Figuring Out How AI Can Best Help Employees

Today’s employees worry that they could be replaced by artificial intelligence. Work with them to determine how AI can help them do more for your company while improving their own work lives.

I have heard of organizations trying to ride the surging wave of artificial intelligence (AI) by asking employees to provide lists of tasks. The organizations ask how long it takes employees to complete each task and how many full-time employees do each of those tasks.

When an employee receives a request from a manager to provide this kind of information, the first response may be fear: “Is the company trying to figure out which employees can be eliminated or changed to part-time, contract status?” Once the employee hears that the reason for the request is to determine where artificial intelligence could improve productivity, the fearful thought becomes, “Is the company going to replace me with an AI bot?”

Cinematic Caution

I watched 2001: A Space Odyssey for the first time last week, and the trend today of making an AI system part of a work team reminded me very much of the ill-fated HAL 9000 system in the movie. HAL is a friendly, easy-to-work-with member of the team until he isn’t—at least not from the perspective of his human colleagues. I don’t fear that an AI bot will destroy a business I contribute to. But I am afraid, like many employees, that the AI system will replace enough of the work I do that I will no longer have the means with which to support myself.

As your organization explores the use of AI to improve productivity, many of your employees may be having the same thought.

Put the Request into Context

Before asking employees to fill up a spreadsheet with the tasks they do, how long each task takes, how many of these tasks they complete per month, and how many employees each task requires, it is helpful to put the request for this information into context.

“As AI becomes a greater part of our lives, we want to work with you to find ways to make your work lives better. We want to enhance productivity and become more profitable, but we also want to make your work lives more enjoyable,” is how I would put it to employees.

When you explain to your work teams that they have more to gain than to lose from the addition of an AI “team member,” they probably will be more forthcoming with an honest assessment of how long tasks take them and where they think an AI system could help.

I noticed, for instance, that for people working in publishing, AI may be able to help reduce the tedious work of tagging articles and doing the work that needs to be done in content management systems for search engine optimization. It also could help with fielding e-mails from readers with simple requests, such as those who want more information about a topic that is covered frequently, or in response to common questions from advertisers.

No one understands your employees’ work better than your employees themselves, so they are the best ones to tell you how and where AI can help them do more for your company while improving their own work lives.

Trial Run First

Once you decide on a plan of action for the use of AI in your organization, I would present it as being a trial, rather than a decided-on solution. That way, employees can test it out for a few months, and let you know how it works in practice. Your team members may tell you that, even though the system sounded good in theory, in practice, it is making their work lives harder and slower rather than easier and more productive. They may need to carefully review, fix, and even redo the work completed by the AI bot.

On the other hand, your employees may tell you they love the system, and wonder if it could do many other things they just thought of now that they are using and benefiting from it.

I found this article in Forbes by Krista Neher on getting your employees ready for AI that might be useful.

When adding revolutionary technology like AI to your company, transparency is key. Don’t leave employees wondering if a competitive AI bot is about to steal their jobs.

Have you introduced AI technology to your work teams? If so, how did you do it, so employees benefit from it, rather than feeling threatened?