The AI end game for workers: greater focus on critical work
Two months ago Microsoft announced it was bringing the power of next-generation AI to its workplace productivity tools with Microsoft 365 Copilot.
Currently in testing with an initial wave of 600 invitation-only enterprise customers worldwide, Copilot combines the power of large language models (LLMs) with business data and the Microsoft 365 apps, to unlock the potential of AI-human collaboration (specific ways in which Copilot will work with existing MS products can be viewed here and here).
At the same time, Microsoft also introduced Business Chat. Business Chat works across the LLM, the Microsoft 365 apps, and a customer’s calendar, emails, chats, documents, meetings and contacts to do things that have been, until now, entirely manual tasks .
For example, with natural language prompts like “tell my team how we updated the product strategy,” Business Chat will generate a status update based on the morning’s meetings, emails and chat threads.
These new products, which will inevitably become widely available, are the latest move amongst the tech giants to capture attention and market share, in the race to convince customers who the AI game-changer is.
The rapidly changing view of the opportunities created by developments in AI is expertly captured by Microsoft in their Work Trend Index Annual Report: Will AI Fix Work? released last week.
The pace of work has increased exponentially—along with the crush of data, information, and always-on communications. We spend more and more of our days separating the signal from the noise—at the expense of creativity. And the tax on individual productivity is compounding, undermining organizational productivity and global GDP.
AI can help lift the burden. To date, AI has mostly been on autopilot. Now, next-generation copilots will work alongside people, freeing us from digital debt and fueling innovation. Organizations that embrace AI will unleash creativity and unlock productivity for everyone—ushering in a new wave of productivity growth and value creation.
In simple terms, it’s the battle for focus.
Creativity and productivity are greatly enhanced when workers can take time to focus on the critical thinking, planning, and doing aspects of their job.
Those organisations that are effective at creating processes, building skills and energising employees to leverage the power of AI will be able to create a substantial productivity advantage over their competitors and peers.
The Microsoft Report illuminates what’s at stake from its recent survey of 31,000 people in 31 countries and its accompanying analysis of trillions of Microsoft 365 productivity signals, along with labour trends from the LinkedIn Economic Graph.
The three key findings are (together with edited explanatory extracts from the report):
1. Digital debt is costing us innovation: We’re all carrying digital debt: the inflow of data, emails, meetings, and notifications has outpaced humans’ ability to process it all. It’s easier than ever to communicate and harder than ever to keep up. Taking a closer look at how people spend their time, it’s clear that the inability to focus for an extended period of time, the search for information, and the volume of constant communications have an opportunity cost.
Survey respondents reported the most significant barriers to productivity with ‘inefficient meetings’ taking the number 1 spot, followed by ‘lacking clear goals’, then ‘too many meetings’, and ‘feeling uninspired’ with ‘not easily finding the information I need’ rounding out the top five.
Sixty-eight percent of people say they don’t have enough uninterrupted focus time during the workday. And 62% of survey respondents say they struggle with too much time spent searching for information in their workday
2. There’s a new AI-employee alliance: Amid concerns of AI replacing jobs, the data revealed an unexpected insight: employees are more eager for AI to lift the weight of work than they are afraid of job loss to AI. While 49% of people say they’re worried AI will replace their jobs, even more—70%—would delegate as much work as possible to AI to lessen their workloads.
When asked about the role of AI within their job, employees were overwhelmingly enthusiastic about its upside.
Not only did 3 in 4 people respondents say they would be comfortable using AI for administrative tasks (76%), but most people also said they would be comfortable using it for analytical (79%) and even creative work (73%). People are also looking for AI to assist with finding the right information and answers they need (86%), summarising their meetings and action items (80%), and planning their day (77%).
People also believe it can enhance creativity, from formulating ideas for their work (76%) to editing their work (75%). The more people understand AI, the more they see its promise to help with the most meaningful parts of their jobs.
The data shows that business leaders are looking to empower people with AI rather than replace them—they’re 2x more interested in using AI to increase productivity than to cut headcount.
Employees and managers were asked to envision how work could change by 2030. Their answers, below, paint a bright future—fuelled by AI.
3. Every employee needs AI aptitude: The paradigm shift to AI as copilot requires a whole new way of working—and a new AI aptitude. Working alongside AI—using natural language—will be as inherent to how we work as the internet and the PC.
Skills like critical thinking and analytical judgment, complex problem solving, and creativity and originality are core competencies that are newly elevated in importance—and not just for technical roles or AI experts.
Leaders surveyed said it’s essential that employees learn when to leverage AI, how to write great prompts, how to evaluate creative work, and how to check for bias. As AI reshapes work, human-AI collaboration will be the next transformational work pattern—and the ability to work iteratively with AI will be a key skill for every employee.
As of March 2023, the share of US job postings on LinkedIn mentioning GPT are already up 79% year-over-year. And 82% of leaders in the Microsoft survey say their employees will need new skills to be prepared for the growth of AI.
‘Analytical judgment,’ ‘flexibility,’ and ‘emotional intelligence’ top the list of skills leaders believe will be essential for employees in an AI-powered future.
As the report concludes:
“…..AI won’t simply “fix” work—it will create a whole new way of working.”
Or as, Suzanne Lucas (Evil HR Lady) bluntly states in her excellent ERE article The Adoption of ChatGPT Among Recruiters, published three days ago;
“ChatGPT won’t take your job. Someone who masters ChatGPT will take your job.”
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