Artificial intelligence (AI) is having an increasingly significant impact on organisations, and one of the biggest impacts AI will likely have is in the context of work, according to Google, which actively employs AI to improve its employee experience.
AI can meaningfully improve people’s lives at work, said Google Cloud’s APAC collaboration and productivity lead, Heather Emslie, who said the biggest impact will come when everyone can access AI.
“When introducing AI into the workplace, finding the right balance is key to achieving the best outcome,” said Emslie.
“AI should assist workers as much as possible without intruding on the work that defines their careers.”
Rather than taking over creative and rewarding work, Emslie said AI should enable humans to spend more time doing them by picking up less desirable tasks.
Deloitte’s State of AI in the Enterprise report found that Australian organisations hold a positive view of AI and its strategic importance to business operations, with 79 per cent of respondents stating that AI will be “very” or “critically” important to their business within two years.
Invest in the process
The benefits of AI in the workplace are well-documented, such as transforming the employee experience to minimise administrivia and focus on tasks where people can add uniquely genuine value, but implementing the technology can be challenging.
“At Google, as we explore the limits and develop AI technology, we are committed to providing positive experiences for users,” said Emslie.
“In fact, we are so committed to this that we trial all our workplace AI products among our employee base of nearly 100,000 people to test out how they perform in the real world.
“When introducing AI into the workplace, finding the right balance is key to achieving the best outcome”
“Along the way we have learned a lot about what does, and what does not work.
“We have found AI is best used to anticipate and provide relevant data, reducing the need to spend human hours on repetitive, mundane tasks.”
Making life easier for humans
Through extensive research Google has also learnt that people generally divide their work into two categories.
The first is peripheral work: mundane, tedious, monotonous tasks, explained Emslie: “a great example of this is scheduling a meeting time for a number of people in different parts of the world.”
This was previously a complex and time-consuming task, but with the assistance of platforms like Google Calendar, it takes only a few clicks now, said Emslie.
“AI is powerful at this type of work, and in most cases, people are eager to pass it over to technology,” she said.
The second category is what Google calls “core work”.
These are intellectually challenging, nuanced tasks, such as working together on creative brainstorms and building out strategies.
“People consider this type of work fulfilling and definitive of their careers,” said Emslie.
“Consequently, they are protective of their distinctive contributions and are reluctant to hand over ownership of those creative tasks to automation.”
“Any newly introduced technology and processes should be frequently revisited to ensure they are optimised and best practice agreed upon”
Invaluable human insights
Research is most effective when guided by humans; as only people can probe a question and designate what findings are relevant to supporting a theory or idea, Emslie said.
“The key is to create a system in which the end user still provides the intellectual spark – AI simply enables the user to get to their answer more quickly using automated calculations of complex data sets.
“It essentially supercharges a person’s ability to produce insightful work.”
However, the application of AI in the workplace in still in its infancy and more benefits will be seen as organisations continue to adopt it.
“There is no one-size-fits-all approach, and how the technology is adopted will depend on a number of factors, including the industry, size and business requirements of the organisation,” said Emslie.
To enable teams to do their best work, she explained that HR must first identify which processes and policies could be streamlined or would require change through implementation of machine learning and AI.
“This should be a collaborative and iterative process, with input from the entire team, across business units,” said Emslie.
“Any newly introduced technology and processes should be frequently revisited to ensure they are optimised and best practice agreed upon.
“Through our experiences with the emerging technology we’ve discovered that it can provide us with new ways of looking at old problems or save time spent on repetitive tasks.
“By doing what it does best, AI helps humans do what they do best,” she said.