It’s time to meet your new co-worker, Alexa.
She’s already become a permanent house guest – Amazon sold tens of millions of Alexa-enabled devices during the holiday season. As we leverage voice assistants more and more to make running a household easier, why wouldn’t we apply that power to the workplace?
Amazon has already launched Alexa for Business and recently cut a deal with shared workspace chain WeWork. Google and Microsoft will likely follow; Microsoft already said they’re looking to stake their claim at the office with Cortana.
What does that mean for our careers? Artificial intelligence and voice recognition will change not only how we work but the way we engage one another. It’ll create greater opportunity for us to live up to the ambition of our intent. Strange as it sounds, what AI can really do is help us become the person we strive to be at work.
Waste Not, Want Not
Some people have already begun using voice assistants for the simple stuff. When’s my next meeting? What’s my commute time home tonight? First, we’ll start to see more of that approach at work. But with time, AI can do much more to help us manage our day.
How much time do we waste trying to find the latest version of a presentation? Or a relevant email before a call? AI can learn to pull the materials for tomorrow’s To Do’s so that we can refresh our memory on our morning commutes. It can also help identify when we’re most productive and link big projects to those moments. As AI learns our habits, it can help build our optimal calendar by the hour, knowing what the best time is for a large meeting versus writing a presentation versus the times when all you might be capable of is catching up on email.
IMDb for Work
AI also has the potential to change how we collaborate with one another. For example, I often cast people for big projects, where it’s critical to get the right teams in the room. Many companies already have employee databases with titles, skillsets, and more—but AI learnings can drive it further.
In the future, it could tell us if we need early-risers or night owls, or if someone’s passions outside the office make them a particularly good fit for an assignment. It can help us put kindred spirits together and give them the opportunity to be great – something especially helpful for large companies when you don’t know everyone.
A lot of employees love to share their passions with the world on social media. So for example, a ton of travel shots on an Instagram feed can help us translate a personal passion into a tourism-related assignment. In the future, ask a voice assistant to put together a dream team and it can get you a more holistic view of your people and draw out their individual creativity.
Voice assistants can become our advance team with clients and suppliers, too. Instead of a quick online search or peek at LinkedIn before a meeting, weeks in advance we can ask Alexa to start tracking the latest news about the companies and decision-makers in the room. I’d love it if eventually, AI could not only synthesize the information, but get to the real sentiment and insight. Are you pitching a CMO who doesn’t care about creativity, just the numbers? Are you working with a company that’s only focused on short-term gains? I once had a meeting with a prospect with no social media presence – but there were hours’ worth of videos of his speeches online. What if AI could do the work of watching those, and then tell me: which topics made the speaker the most visibly excited? The most frustrated? Which (if any) did they stumble over?
Watch Your Manners
Unfortunately, our new AI coworkers might also make us a little ruder too. Voice assistants operate best when you’re literally barking orders; Alexa has a hard time even recognizing the word ‘please.’ Shifting gears from talking to your Dot or Mini to then giving feedback during a meeting will require some practice.
We’ll also need to teach digital assistants a few workplace nuances. Remember, one person’s definition of ‘urgent’ can be much broader than another’s. It might mean that you need something within the next two hours, or something that may not be due for two weeks is a top priority. Or, that something’s not actually all that important, but that you have 15 people emailing you about it.
As AI and voice technology quickens the way we gather information and changes the rhythm of our workday, naturally it’ll also challenge workplace privacy.
Our own research has found that 62% of consumers say connected products can collect data if they get something of value in return. But does that translate to what your boss or colleague knows about you? Should we be able to scour the depths of a prospect’s online persona to help determine their demeanor? Companies will need to answer these questions and create clear rules with no room for renegade rummaging.
Ultimately, by automating some of these tasks (and the task-specific thinking), what AI and voice can really do is give us more time back for projects that require more focus – the ones we always wish we had more time to strategize and drive forward. Henry Ford said that “Thinking is the hardest work there is, which is probably the reason why so few engage in it.” Free up more time for that and the possibilities are endless.
After all, you can’t say, “Alexa, get me the next big idea.”
Read it also on Forbes.