Automation has the powerful potential to streamline operations, modernize our workforces, and eliminate the most unappealing job functions. Despite these benefits, there is trepidation surrounding the deployment of artificial intelligence (AI) in business.

Between the fear of job loss and the headlines focused on worst-case scenarios, AI doesn’t always get a fair shake. Now that many individuals are practicing social distancing and working from home due to COVID-19, our concerns about the future of work are more intensified than ever before.

According to Gartner, AI could fully automate 69 percent of the routine work performed by managers by 2024. This might create the perception that two-thirds of managers will be at risk of losing their jobs, but that’s not quite the case. When we talk about the “routine” work AI can automate, we’re talking about the boring, repetitive tasks managers must perform each day, like filling in forms, updating information, and approving workflows. If managers could ditch some or all of those aspects of their jobs, they could focus instead on being better team leaders, providing superior guidance, and developing more innovative ideas for their companies.

This is the beauty of the hybrid workforce revolution, enabled by advanced AIs that act as “digital coworkers” to human employees. When these two groups work cohesively together, your digital associates can augment the work of your human employees by handling all the boring, repeatable objectives. In turn, your human employees can spend more time and energy on their most integral and impactful tasks.

This might sound like science fiction, but the hybrid workforce is coming faster than you think. Market intelligence provider IDC recently reported that worldwide AI spending will reach $97.9 billion in 2023. This is a significant increase over the firm’s previous report, which estimated global AI expenditures would reach $77.6 billion in 2022.

Even today, many employers are already taking advantage of AI to handle high-volume tasks at scale. If you’d like to do the same and get in on the ground floor of the hybrid workforce revolution, here are a few tips:

1. Gain the Support of Human Employees

The hybrid workforce is only possible when human workers truly embrace their digital associates. For that to happen, your human employees must first understand the benefits of their new digital colleagues.

Your workers may not achieve that understanding overnight. Some may be unsure that AI is capable of delivering on the hype, or they may worry it could negatively impact their jobs on some level. Many employees are hesitant because they don’t yet realize AI will enhance their roles and responsibilities, not diminish them.

As you work to gain the support of your human employees, it is imperative to identify allies who can become advocates of the hybrid workforce in your organization. They may be individuals who understand AI’s full potential or have experienced it firsthand during a pilot with digital workers. In either case, these advocates will be invaluable in inspiring others to support your efforts to implement digital employees.

2. Select the Right Target Area

AI can perform many tasks, from IT support to on-demand employees services, so it’s important to find the right use case before making an investment in a hybrid workforce.

As a study from HFS Research and my own company, IPsoft, suggests, customer service is particularly well-suited for initial forays into pairing human workers with digital associates. When deployed within a customer service team, a lifelike conversational AI can easily take charge as the front-end agent, addressing customer queries as they arise. In many cases, the technology can automatically process and resolve customer problems on its own, including account issues and credit card disputes. If an issue should require greater assistance, the conversational AI can act as a whisper agent to provide key details to the human staff. When necessary, the AI can even escalate the request to a human who can step in and solve the problem.

Thus, your AI and human staff members can work in unison to fulfill your organization’s customer service needs.

3. Be Transparent From Day One

Employees want to know what to expect of their digital colleagues, and customers want to know whom they are speaking to when they call for support. It’s critical, then, that any efforts to introduce AI to your business operations include complete transparency.

On an internal level, managers will want to know when ROI will be realized, and human employees will want to know how and when their workloads will change. If you want to ensure a successful union of digital and human workers on the same team, you must proactively answer these and other key questions your employees will have.

Your workers will also need full transparency into the processes for interacting with their new digital colleagues. In a call center, for example, human staff members will need to know when to take over from an AI agent and what information they can expect to receive from the conversational AI when their assistance is needed. This will facilitate a smoother adjustment as your human workers get used to operating side by side with AI.

The New Force Behind Your Workforce

Digital workers can bring so much to an enterprise. Instead of replacing humans, AI can strengthen their positions, allowing organizations to get the most out of their staff members. At the same time, employees can get more out of their jobs as AI allows them to be productive in roles they find more engaging and satisfying.

In the event an employee’s job is wholly replaced by AI, you can help steer them toward the new opportunities AI is creating. As a 2019 report from the McKinsey Global Institute shows, AI will create nearly as many jobs as it phases out, and these cutting-edge, higher-value jobs are often much more rewarding than the jobs AI is taking.

Jonathan Crane is chief operating officer at IPsoft.

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