The future of remote work is a hotly debated topic, with employees moving away from the office for long periods of time and many employers preferring to keep workers where they can see them. Ultimately, we will settle for a hybrid work environment that combines varying degrees of work from home (WFH) and being active in the office.
As important as it has proved during the pandemic, however, working from home was not without its disadvantages. Poor connectivity, potential security issues and complicated workflows have plagued many businesses as they try to keep afloat during shutdowns. So if this model is to flourish in a post-pandemic world, new technologies will have to advance to meet the needs of workers and owners.
AI drives intelligent aid
Artificial intelligence has the potential to dramatically improve the home work environment, providing much-needed support for communication, collaboration, workflow management and even security. But getting there won’t be as easy as loading up some new software and letting it run. Businesses of all stripes will need to carefully consider how AI should support the workforce of the future and at what level it might affect workflows and business models.
The best way to get started is to establish a solid AI foundation, says Alex Smith, global AI product manager for the iManage Knowledge Labor Platform. Since AI thrives on data, a central repository for all enterprise data is essential, and this can only be done in the cloud. In a world where data access must be maintained for workers at home, the office, and anywhere in between, only the cloud has the potential to provide such widespread connectivity.
Plus, the cloud makes it easy to find and share documents, email, and other files, in addition to providing advanced security, contactless architecture, threat analysis, and other means of ensuring data access is properly managed – All of these can be complemented by AI as the data ecosystem grows in size and complexity.
Once this foundation is established, organizations can strategically apply AI across multiple processes to ensure that work gets done, no matter where the employee is sitting. Knowledge management, on the other hand, benefits immensely from AI in identifying people who have the experience and skills to complete a particular project.
In a way, AI’s ability to support hybrid work environments is one of the biggest fears surrounding the technology. Not only will it take away your job, but it also empowers you to work where and how you want. In Cisco’s first Global Hybrid Work Index, AI features prominently as one of the main drivers of work in the future.
From July to September 2021 alone, the company saw a 200% increase in the use of AI for key aspects of engagement in remote meetings. These include noise reduction, automatic translation and transcription, polling, gesture recognition, and other tools needed to maintain conversational workflows in both in-person and virtual environments.
time of need
One of the things the pandemic has done for the hybrid work environment is to demonstrate that necessity does indeed lead to innovation. All major work and collaboration platforms have embarked on the development of AI in response to the rapid growth of remote work. Chris Rowen of Webex recently highlighted the myriad ways AI can improve platform performance and integrate new features.
On the other hand, audio intelligence helps ensure that regardless of the distance between the speaker and the microphone, only relevant speech occurs, not barking dogs or sirens. Real-time translation and closed captioning have also been added to the Webex Assistant, allowing users to converse in over 100 languages.
As hybrid working becomes commonplace in the digital workplace, we can expect AI to provide more than just a supporting role, but to be an active participant. Platforms like MoveWorks are leading the way with conversational AI, which gives chatbots the ability to mimic human speech.
As CEO Bhavin Shah explained at VentureBeat’s recent Future of Work Summit, conversational AI is being driven by three key changes in business: SaaS integration, enterprise messaging, and advances in understanding. Natural Language (NLU). While the technology is by no means perfect, Shah says emerging technologies like advanced spell checking and statistical grammar models will allow chatbots to become more efficient at reacting to conversations rather than predetermining them.
To be sure, some stubborn companies will resist the transition to hybrid work, largely out of fear that insecure employees will not be encouraged to give their all.
But while it can be difficult to monitor the time employees spend at their home workstations, their productivity is not. And with AI poised to analyze performance across the enterprise on a granular level, resilient work is likely to be a boon to most organizations, not a detriment.