What’s the Future Impact of AI Technology on the Workplace?

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By Robert Half July 2, 2019 at 6:05pm

Artificial intelligence (AI) promises to revolutionize the workplace, thanks to its potential to slash overhead costs, enhance productivity and help drive innovation. Staffing is another area where AI technology is poised to make a big impact. From vetting candidates more thoroughly to helping employees strengthen their skills, AI technology has a vital role to play in how workers are hired and managed in the future.

Several of the tech and business experts interviewed for Robert Half’s new report, Jobs and AI Anxiety, say they expect AI to impact companies’ ability to build and maintain a highly skilled workforce — and that includes right now. For example, Dan Schawbel, research director at Future Workplace, says employers need to recognize AI’s power as a recruiting and retention tool. “Top talent doesn’t want to work for a company that isn’t modern and focused on innovation,” he says. “Talented people, even if they aren’t in a tech-focused job, want access to leading-edge tools.”

The good news is that professionals who are eager to work with AI technology won’t likely need to wait long for it be used widely in their workplace. A global research study from consulting firm Protiviti, a Robert Half subsidiary, and research firm ESI ThoughtLab notes that while “most companies are still at the starting gate” with AI technology, a “sizable majority of companies are fast tracking AI applications and expecting to see significant gains in profitability, productivity, revenue and shareholder value in as little as two years.” The research suggests that most businesses soon will be applying advanced AI to almost every function, including human resources and talent management.

AI technology as a workplace helper

While AI technology is increasing in sophistication rapidly, there’s still plenty of speculation about how, exactly, it will change the workplace. Will we see a robot revolution where most workers are replaced by smart machines? Or will it be the dawn of a new relationship between people and technology, where AI takes over mundane tasks, freeing people to focus on more creative work?

Technology futurist and disruptive innovation expert Daniel Burrus, who was interviewed for the Jobs and AI Anxiety report, expects we’ll see more of the latter — and something else, too: the rise of symbiotic computing. After the initial wave of disruption that AI will cause in the workplace, people will eventually settle into a close working relationship with AI technology, says Burrus. “We will have a symbiotic computing relationship to AI. That means humans will increasingly use AI to augment their thinking, as AI increasingly learns from humans,” Burrus adds.

For many workers, their relationship with AI technology will likely look a lot like this, according to the Jobs and AI Anxiety report: AI helpers will quietly handle routine processes, like data entry, in the background. And workers, using their voice and gestures, will instruct their AI helpers to perform tasks such as taking notes, conducting web searches or logging on to their computer in the morning.

Of course, as AI technology matures and takes on more human tasks, employees will need to adapt accordingly to stay relevant in the workforce. Robert Half’s research for the Jobs and AI Anxiety report shows that many employers already understand this: Nearly half (47%) of the more than 1,200 U.S. managers surveyed said they expect the rise of technological advancements such as AI and robotics in the workplace will require their team members to learn new skills.

Here’s a look at how AI technology is already having an impact on how employees are trained and hired, along with more insight into what the human-AI partnership might look like in the future workplace:

Improving the hiring process

Protiviti and ESI ThoughtLab’s research found that only a small fraction of companies (about 4%) globally are seeing a notable impact from using advanced AI in their staffing and talent management operations. However, that percentage is expected to rise to 30% in just two years, according to the study.

That projection is not surprising, given AI’s potential to improve the hiring process, which can be time-consuming for hiring managers (and job candidates, too). AI technology can make the resume review and candidate evaluation process less burdensome by identifying the most suitable candidates, using machine-learning techniques that go well beyond simple keyword matching. Responding to common questions from job candidates is another area where AI technology can help companies.

AI will also allow hiring managers to devote more time to the vital “human” aspects of recruitment, including assessing a candidate’s organizational culture fit. (Robert Half knows the value of using AI in the hiring process firsthand: We leverage AI technology, machine learning and big data to help us make better job matches. We are both high-tech and high-touch.)

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Developing and retaining employees

Every company benefits from having a well-trained workforce, and AI technology can help ensure that they can build and maintain one. The future of professional development may include AI-powered adaptive learning programs that modify training courses, on the fly, to suit different learning styles. The AI could also analyze which modules have the highest and lowest levels of engagement and test different variations. And it could help a company to measure its return on investment from training, based on outcomes such as productivity, profitability and turnover.

AI is already being used to help people work smarter and become more engaged in their jobs. U.S. company Humanyze, as an example, has developed “smart” badges that use sensors, AI software, and data analytics to track employees’ interactions in the office. The technology has proven useful in helping companies better understand the relationship between team-building and productivity — in one case, discovering that close-knit sales teams perform better than teams split across different locations.

Also, AI technology could help to reduce employee attrition. In 2016, IBM’s Watson AI platform showed that it could analyze a collection of data points about a company’s past and current employees, and generate a score for each based on how likely they are to quit their job. Predictive models such as these could soon become critical in alleviating the turnover headaches that many organizations face.

AI technology is here to stay

No company, big or small, can afford to ignore the benefits that AI technology can deliver when it comes to finding and recruiting talent in the future. However, while AI can be a powerful tool in the hiring process, there are still many steps where the human element remains essential.

Assessing a candidate’s interpersonal skills, negotiating compensation and persuading candidates to accept a job offer are all examples where human interaction and judgment are crucial — and where AI technology has yet to crack the surface. Over time, well-trained AI may be able to take on some of these tasks, but it’s hard to imagine completely automating the very human process of hiring humans.

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