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Managing the hybrid workforce

Steve Haighway, COO Europe, IPsoft, discusses how to successfully lead a hybrid workforce

Companies across a range of sectors are increasingly adopting a hybrid workforce model: whereby AI (Artificial Intelligence)-powered digital colleagues work alongside and assist their human counterparts. In fact, McKinsey recently reported that at least one third of our day-to-day work could be automated in approximately 60 percent of roles. And those organisations already embracing automation through a hybrid workforce are giving their workers the opportunity to take on more complex and fulfilling tasks — things like creative problem solving, empathy, negotiation and people skills. But how are business leaders and directors handling this? To date, there is virtually no guidance on how to actually prepare for, manage and lead a hybrid workforce, so we explore some best practices for hybrid workforce management below.

An automation assessment

Preparing for an effective hybrid workforce starts with scoping the processes that can be automated, whilst also identifying both new and existing tasks that can be augmented by applying more human capital which would add more value to the business.

One firm pioneering hybrid workforce management is top Swedish bank, SEB, which hired IPsoft’s digital assistant Amelia to handle IT service desk support for its 15,000 employees. SEB wanted to make IT support more efficient and focus the IT team’s time on exploring technologies that would boost the employee experience and lead to further operational success. SEB employees are able to now access 24/7 IT support via Amelia’s – or Aida’s as she is known internally – conversational interface. Aida can handle a whole range of high-volume, procedural IT service tasks that once required human involvement (answering FAQs, password resets, booking meetings, etc.)

Balancing the work

Managing a hybrid workforce is all about balancing the work between digital and human colleagues and understanding when humans need to step in. For example, what happens when people ask a question that AI hasn’t been trained on or doesn’t understand? It’s at these points that it’s critical for AI to escalate the issue to a human co-worker. This person can then work with the customer or employee to help decipher the issue, and instruct the AI on how to proceed.

Balancing tasks in this way does not make the human employee redundant or give them less work to do; quite the opposite in fact as they have simply shifted from handling an entire process (much of which may be monotonous and time consuming) to handling only the most problematic aspects of the process.

Maintaining a consistent quality of customer service
Unlike digital workers, humans get bored – this means that they’re more likely to look elsewhere for another job if their role becomes monotonous. Whereas a digital worker will join a company, learn a process, do it and help drive a continuous cycle of learning and doing no matter how rote the task.
Not only does this mean that skills learnt by a digital colleague within a company are there to stay, forever. It can also have a real benefit to your customer satisfaction by maintaining a level of consistency within customer services that simply can’t be upheld if you have a high employee turnover.

Upskilling the workforce

The smartest organisations will identify roles in which significant time is spent carrying out routine processes – such as IT representatives resolving password resets or granting Wi-Fi access – and help upskill them to handle more complex issues. These employees will then have more time to investigate and find fixes for less mundane but more valuable IT tasks.

Additionally, cutting-edge companies will find ways to focus human employees’ effort on more revenue-generating projects. For example, instead of sorting Wi-Fi issues and granting VPN access, they’ll be tasked with planning new projects and, designing innovative products, or working first-hand with the latest developments in artificial intelligence to continuously enhance the future employee and customer experience.

Acting as a whisper agent

An AI implementation is not all about automating routine processes. Many companies that have successfully deployed a hybrid workforce are using digital workers as whisper agents. This means that it can provide information quickly to its human colleague so that they don’t spend time searching for the right answer or solution to a customer or employee request, which massively speeds up the overall process. For example, if a customer service rep doesn’t know the response to a very technical query, he or she can simply share the question with the whisper agent for an immediate response. The quick and accurate responses provided by AI can help improve the speed of customer service and thus customer satisfaction.

Regardless of where AI is deployed within a business, careful planning and effective management will make the difference between a successful implementation and one that doesn’t generate any value. With more and more firms looking to turn their carbon-based staff into a hybrid workforce, now is the time to start thinking about how your firm should manage the shift to an AI future. It’s time to free up your human employees from rote, administrative tasks to help your organisation achieve its full business potential.