AI Empowers the No-Collar Workforce

5 minute read

The modern white-collar workforce is evolving into the transient or No-Collar Workforce, one that is increasingly reliant on part-time, freelance and remote workers.

This blog is part of our ongoing series, IPsoft’s 2019 AI Trends, detailing what we believe will be the dominant developments and movements in the Enterprise AI market next year. These blogs will be published regularly through the end of the year.

The traditional white-collar office consisting of full-time employees gathered at a central physical location is gradually becoming viewed as old fashioned. The modern workforce is increasingly made up of remote, contract and part-time employees who, in many cases, collaborate virtually. It’s an ascendant model that Deloitte’s Anthony Abbattista described as the No-Collar Workforce during his presentation at this year’s IPsoft Digital Workforce Summit.

In the past, this overall trend was described using the somewhat quaint term telecommuting, but even that word doesn’t fully encapsulate the fundamental shifts occurring among enterprise employees, and how and where they perform their jobs. The No-Collar Workforce is not just about employees working from home or remotely. It provides enterprises access to an expanded global talent pool and the ability to build flexible teams to address specific or short-term business needs. However, this emerging system of work also comes with many challenges, such as providing agile, flexible and intuitive employee services spread out across numerous time zones. In 2019, new solutions powered by Artificial Intelligence (AI) will spark an acceleration of No-Collar Workforce adoption among enterprises by addressing the needs and realities of the new workplace.

Not Your Parent’s Office

According to a recent survey of 18,000 global professionals, 70% of respondents reported working remotely at least one day a week, and 53% reported working remotely for at least half of the week. A report from Gallup last year found that the number of Americans working remotely rose from 39% in 2012 to 43% in 2016. In fact, some companies have built themselves from the ground up around this new work patter. According to FlexJobs, there are currently 170 American companies that operate 100% virtually, as in all employees are remote, which is up from just 26 in 2014. Companies have been more willing to offer employees the option of working remotely in order to secure and retain the best talent. It doesn’t hurt that there are also numerous studies showing that remote workers can be more productive than colleagues working in corporate offices.

Not only are workers increasingly not working in the same physical location, they’re increasingly no longer all full-time workers. Today’s workforce includes a growing number contract or part-time workers, sometimes referred to as the transient workforce. A 2018 report from NPR/Marist found that one in five American jobs are held by workers under contract, and predicted that the majority of jobs will be freelance in the next decade – a prediction echoed by a 2017 study by Upwork and the Freelancers Union.

Furthermore, today’s full-time workers are increasingly likely to change jobs in the pursuit of career advancement, pay, better benefits or all three. According to a study by staffing firm Robert Half, 64% of workers favor “job-hopping” (defined as staying at a job for less than two years), up from only 22% in a similar survey four years ago. This is a trend that only promises to continue as 75% of millennials (workers under the age of 34) viewed job hopping favorably, and that demographic has shown a greater willingness to switch jobs more frequently than other generations.

There are a number of reasons for this workplace shift, but the advent of new technologies is clearly a primary one. Many collaborative activities that previously required physical proximity and shared resources can now take place virtually through the Internet, providing employees the ability to forego a daily commute. Fortunately, just as technology has disrupted traditional workplace models, it can also help make new models for the betterment of both employers and workers.

Global Employee Services

As the workforce evolves, companies are tasked with supporting employees across multiple time zones and countries. This is an ideal business case for AI investment, as these technologies can automate access to employee systems and services, and make them available 24/7 to employees around the world.

With AI, employees – regardless of their location – no longer need to wait for a far-away HR office or IT department’s workday to start to access the services they need. A single investment in AI allows an enterprise to implement a global, always-available service department that can assist employees with everything from requesting time off, to invoice reimbursement, to IT support. Whether employees are full-time or contract-based, office-based or remote, an always-on AI-powered IT support system enables a holistic approach to serve a No-Collar Workforce.

Taking on the Cognitive Workload

Not only is AI able to automate transactional tasks, but it is increasingly able to execute cognitive tasks related to decision making. This capability allows AI to take on the cognitive workload and leave humans to higher-value tasks and projects. This means companies can skip lengthy training sessions that previously might have required days, weeks or even months; new employees can lean on the AI system for all relevant corporate information and protocols.

Case in point: Last year, a major insurance provider began using Amelia as a whisper agent who works with customer service reps at the insurer’s call center. When a human agent engages with a customer, Amelia provides the relevant step-by-step procedures and gives access to customer information in the background. By partnering with the AI, training times for customer service reps have been cut considerably. Furthermore, AI gives companies the flexibility to implement or edit procedures instantaneously at scale without having to retrain an entire department on new protocols.

Many enterprises have call center operations located in multiple countries, time zones and locations in order to offer “follow-the-sun” customer support. An AI system can ensure procedures are implemented consistently no matter where an agent resides, and regardless of an employee’s level of experience. What’s more, when humans partner with AI, employees in various roles can get up to speed with limited preparation, a particularly important feature for companies dealing with high employee turn-over.

Managing Employee Churn

Finding and keeping talent is a constant struggle, especially in tight job markets where open positions outnumber available candidates, and many enterprises are dealing with high employee churn rates. The continuing emergence of the No-Collar Workforce, with a growing number of part-time or short-term works, will only add stress moving forward. As a result, HR departments will continue to face increased on- and off-boarding activities, especially among contract-based workers. However, AI can provide seamless employee transitions through the automation of complex workflows, and we believe more enterprises will see the advantages of such an approach in the new year.

An end-to-end automation framework such IPsoft’s AIOps (formerly 1Desk) is specifically designed to execute automations across multiple departments, which can help make complex, multi-step processes such as onboarding easier. For example, whenever an HR manager enters a new employee into their system, it can prompt an automated workflow to secure a laptop and credentials from the IT department, no matter the employee’s work status or location, and send an automated email with all relevant information the employee will need on their first day. A similar chain of events can take place whenever an employee is off boarded, which is critical when access to company applications and data needs to be shut off once a short-term employee’s contract ends.

AI can also provide No-Collar Workforce employees with self-service support. Any questions from a new employee can easily be handled by a cognitive digital colleague, who can lead a worker step-by-step through processes such as signing up for direct deposit. Once again, this form of 24/7 automation requires little-to-no involvement from the HR team, so they can focus on higher-value projects such as recruitment strategies.

With AI, enterprises can offer robust employee services at scale 24/7 from anywhere in the world. As the workforce continues to evolve next year from traditional models to No-Collar ones, AI will be invaluable in order for enterprises to effectively adapt.

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