In response to the Covid-19 pandemic, businesses of all shapes and sizes have had to quickly adapt to remote work. Many experts predict that this year’s rapid transition to remote work constitutes a point of no return.
In many ways, the growth of remote work parallels the growth of artificial intelligence (AI). It wasn’t so long ago that AI was confined to the realm of science fiction. Now, like remote work, AI promises to transform nearly every industry and every company. As we look to the future, AI will almost inevitably accelerate our transition to remote work after Covid-19.
Robots are the most concrete manifestation of AI. Surrounded by AI-powered conversational agents like Alexa and Siri, the idea of conversing with an AI agent and relying on it for assistance is certainly not novel.
But robot AI-powered coaches have capabilities that extend far beyond those of traditional conversation agents. Rather than informing us of the weather or ordering groceries when we run low, robot coaches can enhance our leadership abilities and empower us to thrive in the workplace.
AI-powered robots go beyond the obvious in detecting patterns that can, in turn, help us improve our performance in the workplace. Does the user repeat certain words or phrases? What meaning underlies these words and phrases? How does the user communicate? Is he or she self-conscious or narcissistic? Does the user avoid certain questions? What does the user’s skin temperature or body language infer about his or her disposition?
While the potential of robot coaches in remote work settings is seemingly limitless, one particular exciting application is mental health. Studies have shown that remote workers may be more susceptible to mental health afflictions such as depression and stress. A United Nations report, for example, found that 41% of remote workers reported high stress levels, compared to only 25% of office workers. AI robots such as Woebot strive to ensure that workers are able to work remotely without it compromising their mental health. Woebot, created by a team of Stanford psychologists and AI experts, leverages daily chat conversations to track users’ moods and help them manage their mental health.
How will the workplace respond to AI-powered robot coaches? According to research by LEADx, less than half of managers (47%) want to work with an AI-powered coach. This isn’t too impressive—but there’s more to the story. LEADx also looked at how humans’ perceptions of AI-powered robot coaches changed after using the technology. Quite remarkably, 83% of managers wanted to continue using the AI-coach—the same percentage of managers that wanted to use human coaches!
Real-time engagement feedback
Proponents of physical offices often cite a lack of engagement as a major limitation of remote work settings. Indeed, research by Future Workplace, an HR advisory and research firm, found that remote workers are much less likely to stay at their company long-term. Only 5% picture themselves working at their company for their entire career, compared to nearly a third of office workers. Without supporting colleagues physically by your side, it can be easy for motivation and engagement to plummet.
Fortunately, new AI-powered tools help mitigate these concerns. These tools rely on natural language processing and sentiment analysis to uncover employee morale and engagement and are attracting the attention of remote companies hoping to understand and, more importantly, optimize employee engagement. Elin is one of a series of new tools that analyzes and provides feedback on company engagement as measured by Slack communication. It uses more than 140 markers, including meta-data, sentiment, and semantic analysis to arm managers with real-time feedback. Keen is a similar platform that sifts through employees’ anonymized emails and uses sentiment analysis to serve up a real-time snapshot of engagement.
While privacy concerns loom large and must be brought to the forefront before implementation, these tools have a lot of initial promise to help companies bridge the gap to a remote workforce.
Learning and development
Learning and development is top of mind for today’s workers. More and more workers are prioritizing opportunities for learning and development over pay. According to LinkedIn’s 2018 Workforce Learning Report, a staggering 93% of employees would stay at their company longer if it invested in their careers. Learning and development is especially sought after by millennials. Research by Udemy found that 42% of millennials say learning and development is the most important benefit when selecting where to work.
There are a lot of problems with the ways in which learning and development are served up in today’s workplaces. One such problem is manager involvement. While 56% percent of employees would take a learning and development course recommended by their manager, many managers simply don’t have the time to select nor administer learning and development, according to LinkedIn’s report.
AI-powered tools promise to offer workers opportunities for learning and development above and beyond those currently offered in most workplaces. At the most rudimentary level, AI-powered tools can serve as content recommendation engines, enabling organizations to sort through masses of content and determine which content is best suited for each individual worker, all while accounting for each worker’s aspirations, as well as their company’s trajectory. These tools can identify skill gaps and ensure that each workers’ learning and development journey is dynamic instead of linear.
Consider, for example, Docebo. Docebo is an AI-powered learning platform that offers personalized and curated content for each user. It automatically tags content to assist in discovery, and analyzes it to understand which workers will benefit from it most.
We’ve known for a long time that different people learn differently. One study by the University of Georgia, for example, found that women and males differ significantly in their preferred teaching style. AI-fueled learning and development tools are able to level up traditional learning and development in the workplace so that it is personalized, comprehensive, and constantly evolving.
Remote work has become a new reality for many businesses in 2020. Facebook, Twitter, Square, and Shopify have already announced that they will allow most of their employees to work from home permanently after the pandemic. More than anything else, technology is remote work’s Achilles heel. Having the right technology tools is critical to empowering remote workers to thrive. AI promises to be a galvanizing force in helping companies bridge the gap to a remote workforce. Tools like AI-powered robot roaches, engagement tools, and learning and development platforms will be essential to ensuring that remote workers, while potentially “out of sight”, are very much “in mind”.
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