Utilizing automation and Conversational AI as employees re-enter normal workplace routines could make all the difference in your company.
More than a year ago, when the coronavirus pandemic worsened on a global scale, businesses around the world closed their doors and began operating remotely. For many companies, this was the first time their employees were working in a virtual environment. The virus spread quickly, so the transition to remote work occurred at break-neck speed, with little time to prepare. As a result, companies were faced with higher volumes of employee and customer questions, with neither the infrastructure nor the resources to support these growing demands.
In March 2020, we urged companies to build a digital-human hybrid workforce to support business continuity during the pandemic. As the global COVID-19 pandemic surged on, many companies did in fact turn toward automation technologies to improve business operations. According to a survey conducted by Amelia and Censuswide, 88% of organizations added or scaled up AI technologies after the pandemic began.
Now, more than a year after our recommendation, automation and increasingly Conversational AI is positioned to play an even more pivotal role in shaping how we work in the post-pandemic future.
Hybrid Workplaces and AI Will Feature Prominently as Companies Return to Work
As organizations plan for the eventual return to work, we are beginning to see glimpses of the post-pandemic workplace. While every company’s return to work plan will be different, two trends are already emerging: the creation of hybrid workplaces and the implementation of Conversational AI and automation.
Among employers surveyed for PwC’s recent Workforce Pulse Survey, almost half said they were planning or implementing the option for employees to work remotely, either permanently or following a hybrid work schedule. Many surveys indicate that this plan is aligned with what employees want. According to Work Design Magazine, several surveys indicate that employees want the ability to continue working from home, at least part time. PwC recommends that employers should design a “hybrid workplace where employees can work seamlessly in blended teams,” regardless of where they are working from.
Another return-to-work trend is the implementation of automation and AI; McKinsey reported that among 800 senior executives surveyed, two-thirds were increasing their investment in these technologies. Use cases for automation deployments correlated to work areas where “high levels of human interaction are likely,” according to the survey.
Similarly, in our recent webinar, IDC Senior Research Analyst Hayley Sutherland said that “for contactless experiences, voice-based technologies were the top-planned investment” among more than 500 end-user organizations. In fact, touchless, voice-based technologies are a great example of how companies can leverage AI in a post-pandemic workplace, she said.
Building hybrid workplaces and implementing AI technologies are two notable return-to-work trends. In addition, your company also can deploy AI to reinforce your post-pandemic hybrid workplace model by creating a digital-human hybrid workforce.
The Digital-Human Hybrid Workforce in the Post-Pandemic World
So what exactly is a digital-human hybrid workforce? For clarity, we should point out that many in the media are using the term “hybrid” to define a workforce made up of a mix of remote and in-office employees, as many people have discovered they are just as productive at home as in an office, and would prefer to work from home at least a few times a week.
We define a digital-hybrid workforce as a working model where automation and Conversational AI Digital Employees take on tasks that are repeatable, standard and scalable, while humans (regardless of whether they work remotely or in-office) take on high-level, creative, and more human tasks. A digital-human hybrid workforce makes standard business processes more efficient and creates space for human innovation and advancement.
With Digital Employees like Amelia handling your company’s repetitive administrative tasks, human employees will have more time to focus on higher-value tasks within your organization. As more companies move to accommodate employees’ desires to work both remotely and in-office, Digital Employees can maintain continuity of service and productivity, no matter where their human colleagues work, in several ways.
For example, your HR department is currently faced with the colossal task of supporting a workforce that is burnt out and feeling anxious about the future. As employees return to offices, even in a limited fashion, HR staff will need time to re-establish the culture, morale and energy of your organization. To ensure that repetitive employee requests don’t pull HR’s focus away from where it needs to be, your company can deploy Digital Employees like Amelia to answer employees’ HR-related questions, including any related with return-to-work activities. Amelia can be an always-on virtual agent for employee services. She is trained in several HR-related roles to ensure your employees can quickly get the answers they need, and your HR staff can focus on more complex tasks.
In addition, as your employees return to work on-site, either partially or full time, connectivity and technology issues are bound to occur. As they try, for example, to connect to your company’s Wi-Fi network and workspace equipment for the first time in more than a year, the demand for IT support will likely surge, leading to longer wait-times for support tickets and frustrated employees.
Digital Employees can help your IT department handle the surge in IT support requests. Amelia’s first role was for IT services, meaning she has years of experience handling password resets, device configuration, Wi-Fi access and troubleshooting, and more — just the kind of issues that employees in office re-entry will likely face.
After more than a year of isolation, trauma and upheaval, employers need to determine how they can best support their employees in a post-pandemic world. Deploying a digital-human hybrid workforce, utilizing automation and Conversational AI, can help employees move back to near-normal work routines.