CMS Wire recently posted an article titled, Ready or Not, Here Come the ‘Digital Employees’.
It was the term ‘Digital Employees’ that caught my attention in the article’s title. HR has been talking about the dreaded artificial intelligence takeover since someone put the letters ‘A’ and ‘I’ next to each other, but never had I actually heard A.I. for the workplace described as a digital employee.
For me, it begged the question: just what is a digital employee?
Defining Digital Employees
It makes sense to look at A.I. for the workplace as a digital employee. Take a look at two of the most pervasive forms of A.I. in today’s world, Siri and Alexa. We’ve attached human names to both of these technologies; by default, that gives them a more humanlike quality, as does the way we describe them (our personal assistants) and the way we talk to them (through requests and banter). We even give them humanlike voices.
Humans like blurring the lines between humanity and technology, and A.I. takes that enjoyment to heightened levels.
So, it stands to reason that we qualify workplace A.I. as an actual employee. We’ll even “hire” these digital employees—i.e. selecting the best fit for the current needs of the company.
The digital employee the CMS Wire article dives in on is Amelia. Much like we’ve done with other platforms of A.I., this workplace A.I. has a human name and performs human functions. The article gives an overview of just what Amelia is capable of doing, and comes with the titular warning to get ready for A.I. to come into your workplace.
As desensitized as you might be to A.I., and as at peace as you might be with the fact you will eventually “hire” a digital employee, consider this: the weight we give to A.I. and the humanity we infuse into it will have serious ramifications on how your “analog” employees welcome your new digital employees.
Consider the Analog Employees
These A.I. platforms have names; they’re going to be “hired” by companies; we’re calling them employees; ultimately, workplace A.I. is every bit as influential (if not more so) on company operations as a human “analog” employee.
And, just like when you hire a human employee who is going to have a major impact on your team, the people who work for you are going to have some major reservations. Is this employee coming to replace me? Are they going to throw a wrench into operations? Will I have to do more work? Will we get along? All questions that are asked by your teams before an influential hire is made will be asked when a digital employee is brought on.
So, how can you as a leader assuage feelings of panic that will inevitably arise when a digital employee gets brought on?
Treat A.I.’s onboarding process like you would a human employee.
Onboarding is all about getting the employee settled into their role, and a big part of that is introducing them to their team in a way that makes both sides feel comfortable. However, until robots have the capacity to feel comfort, there’s only one side of the equation you need to worry about right now: how your human employees feel about their new digital coworker.
Introduce them to the ins and outs of A.I. Don’t just train them how to use it, but explain what the worth of the platform is and how it’s going to make their job easier, not harder or obsolete. Getting the partnership of digital + analog started on the right foot is imperative.
Problems between digital employees and human employees? Treat mediation the same.
If one human employee takes issue with another human employee, you don’t dismiss their concerns with the wave of a hand and tell them to get over it. You mediate the problem and find a solution that works for everyone.
And so it should got for if a human employee has a problem with a digital employee. Rather than forcing this new technology down your human employees’ throats and refusing to hear out any valid issues they might have with it, you need to have an open ear to your people. Once you hear them out, find a way forward that makes sense for you, the company, and both your digital and human employees.
Don’t let your analog employees place all error blame on your digital employees.
A threat with any technology is the ease in which we can blame it for our own missteps. Sure, technology messes up every now and then, but did a blip in the email server really delete that email you didn’t want to attend to?
In the same way you wouldn’t allow one employee to point fingers at another and blindly take their word for it, you have to do some investigating if your human employees start trying to place blame on that “crazy new technology” in the office.
When in doubt, just remember—it’s important to view A.I. as a digital employee. It’s going to impact your team the same way any other employee would, and, as a leader, it’s your job to make sure all of your employees—digital or not—are working together to bring the company to a win.