June 21, 2018

The impact of AI on the future workplace


Citigroup is to replace 20,000 employees with machines. But is it all doom and gloom?

Not a day goes by without hearing about how machine automation, machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) are going to take our jobs. Last week, Citigroup suggested that it will shed up to half of its 20,000 technology and operations employees in the next five years and replace them with machines.

Citi is not the first investment bank to suggest that their workforce requirements are set to radically change either. Barclays also revealed that it fully expects machines to take over lower-value tasks and will instead have fewer employees making more money. The impact of AI on jobs has been reinforced by a recent global PwC survey, which predicts that up to 30% of UK roles could be impacted by automation by the 2030s.

But is the scaremongering really warranted? For years, businesses have been telling us that they want to free managers and employees from the operational, process-orientated and repetitive side of their roles; giving them the freedom to add value in a more meaningful way. The technology currently in play enables them to do just that.

In a bid to change the conversation, we’ve been looking at the positive impact AI will have from an engagement perspective, focusing on the line manager population. Here are three benefits that technology may offer:

  1. Digital automation and AI has the capability to unleash managers’ potential by enabling them to focus on empowering and inspiring their teams more effectively. Clever algorithms will help them manage performance, schedule meetings and assign tasks, freeing them up to concentrate on more strategic and valuable work. This is a big win for businesses – according to an Accenture survey, managers spend more than half of their time on administrative work – so reducing this burden will inevitably lead to a more goal-orientated workforce.
  1. Leveraging data that is analysed by AI will enable managers to make more-informed business decisions about their teams and the tasks in hand, that is error-free and potentially less biased. They can also mine that data to make smarter decisions and move faster, allowing them to review and flex their workforce requirements and ways of working in real time, creating greater efficiencies, driving better collaboration with teams and improved results.
  1. Technology being created will also free up more time for managers to invest in people development and engagement. As managers spend more time solving challenges and having meaningful dialogue rather than focusing on systems and processes, they can unlock an energy and a sense of purpose within their teams that will dramatically impact business performance.

It’s inevitable that AI and automation will impact specific roles but it is possible to reframe the conversation by seeing it instead as a force for positive change. If it helps us create a more empowered, engaged and purposeful workforce, then navigating the pitfalls as organisations ramp up the adoption of AI-based systems in the workplace, will be worth it.

Technology is going to continue to impact the world of work at a staggering pace. As an organisation, you need to have a robust strategy in place to communicate the change and shift in ways of working to overcome the sense of insecurity about employment that is rife. If you can keep hold of the hearts and minds of your people – enabling them to get on with their jobs – then the machines can get on with theirs.