuous learning
To successfully leverage human-machine learning in the workplace, workers must develop technical skills alongside their capacity to widen their mental boundaries – this, in turn, helps employees pick up hard skills more quickly. For instance, the carmaker Jaguar Land Rover has succeeded in freeing up its workers’ mental capacity and broadened their perspectives by investing in and developing mindfulness trainings.
#4. Close the divide between experts and workers: Aegon NL leads in democratizing technology
Beyond the lack of skills, one of the significant challenges in the establishment of effective human-machine collaboration is the deep divide between digital experts and workers who are everyday users. To overcome this, companies such as Aegon NL have democratized technology by way of providing training and skills to more of their employees than they would have otherwise. For instance, employees, irrespective of seniority, have benefited from obtaining Robotic Process Automation software licenses.
#5. Step-up investment in learning culture
Furthermore, along with the necessary training opportunities and incentives, businesses must empower employees and their managers to take responsibility for their own learning. This can be done both by encouraging managers to become coaches helping other employees along the way and by shifting training related decisions to the hands of the employees themselves.
#6. Build a holistic strategy
And last but not least, to gain a visual understanding of where in the company workers use technology, to what extent, and where there is most significant potential to upscale and improve this interaction, the study introduces the so-called Bionic Organization Chart. It is a tool that helps businesses keep track of and assess the human-machine collaboration points and indicate where employees need more upskilling and training to make the most of this interaction.
The ongoing and accelerating technological revolution that we are experiencing right now has indeed the potential to create new jobs and augment others. But despite the overall support from white-collar workers, the AI’s successful implementation in the workplace will depend on the willingness and ability of employers to invest in learning and changing their business culture to facilitate this. The Artificial Intelligence in the Workplace whitepaper offers some insights and guidance on how to encourage this human-machine collaboration and how to do it effectively.
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