Will AI eventually replace human interaction in the workplace?

Published: 15/09/2021
Author: Vidatec

Whenever there is a discussion about Artificial Intelligence (AI) there is always an air of scepticism present. Years of being bombarded by exaggerated sci-fi films and TV-shows has definitely left some people feeling unnerved about the role it will play in the years to come. However, in reality the future of AI and the applications it could facilitate within day-to-day life unsurprisingly look a little less dystopian than some people may have feared.

This is especially apparent when it comes to discussing the opportunities it could enable in terms of improving employee engagement. A first reaction to this might be surprise, since surely the heart of any successful HR strategy is authentic human interaction? Is more technological assistance really the answer for firms that have been struggling to create meaningful connections with their staff through traditional engagement channels?

Let’s not forget that many businesses are already benefiting from the introduction of new digital platforms into their employee communications, recognition and engagement programmes, so it stands to reason that, yes, taking this a step further with the application of AI and machine learning into more HR practices could strengthen existing digital systems. This will certainly appeal to HR departments that are looking to stay ahead of the curve where technology is concerned.

While an increased dependency on HR-focused technology is especially relevant in this current climate when lots of businesses are looking at a hybrid work models as a long term policy, there are also countless businesses that employ a deskless workforce where connecting people has always been challenging. It’s in these spaces that our dependence on technology really heightens, and that’s where AI can have a role to play.

Whilst we’re a long way away from a fully AI-monitored workspace, there are already ideas developing of what this could look like, including using it to drive tools to assist with monitoring mental wellbeing or perhaps aid more flexible work scheduling. With this in mind, let’s take a deeper look at what those opportunities could look like and how they could be mutually beneficial to both employee and employer.

Improving Employee Wellbeing

Currently, employee engagement platforms such as Engage4 can offer 24/7 access to the company culture across digital platforms so that every member of the organisation can feel better connected to their place of work – wherever they might be located. In the not too distant future we can expect the application of AI to take this a step further with even more personalisation in the delivery of employee engagement, where every single employee is connected based on their unique behaviours.

This could include timing alerts and notifications around working patterns to ensure that they are delivered at optimal times of the day or week when each employee is most likely to have the time to engage and action the communication. They could be alerts that refer to more formal or admin-related communications and timed not to clash with busy work periods, or they could be more personal, or duty of care-related communications timed to be delivered at suitable times or on appropriate dates to the employee’s individual situation.

This more personalised approach will be appreciated by staff and ensure that what should have been positive employee engagement activities don’t turn into negative experiences due to being badly timed. When trying to manage this for a large workforce introducing AI will help with consistent delivery for every single employee.

Optimising Productivity

One fear of introducing too much technology into the workplace is that it will leave employees feeling over-monitored, as if their bosses have unlimited access to spy on their behaviour and output to try and keep them on their toes.  AI could be considered, in this way, as a threat to autonomy and trust.

However, there is a more positive spin to using employee monitoring as a means to identify ways to improve the workplace environment and culture and, in turn, build trust and productivity.

Increased productivity doesn’t come from increased monitoring, but monitoring could help to identify ways in which to get the best out of staff performance, and it’s AI that offers the potential to translate lots of data into useful insights.

One way that this could be executed is by logging what combination of people are working on what task and how long it took for the project to be completed. Over time the AI software may be able to predict which group of employees work most effectively together and allocate specific tasks to those most suited to the challenges it offers.

Beyond this, everything from the temperature of a room to the type of lighting and even the impact of background music on productivity levels could be measured to find the sweet spot for managing specific workforces.

Embracing technology in HR

While it may be some time before AI is fully integrated in the HR function, there is no doubt that technology is already playing an increasingly important role in connecting employers with their staff. And this is being adopted in such a way as to improve culture, environment and wellbeing, as well as productivity. Rather than fear AI, it should be considered as a next step on this development and a power for good.

Through platforms such as Engage4 it is now possible to create more meaningful digital workplace experiences that can accompany staff through their entire work life, connecting them to their colleagues and employer with ease. We can expect technology like this to continue playing a growing role in employee engagement, and before we know it this will most probably be enhanced by AI.