Technology advances in the workplace are creating a real buzz among the business pages. Alexa for Business, for example, effectively removes barriers to using applications through the use of voice-enabled controls that promise to enable organisations and employees to achieve a smarter day. But is the workplace ready for such AI deployment and is this a step in the right direction or a step too far that blurs the boundaries between our relationships with work, technology and our ability to maintain a healthy work life balance?
Picture the scene: It’s a typical Monday morning, woken at 6am by your Alexa alarm, she connects to your work based device, reminds you of your schedule for the day, monitors your heart rate during morning exercise, counts your calorie consumption over breakfast, books in a meeting room and transcribes your meeting to compile the minutes. Come the end of the day can the commute be more productive too? How closely should employers be able to monitor employees spent inside and outside of work?
For the tech savvy, gym bunny monitoring every minute of their day may be a hugely positive and an empowering exercise to be embraced enthusiastically. But others may see it as a substantial invasion of privacy.
The reality is the technology is here and the workforce is embracing it, albeit in their homes. In Q3 of 2017 Amazon boss Jeff Bezos dropped into conversation that over 20 million Alexa devices had been sold. While in Q1 of 2018 Google Home devices took the top spot following the ever-common pattern of Amazon pioneering technology and Google improving on it. With the advent of the Alexa microwave, our virtual assistants will soon be preparing our favourite meals.
More help from virtual assistants frees up a workforce for family time, fitness or overlapping work commitments. Many of us already carry work with us in our pockets anyway – the lines between tech, work and leisure time are already blurred – but thanks to voice recognition it’s becoming an altogether more human interaction. Surely bringing Alexa to work is a natural progression?
Natural perhaps, but employers embracing new technology need to set boundaries to ensure individuals personal security, enabling their employees to be more efficient in work time and encouraging a healthier work like balance.
In the wake of the GDPR, personal and personnel information and how it’s processed is a key factor for all businesses and the consumers and the clients they work with.
With many businesses taking to the cloud, individual security is a concern for consumers and employees. Technology is helping to remedy this; with significant advances in fingerprint and facial recognition having already made an impact with banking apps and across the security industries.
To achieve greater efficiency in your organisation, let technology take the strain, automate the tasks that nobody wants to do such as editing, reporting, research or admin. AI can take away the drudgery, freeing up teams to exercise their judgement or take on more creative tasks. Office management programmes such as ‘Microsoft Teams’ enable remote working and helping to connect part-time employees, contractors and employees offsite. All this helps to encourage and nurture a more diverse workforce.
Last but by no means least companies need to set boundaries on how they use technology to help employees achieve a greater work life balance. Knowing your employees can be contacted at a moment’s notice doesn’t mean they should be. Recent findings by The University of The West of England (UWE) stated that with increased smart phone usage, all rail commuters should be paid for their commuting time.
Three Square Market (32M), a Wisconsin-based technology firm, began implanting willing employees with radio-frequency identification (RFID) technology; it allows them to log on to computers, open doors, use the copy machine and purchase food at work instead of using a badge or a credit card. More than 50 employees opted-in to have the chips implanted for convenience.
For some this is a step too far in terms of the potential for employers to monitor how their employees choose to spend their free time and scrutinise their lifestyle choices. However, like it or not, smart tech is here to stay and looks set to continue to minimise the gap between work and personal life. More over, the business benefits to be gained from AI are numerous.
Indeed, a Forbes Insight survey conducted in 2018 found that 95% of the C-suite believe that AI “will play an important role in their responsibilities in the near future”, with 99% stating their intention to increase the level of investment made in this area over the next 12 months. Intentions are all well and good, but the impact on the bottom line is ultimately what the C-suite will be looking at.
According to the survey, 3 in 5 (40%) of senior executives report an increase in productivity, a 28% reduction in costs and a 19% boost in revenues as a direct result of AI initiatives such as those cited above.
Whilst the advantages are numerous – and some likely to come into effect without our noticing – employers and employees should ensure a fair distribution between time at work and time at home. As in most other areas, the tech we create can be used to help or hinder and it will be down to the individual to find the right blended balance.