Thinking Outside the Bots: AI in the Workplace

December 12, 2017
By

Category: HR Tips & Trends

AI in the workplace - bots

When we hear the term “artificial intelligence,” our minds may jump to films like “Ex-Machina,” in which automated human replicants charm, excite, and ultimately, endanger the lives of real humans. Most of these sci-fi thrillers are wildly intriguing and offer boundless possibilities within this new frontier of human invention, but they also highlight society’s underlying fear of automation. Need I say more on the topic or has everyone seen “West World?”

While the reality of AI is a bit tamer than the human-robot love stories we see on screen, Hollywood does get one thing right: it all starts with friendly conversation. Chatbots are the newest communication tool used in the workplace; from human resources departments and beyond, these bots help with everything from augmented data analytics to customer service helpers. AI is no longer just a future trend; it’s happening now and developing quickly. Below, we will focus on the reality of artificial intelligence and current trends— from the logistics and financial benefits to the implementation of these platforms.

Investment in AI startups is growing exponentially. In 2016 alone, 200 AI-centered companies saw a global investment of $1.5 billion. The reason chatbots and other forms of AI have become so popular? They not only save companies money and time, but also give both employees and customers more enjoyable experiences while doing it. Perhaps it sounds counterintuitive to implement bots in the inherently person-centered field of HR, but remember they are used predominantly as tools for communication and enhanced engagement — two key elements of a successful HR department. According to a recent study conducted by the Society for Human Resource Management, the largest challenge for HR departments is keeping employees engaged and therefore happy. Luckily, these bots are here to help.

The Q&A Chatbot

The first and perhaps friendliest of chatbots are HR liaisons. They answer questions about benefits, scheduling, and health insurance plans. One successful example of this helpful chatbot is named Jane, created by an AI company called Loka. Employees can ask her questions such as “who is our medical provider?” and “do we get Memorial Day off?” and they will receive instant responses, 24 hours a day. Whereas humans need sleep, time off, morning coffee, and they still can’t cater to employee’ every immediate need. Jane also has other helpful features; she can measure employee satisfaction in real time and promote benefits that employees may not have been aware of. An employee might also receive a message from Jane reminding him/her that dinner will be offered soon or that there will be a free yoga class starting downstairs at 2:00 p.m.

The Performance Bot

Still in the early stages of development, these bots aim to rid managers of one of the most time-consuming, and therefore expensive, processes in the office: performance reviews. Larger companies may spend millions of dollars on a performance management process to ultimately collect mediocre data. These performance bots aim to passively collect data from employee messages, emails, chat boxes, etc.

One example of a performance bot is called Engazify, a program which integrates easily into workplace applications such as Slack, Skype, etc. Engazify eliminates the process of paperwork and annual performance reviews, flagging employees that have shown negative or alarming behaviors, and rewarding those who have been positive and productive. This makes the feedback process continuous with brief weekly summaries. Bots such as Engazify also collect more pertinent and detailed feedback data from employees in a time-efficient manner.

The Hiring Bot

Now that we have performance reviews out of the way, let’s focus on the next tedious and overwhelming component of HR jobs: hiring. Who here looks forward to sifting through a title wave of applications the day after posting a job description? Well, luckily those days are gone. These hiring bots can screen first-wave applicants by chatting with them in real time. Job Pal is a great example of one of these bots; it gleans information from applications through a friendly conversation of customizable questions and answers. It can help compile data, it works 24/7, and it has an incredibly easy interface, encouraging more job-seekers to apply.

Saberr is another example of the hiring bot, focusing specifically on finding the applicant who best fits the culture of the company. It creates a fun survey for existing employees to define their collective preferences and values. Then the company can administer the same survey to applicants to find a good fit for the rest of the team. If you’re interested in these types of bots, there are many more! Check out some of these hiring bots to learn how to implement them in your company: Ari, Gobe, Jobo, Joboti, and XOR.

The Secretary Bot

Weekly or even daily meetings are a part of most people’s work days. Whether these meetings are enjoyable or not, nobody wants to go through the back-and-forth of scheduling coffee dates or finding a time that works for all parties. This is where automated assistants come into play, and nobody will argue that they’ll miss this menial work. A company called X.ai has recently released an example of this bot, called Andrew or Amy Ingram, both of which have the initials AI. For this specific example, when someone emails you asking for a meeting, you would simply cc Andrew, who will then continue to converse with your coworker, until the two of them find a time that works with both schedules. Andrew will then book a meeting place and send one final confirmation email to all parties. In many cases, the employee conversing with the automated assistant didn’t know Andrew was a bot!

Another example of an automated assistant is one used by Overstock.com, known as MILA. This bot’s sole function is to solve scheduling issues. Whether an employee is sick and cannot make their shift or they’ve decided a long lunch is just what they need that day, MILA will alert the manager, adjust the employee’s’ schedule or hours, and help find a replacement for that shift.

The creators of these bots are all working to beat similar challenges in the workplace: boredom, repetition, disillusionment, and disengagement. As a result, these bots are, first and foremost, fast. After that, they’re engaging and designed to help with employee morale. When used efficiently (i.e. for the correct tasks) and with proper supervision, these new technologies have saved companies up to $20 million worldwide this year alone and are expected to save businesses $8 billion by 2022, and these are just surface-level costs.

When looking at customer service chatbots, for instance, not only do they save time, but they are more reliable in terms of compliance, which can save the reputation of a brand and encourage customers to return. A recent survey revealed that 39% of customers continue to avoid vendors for two or more years after a bad customer service experience, with higher-income families more likely than lower-income families to follow this trend. A chatbot will eliminate the risk of a negative customer service interaction, keeping them satisfied and coming back for more.

So then, what about our underlying fear of artificial intelligence exhibited by the majority of sci-fi films in the 21st century? While these chatbots might be incredibly human-like, they are far from human and lack many of our capabilities. Of course there are also certain downsides to incorporating this technology into the workplace; for instance, these bots cannot make judgment calls, nor can they handle unexpected situations, among other issues. These aforementioned bots are instead tools to liberate employees from tedious tasks, allowing them to pursue more challenging and fulfilling projects.

This idea of intellectually challenging employees has proven crucial to physical and mental health. In an experiment conducted by Csikszentmihalyi and Larson at the University of Chicago, participants reported their best daily moments as times they felt their bodies or minds were being “stretched.” This means they were completing difficult and worthwhile projects as opposed to menial and repetitive tasks. Wipe out hours of setting meetings or performance reviews, and employees will be left with only the meaningful and enjoyable aspects of their jobs, boosting morale and increasing productivity.

Have any comments or questions about bots in the workplace? Let’s chat. I’ll Cc my assistant Andrew….

About

After working in the field of psychology research for years, Bella loves sharing what she's learned in a more directly impactful context. She's interested in the intersection of people and business, and wants to promote conversations about HR. She's an amateur ceramicist, pro dog walker, and produces podcasts on the side.

Category: HR Tips & Trends


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