How leaders can prepare for AI in the workplace

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Artificial intelligence is transforming the way we work together and the workplace environment as a whole. The adoption rate of AI technology by businesses is skyrocketing as its use cases to improve processes and get ahead of competitors continue to unfold. But as we move into the age of AI and machine learning, there are significant concerns that AI technology could replace – or even eliminate – many of the jobs that exist today.

Fortunately, there isn’t much to worry about right now. The technology still has a long way to go, and as a McKinsey study revealed, 45 per cent of individual work activities could be automated using existing technology, but that doesn't mean that 45 per cent of jobs are going away. Just some elements of jobs will be automated. What’s more, the Harvard Business Review noted that while AI will dominate most labour and work within the next 100 years, humans will also have more time to dedicate to communicative activities between other humans.

Nevertheless, to ensure that employees are prepared to work alongside AI and fully embrace its benefits, business leaders should start preparing their organisation today for the spreading of AI over the next few years.

“As we move into the age of artificial intelligence and machine learning, it’s not just important that you collaborate well with people, but also that you can collaborate and train and work with AI,” says Brian David Johnson, author and world-renowned futurist. Here are a few ways that business leaders can start preparing for AI right now.

Identify opportunities for reskilling workers

According to a recent Accenture study, 74 per cent of companies expect to automate their work tasks significantly over the next three years, but only 3 per cent plan to increase their spending on training.

Investing in AI to automate business operations is a significant step, but having a plan to train workers to work alongside AI is also fundamental for its successful integration.

"Business leaders must take immediate steps to pivot their workforce to enter an entirely new world where human ingenuity meets intelligent technology to unlock new forms of growth," says Ellyn Shook, chief leadership and human resources officer at Accenture. "Workers are impatient to collaborate with AI, giving leaders the opportunity to demonstrate true Applied Intelligence within their organisation."

The first step is to assess the current skill sets each worker possesses, the contributions they make to the team, and their willingness to learn and collaborate with new AI tools. Team leaders can then use this information to create personalised learning opportunities for reskilling their staff.

Provide learning opportunities

After confirming employees are eager to work alongside AI technology to boost their productivity, team leaders can create policies and set aside time for workers to learn new technical skill sets and participate in ongoing education programs.

Whether it’s onsite workshops, training sessions, online courses, or part-time degree programs, there are plenty of educational options for all organisational budgets and team sizes. For instance, Coursera and Udacity offer “nanodegrees” which are co-developed with companies such as Uber and Google in areas such as engineering or deep learning for AI.

But just as important as having the right technical skills to work with new AI technologies is having, and continuously developing, the right soft skills that machines and automation are not yet able to replicate. Harvard researchers Tony McCaffrey and Lee Spector uncovered that even the most advanced AI systems still cannot explain the “how” or “why” things happen as well as humans can. Furthermore, machines are still not capable of coming up with as many creative solutions to problems as humans.

For businesses to stay competitive, their employees must be able to take the information that is being generated by AI and apply their uniquely human skills, such as creativity, critical thinking, and empathy, to generate optimal results. While the need for basic digital skills and technical skills may decline over the next few years, the demand for the soft skills that only a human possesses will remain for the foreseeable future.

Rethink and restructure workflows

As AI becomes increasingly integrated into everyday business operations, revaluating workflows will be necessary in order to accommodate for the automation of specific tasks and ensure smooth human-machine interactions.

There are many steps leaders can take to maintain efficient operations as AI is introduced. One of them is to regularly gather feedback from employees on which aspects of their jobs they feel could be automated and which repetitive tasks take too much time.

The answers to these questions can provide valuable, ongoing insights into where AI fits in the organisational workflow, and as a result, where productivity can be increased.

Have clear communication with HR departments

Introducing AI as a way to improve business operations involves more than just the company’s management team. Organisations must also make sure that HR managers understand how the technology will affect the organisation’s hiring strategy from this point forward.

Over the next few years, HR departments will need to seek talent that has not only the required technical skills for a job but also possesses the soft skills mentioned above that are difficult to recreate in machines.

When asked which skills organisations should be developing in their workforce in order to enhance the potential of AI, 36 per cent of HR professionals responded to a survey saying adaptability to change is the most important, while 22 per cent said creative skills, and 18 per cent said IT and technical skills should be prioritised.

“HR strategists must become accustomed to upskilling existing teams and planning future workforces with robots in mind,” says Laurie Padua, director of technology and operations consulting at Alexander Mann Solutions. “The roles of real-life employees will develop so that we will work alongside robots to become more efficient and productive, and innately human traits will become more valuable than ever.”

Preparing for AI in the workplace

According to the Harvard Business Review, wasted time and inefficient processes, or "organisational drag,” costs the U.S. economy a whopping $3 trillion each year. Over the next few years, AI will revolutionise the way we work and, in the process, transform how we do business.

While the technology is still very much in its infancy, this transformation is well underway. For business leaders, the importance of preparation and having a strategy for employees to work alongside AI should not be underestimated. Instead, business leaders should start preparing their workforces now with the right skill sets and AI know-how so they can reap the benefits of the technology for many years to come.

Nacho De Marco, CEO, BairesDev
Image Credit: Geralt / Pixabay