Artificial Intelligence is well on its way to make its presence felt at workplaces, and not just at those operated by tech businesses. (Image is for illustrative purposes.) Image Credit: Gulf News

Contrary to common fears around how artificial intelligence (AI) will impact jobs, employees, managers and HR leaders in the UAE are welcoming AI in the workplace with love and optimism.

A study of 8,370 employees, managers and HR leaders across 10 countries found that AI has changed the relationship between people and technology at work and is reshaping the role HR teams and managers need to play in attracting, retaining and developing talent. The increasing adoption of AI at work is having a significant impact on the way employees collaborate at the workplace, and they are ready to welcome AI-colleagues with open arms.

The study reveals that 72 per cent of UAE respondents are either excited or optimistic about having robot co-workers. Babyboomers (50 per cent) and millennials (47 per cent) expressed more willingness to have robot co-workers as compared to Gen Z digital natives (41 per cent). That’s according to the second annual AI at Work study conducted by Oracle and Future Workplace,

Pass on the mundane stuff

UAE workers would like to delegate mundane tasks like creating expense reports, calculating employee benefits, writing pay checks and managing vacation requests to AI-enabled robots. Twelve per cent of UAE workers would also like AI to deliver career coaching, while 7 per cent are comfortable allowing AI to conduct job interviews.

When speaking of AI, we’re talking about enabling machines and their software to sense, comprehend, act, and learn. AI is meant to enhance human cognitive performance and is creating entirely new job categories. AI provides new opportunities to upskill and “up-level”.

But a way to pick up skills too

The study found that UAE workers are looking at the increasing adoption of AI in the workplace as an opportunity to acquire new skills and deliver more strategic work for their organization. When asked what new opportunities they think will be created through using AI, 43 per cent of UAE respondents chose learning new skills. Thirty-eight per cent followed that up with opportunities to expand their role to be more strategic.

Having more free time to pursue other interests was chosen by 39 per cent of UAE workers; 27 per cent felt that AI can help them drive better organizational change and have a better and healthier work relationship; 26 per cent of workers believe that AI will help them achieve faster promotions; and 18 per cent hoped to secure a higher salary.

Even tunes up personal ties

The impact of AI at work is only just beginning, and workers are looking at the technology to create a positive impact on their professional and personal relationships. Workers in fact say that AI improves professional and personal relationships.

More than 50 per cent said that AI has had a positive impact on their relationship with other employees, while 36 per cent felt better engagement with their manager. Respondents also said that AI has positively impacted their relationship with their spouse/partner (6 per cent) and their children (7 per cent).

Going all mainstream now

The latest advancements in machine learning and artificial intelligence are rapidly reaching mainstream, resulting in a massive shift in the way people interact with technology and their teams. The relationship between humans and machines is being redefined at work, and there is no one-size-fits-all approach to successfully managing this change.

Instead, organizations need to partner with their HR organization to personalize the approach to implementing AI at work in order to meet the changing expectations of their teams around the world.

The increasing adoption of AI at work is having a significant impact on the way employees interact with their managers. As a result, the traditional role of HR teams and the manager is shifting. Workers in India (89 per cent) and China (88 per cent) are more trusting of robots over their managers, followed by Singapore (83 per cent), Brazil (78 per cent), Japan (76 per cent), the UAE (74 per cent), Australia/New Zealand (58 per cent), the US (57 per cent), UK (54 per cent) and France (56 per cent).

When asked what robots can do better than their managers, UAE respondents said robots are better at maintaining work schedules, problem solving and providing unbiased information. When asked what managers can do better than robots, UAE workers said the top three tasks were understanding their feelings (46 per cent), coaching them (32 per cent) and evaluate team performance (25 per cent).

The impact of AI at work is only just beginning and in order to take advantage of the latest advancements in AI, organizations need to focus on simplifying and securing AI at work or risk being left behind.

Given AI’s enormous potential and the expectation on the part of employees to begin using AI in their professional lives, what steps should HR leaders take to introduce AI into the workplace? If AI is to receive the attention and funding it deserves to usher in a new wave of productivity, it will have to address senior executives’ leading concerns.

A few areas where HR professionals are starting to deploy AI include recruiting, learning, and HR helpdesk.

Embracing AI means speeding the transition from repetitive, nonvalue-added tasks to more engaging strategic activities. Getting there will require HR to meet with IT to create a solid data management strategy that allows the organization to manage, synthesize, and analyze HR data, cross-functional data, and third-party data.

And then apply data science to come up with meaningful insights and recommendations. This is the foundation for supporting a real AI strategy and deriving meaningful insight.

- Emily He is Senior Vice-President – HCM Marketing at Oracle.