June 3, 2024

    From Adoption to Adaptation: AI's Role in Shaping the Future of Work

    Generative Artificial Intelligence (AI) is here, and it’s not going anywhere. With the widespread accessibility of these powerful new tools, businesses of every type are now grappling with the same questions of how best to implement, handle, and maximize the potential of the brave new world of AI. To help find answers to these questions Microsoft and LinkedIn dove deep into the trends and data surrounding businesses and AI.

    Below are five takeaways for business leaders to consider.


    AI Use is Surging

    One of the biggest trends found in the report is the undeniable surge AI use is currently experiencing. 75% of knowledge workers are now using some form of generative AI in their daily workflow. This is nearly double the level measured just six months ago, a staggering increase.

    With such a rapid rise, there is potential for workplace disruption, frustration, and negative business impacts, but the workers questioned in the report indicated the opposite.

    Users report AI having a large positive impact on their ability to focus on tasks, expand their creativity, and have even reported enjoying their day-to-day work life more. Users responded that AI helped them “filter the noise” of tasks that, while unavoidable, didn’t actually help them do the core responsibilities of their job, such as reading emails, attending non-urgent meetings, and other “busywork”. By utilizing AI tools, users felt empowered, able to focus more on their key tasks each day, leading to an improvement in quality and efficiency of that work. Additionally, users reported a boost in morale as a direct result of feeling a greater sense of fulfillment due to increased productivity throughout their workday.

    This surge in AI use is important for businesses to understand, as soon there will be a marked distinction between the “haves” and “have nots” when it comes to AI. Businesses are currently facing the risk of appearing slow in their ability to adapt, and in the foreseeable future, they will likely be perceived as outdated if they do not embrace the emerging tools of AI. Evolving with the times is vital.


    It’s Time to Implement, but Strategy is Key

    AI is like any other toolset- it can be transformative for a business, but only when used correctly. That means having a solid strategy for implementation and training for users is key to success. Without a planned-out strategy, implementation can be uneven, frustrating, and ultimately a detriment to the business when mistakes have to be rectified and work repeated. AI is not a one size fits all solution to problems, but a specialized set of tools that have to be wielded thoughtfully, not with brute force.

    While the exact tasks AI is best suited for will vary from business to business, experts advise best practices are to identify a business problem that leadership believes can be eased with the help of AI and devise a plan of attack for solving it. Focusing on a particular problem or one area of the business to improve, such as call handling times in customer service, allows for measurable results.

    Naturally, this requires an understanding of not only the problems the business may face, but also of the AI tools available to tackle them. This necessity underscores the importance of an “all hands on deck” approach to AI- it can’t be just the everyday users who understand the tools, leadership at all levels have to know what AI can (and can’t) do for the company. Having management lead the charge for AI is also important for morale, as enthusiasm can naturally ebb and flow as new, unforeseen challenges or roadblocks arise, as they do with any new business process. Having engaged, educated leadership can be the difference between a struggle to implement a lasting AI process and an enthusiastic team leading the charge for change.


    Not Replacing Workers, Enhancing Them

    One of the major talking points around AI is the fear of AI processes replacing members of the workforce. While conversations about the ethical use of generative AI remain important, attention should also be paid to how using AI itself can be an important skill for employees- one that will become increasingly sought after in years to come as more businesses embrace the AI revolution.

    The cited study shows that over half the leaders interviewed (55%) expressed worries about filling all the roles they needed to operate their companies successfully, even with the advantages of AI. This held true across businesses of many kinds, ranging from creative arts and design to cyber-security, which saw the highest percentage of leadership concern, with 61% responding with doubts about having the talent to staff their business successfully.

    This presents an opportunity for forward-thinking job candidates. With AI rapidly becoming an accepted and inescapable part of the workplace, candidates looking to set themselves apart have the chance to enter job hunts with the skills to use AI tools already developed. People are already taking advantage of this, with LinkedIn reporting a whopping 160% increase in people taking AI-specific LinkedIn Learning courses in the last six months. This number is nothing compared to the increase in people adding AI skills like ChatGPT and CoPilot to their LinkedIn profiles, which have increased 142-fold in the same time-period.

    Make no mistake, there will be jobs to apply for. Recruiters are already creating new roles for these AI experts to fill, as the new tools at businesses’ disposal require new, specifically trained users to wield them. The jobs recruiters are looking to fill are evolving: over two-thirds of LinkedIn’s “Jobs on the Rise” did not even exist twenty years ago.


    Not All Users are Created Equal- The Rise of the AI Power User

    This wave of would-be employees training themselves on AI tools has given rise to a new class of employee, one that is increasingly sought after- the AI Power User. LinkedIn’s study grouped employees into four categories: AI Skeptics, Novices, Explorers, and Power Users. These Power Users not only proactively trained themselves in AI, but also seek out new and innovative ways to use AI to improve their work life, all without prompting from leaders.

    Power Users report using AI tools to enhance their work processes nearly every day, often saving themselves a self-reported thirty minutes of time per workday, allowing them to get more done during their shift. This confers a clear advantage to those users when compared to a worker classified as a novice or explorer, particularly in terms of promotions or salary increases. These users also report that they feel better able to concentrate, more able to prioritize and manage workload, and are generally happier than before they developed AI habits.

    But what are those habits that separate an AI Power User from an explorer or novice? According to the report, the number one sign of a Power User is their willingness to explore and experiment with new ways to use their AI tools. This can range from attempting to solve new and different problems with AI to trying multiple different prompts and comparing results. Brainstorming and problem solving of this sort just scratches the surface, however, as AI Power Users report using their tools for tasks as varied as catching up on missed meetings, designing presentation content, and even improving existing workflows.

    This new category of employees already has started to stand out in the crowded field, and that gap will only continue to grow as AI becomes more in demand.


    Whose Tools Are They, Anyway?

    The rise of AI Power Users has created an unforeseen and potentially tricky complication for businesses to navigate. Many users have started to use their own AI tools in their day-to-day workflow, either out of necessity (in jobs that do not have existing AI-assisted workflows in place) or out of personal preference for a particular tool’s functionality. While this initiative is often rightly celebrated, it can create headaches, particularly regarding system security and data ownership.

    78% of workers who use AI tools report that they have brought their own AI into the workplace, with that number rising in small to medium-sized businesses (SMBs). This phenomenon is not exclusive to the younger generation just entering the workforce, however, with every generation of worker polled reporting BYOAI use at least 73% of the time.

    Why is this happening?

    One answer that was repeated often was simple overwhelm or burnout. 68% of respondents reported that they struggle with the workload or pace of their job, with almost half of respondents reporting feeling burnout. Even with many businesses returning to in-person or hybrid work schedules, the balance of meetings, large piles of emails, and the day-to-day rigors of workflow can all snowball, leaving users seeking relief in the form of AI tools.

    Most users who turn to AI without leadership prompting (or strategy) do it to try to tunnel out from under a mountain of emails, meeting notes, and countless other tasks that keep them from doing the “main course” of their job. By bringing in and experimenting with their own AI tools, forward-thinking employees allow themselves to work more efficiently while also increasing job satisfaction.

    Another reason these trailblazers bring their own tools to the workforce is because of a lack of training on offer from their employers. Only 39% of people who use AI around the world have been given training by their employers, the survey found, leaving employees to learn AI on their own, and implement it in whatever fashion they can. With only 25% of businesses planning to offer any sort of AI training this year, the trend is likely to continue.

    This disparity between forward-thinkers and their employers can create complications, however, particularly in regard to system security. Introducing new software to a system, or opening up systems to un-approved web-based AI tools, could potentially cause headaches for security teams and compliance officers, even if the tools being used are tested and reputable.


    The Future is Here, But It Has to Be Planned For

    The concern above underlines two important factors that were reiterated in the report- a need for strategy in AI implementation and a need for workers and leadership to be aligned on the topic of AI. Only when those two aspects are in synch will companies fully harness the power of AI in the workplace.

    Without a strategy in place, AI use will be too sporadic and uncoordinated to be successful. This lack of vision for how AI can be used on a day-to-day basis often comes from an ambivalence to the concept of AI, with 60% of leaders responding that they worry their organization does not have a plan to implement AI successfully, and 45% of executives not investing in AI tools or training for their companies at all. The risks of falling behind the competition, both in their bottom line and in the hiring process, are real, and weighing on leaders, who overwhelmingly believe that adopting some form of AI workflow will be necessary for long-term success.


    What is keeping businesses from adapting a strategy and going all in on AI?

    In addition to the worries about system security outlined above, which would be nullified with a pre-approved, organization wide strategy, many businesses, particularly in creative fields, are grappling with questions of ownership over the generated work. With the evolving nature of compliance and regulation of AI created content, these concerns are legitimate, but a well-designed, top-down AI strategy will ease these doubts, as any guidelines implemented will have compliance and regulation built-in, just like any other workflow or company policy.

    A more difficult worry to assuage may be “how do we quantify productivity gains from AI”, which is a question over half of leaders in the survey reported grappling with. While the answers to this question will naturally vary from business to business, metrics such as “time spent answering emails”, “time brainstorming”, and “chat or email response time” are all starting points for measurable, trackable metrics.

    A good AI strategy is vital, but how does a business implement it? According to the survey, organizations need to ensure a top-down, bottom-up approach, meaning every employee, from the front lines to the executive suites, needs to be knowledgeable about the AI tools at their disposal, and engaged in the plan to bring it to fruition.


    The Time to Decide is Now

    In short, only when a business is “All In” on AI will they begin to attract the type of Power User required to make the most out of the revolutionary tools now available. When businesses take a forward-thinking mindset and align themselves with the expectations and needs of this new generation of AI Power Users, they will begin to reap rewards that are both quantitative and qualitative- increased efficiency and productivity in the workplace and happier employees. The future is here, now it is up to businesses to adapt.


    Embrace AI with a Trusted Partner

    Enavate is plugged in to the latest advancements in AI and how it can be leveraged through your ERP, CRM, and other business productivity applications. If you need a trusted partner to guide you through the AI strategy and execution journey, contact an Enavate AI expert today!

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