Investing in AI to Enhance Remote Work

By Kelvene Requiroso

Artificial intelligence (AI) and remote work are a great match for transforming the way we work, a process the coronavirus pandemic has accelerated. Telecommuting and work-from-home arrangements have enabled companies to remain operational and productive despite social distancing measures that have shut down many offices.

These work-from-home arrangements are popular with employees, and companies have seen benefits too, so they’re likely to continue in some form.

As remote work is here to stay, and AI is becoming ubiquitous, it’s only natural they should come together. Work becomes easier as machines perform specific tasks with greater efficiency, opening a broader space for humans to perform complex roles. To keep the momentum moving forward, CIOs must look to the future and consider investing in technologies that enhance our daily lives and make work more manageable for everyone.

AI skepticism

Before the COVID-19 global health crisis, the discourse on artificial intelligence (AI) had been marked by skepticism, even from people in the tech industry like Elon Musk, arguing that it poses an ‘existential risk’. But the year 2020 made many realize the untapped potential of AI for remote work.

The skepticism can be justified, though, as with any other tool, AI can be double-edged. People can harness it for collecting private data to sell to marketers, sowing disinformation, and producing fake content. But it can also serve to make life easier, healthier, and more productive.

AI and remote work technology spending

Gartner projects a 6.2% worldwide technology spending in 2021, which is promising given that 2020 was a year full of uncertainty due to the coronavirus pandemic.

However, investment managers see growth opportunities in the IT industry in different ways. Spending focuses on digital transformation to support cost savings. Deloitte’s 2021 investment management industry outlook shows a decline in investments in AI projects (-6%) and robotic process automation (-13%). The reason perhaps is that AI’s impact is non-linear, and that it may accumulate over time.

Ninety-two percent of Deloitte’s survey respondents believe that businesses are implementing remote work technologies to enhance their outsourcing and offshoring, enabling their employees to work anywhere. Investment managers are keen on spending on data privacy (54%), cybersecurity (46%), cloud technologies (41%), data analytics (31%), and digital channels (18%).

AI Offers High ROI

In a separate Deloitte study, companies see a positive ROI from their AI implementations. Sitting at the top for returns is the area of customer service and experience at 74%. IT operations and infrastructure follow at 69%, and planning and decision-making at 66%.

The figures show us that increasing spending in AI and remote work technologies would gain positive returns, and gives us more reasons to be thrilled by what AI can do in relation to remote work.

Redefining work and automation

AI can enhance our everyday lives. It helps us choose which music or movie to play, guides our way through city traffic, informs us about the weather, and so on. But more than that, it transforms industries with its range of applications, from data analytics to process automation, providing us with a better understanding of the business and its processes to increase productivity and efficiency.

Business is moving toward a new AI-driven era of work, with machine learning, advanced analytics, and automation at the forefront. It will be an era where humans and machines share a workspace. While machines perform specific tasks, such as data processing and speech or image recognition, with greater accuracy, their human counterparts will focus on incubating innovative ideas, solving complex problems, and managing different operations and processes. As a result, products and services will be of higher quality and more opportunities will be created.

Right now, we are seeing a shift to a hybrid workplace evolving in real time. Modern technology has helped us redefine work—that we can be productive and contribute to the business from anywhere. We can meet with colleagues, collaborate on projects, and perform our tasks virtually. And as work-from-home arrangements accelerate the adoption of productivity tools and platforms, we are also seeing AI help drive the growth of remote work. And with business travel sharply reduced, perhaps permanently, remote conferences and meetings will adopt AI technologies too.

New opportunities for employees

With machines taking over some tasks, it does not mean an automatic increase in unemployment, although some jobs will likely disappear. Instead, it opens opportunities for employees to acquire new knowledge and skills, such as problem solving and developing innovative ideas, that machines can’t duplicate on the job.

Automation helps eliminate repetitive work. It allows companies to focus on hiring and training workers for more complex tasks, placing the right personnel in specific roles. AI is also valuable in recruitment as it can automatically filter and sift through thousands of CVs, letting recruiters view the screened list of candidates for open positions. Once hired, AI tracks their performance to ensure output quality.

The debate continues whether the adoption of machines would be beneficial from an employee’s job security standpoint, but AI is already at work in providing a much needed boost in productivity, accuracy, and efficiency.

AI and employee mental health

AI possesses broader knowledge with its capability to collect information from multiple data sources. An employee can have a conversation with AI-powered applications, as Siri and Alexa have shown us, and ask for assistance on various topics. AI can fill the role of a personal coach to enhance work and balance a worker’s well-being, bridging the distance between companies and their remote employees.

The increasing isolation an employee experiences can be mentally taxing. By processing natural language and analyzing an employee’s interactions, AI can flag early warning signs of struggles. And it can provide mental health support, a promising for helping remote workers deal with isolation.

Embracing AI and remote work technologies

Investments in AI and remote work technologies will open the gates for more innovation, offering seamless transition to fully interconnected physical and digital workspaces. It means enhanced business processes and increased operational efficiency. The shift to a new work environment will benefit both companies and employees.

The future is bright, but we need to make it a reality by taking the necessary steps that would lead us there. Embracing digital transformation is critical for the adoption of AI in enterprises. It enables businesses to provide support for their remote workers, strengthen data security, increase productivity, and drive growth.