While virtual assistants like Amazon’s Alexa have been widely adopted by consumers, the use of AI-enabled tools in the workplace hasn’t quite caught up yet. But various sources indicate that this is set to change over the next few years. Gartner predicts that by 2025, 50% of knowledge workers will use a virtual assistant on a daily basis, up from 2% in 2019. A report from Research Dive supports this, forecasting that the global conversational AI market will grow by over 21% from 2021 to 2028.
Several events and trends have accelerated the demand for conversational technologies that support people at work. First, there was the widespread shift to remote working at the beginning of the pandemic. Employees working virtually have sometimes struggled to adapt to the lack of in-person support, but offering an AI assistant has proven to be a way for people to quickly get the help they need.
Then came the Great Resignation, which shows no signs of abating and continues to affect nearly all aspects of the workplace. One major impact is that with so many people exiting the workforce, employees who haven’t jumped ship often find themselves burdened with extra work. That includes mundane or administrative tasks — exactly the type of work that AI is designed to help with.
One final trend driving the adoption of AI-powered virtual assistants is the growing recognition of how work impacts our mental and physical health. There’s no question that employees are struggling with stress, burnout, and overwork more than ever before — and offering AI tools, while certainly not a panacea for all well-being issues, can help workers focus more on what really matters.
With all of these factors at play, the predictions around increased AI use at work are perhaps not that surprising. Whether your company is already using AI or you’re still in the preliminary stages of adoption, it’s a good idea to examine the many benefits that these technologies can offer and consider whether there are any new solutions you might want to offer.
Let’s take a look at 5 ways AI-enabled assistants can support people at work, as well as some key features you should look for in these tools.
1. AI assistants can make HR tasks easier
According to a study by G&A Partners, HR spends 73% of its time on administrative activities. That includes helping employees with benefits questions or enrollment, PTO requests and balance inquiries, and pay or tax information. However, many of these issues can be addressed more effectively by conversational AI technologies, which would reduce some of the busy work for both HR staff and the workers they support.
In addition to freeing up valuable employee time by automating responses to frequently asked questions and completing tasks, employees can use AI assistants to get access to crucial information when and where they need it. And it’s clear that workers recognize the value of these tools. In a recent survey from isolved, 71% of full-time employees said they were willing to use a conversational virtual assistant to accomplish HR tasks.
2. AI assistants can simplify the onboarding process
The onboarding experience can make or break a new hire’s introduction to their employer. According to Glassdoor, employees who rate their onboarding experience as highly effective are 18 times more likely to feel highly committed to their organization. Other research finds that companies with a robust onboarding process improve new hire retention by a whopping 82% and productivity by 70%.
Despite these benefits, just 12% of workers feel that their organization does a great job of onboarding new employees. That’s an alarming statistic, and while there are many factors that go into employee onboarding, offering an AI assistant is one way that companies can better welcome their new team members. An interactive chat experience can help kickstart the first days of work and make it easier for new hires to find what they need, feel connected, and get productive.
3. AI assistants can support employee learning and development
Bolstering employee skill-building efforts is enormously critical right now, as 87% of companies worldwide report that they already have a skills gap or will have one within a few years. But while executives say that reskilling is the best way to close the capability gap, only 1 out of 3 companies report that their skill-building programs have been successful.
AI-powered assistants can provide support in this area, long after an employee’s initial onboarding. These tools can actually learn an employee’s strengths and weaknesses over time and suggest specific training to help them address areas where they’re struggling. They can also suggest learning opportunities aligned with an individual’s unique interests and responsibilities, enabling professional growth and boosting job satisfaction as well.
4. AI assistants can help workers offload administrative tasks
Gartner predicts that 70% of white-collar workers will interact with some type of conversational AI platform on a daily basis this year. This means that employees are using AI for more than just HR questions. In fact, AI assistants can help with a wide variety of administrative tasks, from scheduling meetings to room booking, travel booking, IT support, and more.
A recent Forbes article highlighted some specific (and more unique) use cases across different industries. For example, intelligent chatbots are being used in sales organizations to prioritize sales calls. In education, virtual agents can offload administrative tasks from teachers, giving them more time for teaching. Similarly, health care providers can benefit from AI that supports patients and enables self-care.
5. AI assistants can streamline the employee feedback loop
Forward-thinking organizations know that it’s critical to gather employee feedback on a regular basis. However, too often this process is done in an ad hoc fashion, and workers may perceive that their input isn’t resulting in any real change. An AI assistant can get anonymous (and therefore more honest) feedback from employees and ensure that it reaches the right people, which helps create a culture of transparency and continuous improvement.
And the process behind this doesn’t have to be complex. For example, isolved’s conversational virtual assistant will include functionality that allows employers to gather employee feedback via regular "pulse" surveys. The tool will also help HR and business leaders to schedule polls, quizzes and broadcasts, while empowering them with analytics to drive better engagement and improve processes.
What to look for in AI-powered virtual assistant solutions
While AI assistants can offer many benefits, not all solutions are alike. Here are a few features to look for as you consider the options that are available:
- An experienced vendor with proven success stories
- Integrations (e.g., with Microsoft Teams, Slack, WhatsApp)
- Low complexity, both in use and implementation
- High ROI — it’s a good idea to start with tools that help employees with time-consuming tasks, or tools that answer FAQs about HR topics
- Customization options for your specific needs
- Interactions that are fun and chat-like (i.e., “normal” vs. robotic)
AI: An important piece of the employee experience puzzle
AI-enabled assistants are set to become a key part of every organization’s digital transformation in the years to come. Not only are more employees expecting this type of support, but the future success of your business could depend on it. With benefits like a stronger onboarding process, better skill-building programs, and more productive, healthier workers, there’s really no reason why conversational technologies shouldn’t be on every leader’s agenda right now.
Thanks for reading — be sure to join the conversation on LinkedIn and let me know whether your company offers a virtual assistant tool, and how this has benefitted employees.