The business world is in the midst of a massive technological revolution, driven by emerging technologies like artificial intelligence, blockchain, machine learning, and more. Workers around the world are experiencing the effects of these shifts firsthand, with increasing demands on their creative abilities and time while they contend with meetings, emails, and information overload.
It’s no surprise, then, that innovation is taking a back seat, ultimately impacting productivity, employee happiness, and even global economic growth.
As one might expect, artificial intelligence (AI) could be the solution workers are looking for. While AI has so far not shown itself to be ready for prime time, the next generation of artificial intelligence systems is set to become “co-pilots”, working alongside humans to help with digital fatigue and to re-ignite innovation.
It is hoped by the big players that are at the forefront of AI development that organisations that embrace AI will not only unlock their employees’ creativity but also see a surge in productivity, ushering in a new era of innovation and economic growth.
To prepare leaders and businesses for the AI-driven future, Microsoft surveyed 31,000 respondents in 31 countries. This data, combined with insights from Microsoft 365 productivity signals and LinkedIn’s Economic Graph, offers three crucial insights for business leaders navigating the adoption of AI.
Insight 1: Digital debt hinders innovation
“Digital debt” is a term used to encapsulate the relentless flow of data, emails, meetings, and notifications that are crippling innovation. Overwhelming workloads are preventing employees from dedicating time and energy to being creative. An alarming 64% of individuals admit to struggling with the time and energy required to perform their jobs. This struggle is closely linked to difficulties in fostering innovation and strategic thinking, as highlighted by those who struggle with innovation being 3.5 times more likely to be grappling with digital debt.
Leaders aren’t immune to these challenges either, with 60% expressing concerns about the lack of innovation or groundbreaking ideas within their teams. In a world where creativity drives productivity, digital debt is not merely an inconvenience but a substantial barrier to business success.
The erosion of uninterrupted focus time is particularly alarming, with 68% of respondents claiming not to have enough time during the workday to concentrate on important tasks. The average employee dedicates a staggering 57% of their time to emails and meetings, and only 43% to creative tasks. Here, Microsoft believes artificial intelligence has the potential to restore the balance by freeing up time and energy for innovation, a key driver of productivity.
The data from Microsoft’s survey clearly highlights “inefficient meetings” as the number one productivity disruptor. Artificial intelligence can transform meetings into digital artifacts, allowing employees to engage with them as and when they need to, and in so doing enhance their productivity while reducing the amount of productive time wasted.
Insight 2: The Emergence of the AI-employee alliance
Despite concerns about AI replacing jobs, an unexpected revelation emerges from the data: employees are more eager to leverage artificial intelligence to alleviate their workload than they fear losing their jobs to AI. While 49% express concerns about job displacement by AI, the survey found that 70% are eager to delegate tasks to AI to reduce their workloads.
This shift in perspective is encapsulated by organisational psychology professor Adam Grant, who notes, “It’s fascinating that people are more excited about AI rescuing them from burnout than they are worried about it eliminating their jobs.” Employees across various domains are open to artificial assistance, not only for administrative tasks but also for analytical and creative work.
AI’s potential to enhance creativity is especially noteworthy, with employees recognising its value in generating ideas and editing work. The survey data reveals that the more familiar workers become with AI, the more they appreciate its potential to aid meaningful aspects of their jobs. For instance, 87% of highly AI-familiar workers in creative roles express comfort in using the technology for creative tasks.
Insight 3: Every Employee Needs AI Aptitude
As AI evolves into a co-pilot, a new way of working is taking shape, which means AI aptitude is becoming less “nice to have” and more “have to have” among employees. This aptitude involves working seamlessly alongside AI while employing natural language and applies not only to technical roles but to every employee.
Critical thinking, analytical judgment, complex problem solving, and creativity are emerging as core competencies. The survey revealed that leaders believe employees must learn to harness AI, formulate effective prompts, evaluate creative work, and identify and rectify bias. As AI transforms work patterns, human-AI collaboration becomes pivotal, making the ability to work with AI a critical skill.
However, the survey also showed that the pace of learning needs to catch up to work demands, with 60% of respondents asserting they lack the necessary capabilities for their current roles. It is clear that leaders must equip employees with the skills needed to thrive in an AI-powered future.
The future of artificial intelligence in business
AI is poised to relieve work burdens by easing workers’ digital debt and helping them get back to innovation. Microsoft says the transition to this AI-driven era is overdue for both overwhelmed employees and leaders seeking heightened productivity.
However, it is also essential to recognise that AI will not simply alter the current state of work but will usher in an entirely new way of working. To fully capitalise on the AI-employee alliance, businesses must guide employees in harnessing AI responsibly, ultimately leading to greater value creation and a more fulfilling future of work for all. Provided, of course, that everything goes according to plan.
Image by Mike McKenzie