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Guide to AI adoption in the workplace

Clare Barclay

The influence of Artificial Intelligence (AI) is already being felt in workplaces all over the UK, impacting everything from customer experiences and product development to the way organisations operate at nearly every stage of the supply chain. Contributor Clare Barclay, Chief Operating Officer – Microsoft UK.

While much of the conversation today still focuses on implementing the technology, there is another, far more human factor, that is being overlooked. With artificial intelligence, there can be no denying that some jobs will change significantly, and many new ones will appear. It is therefore critical that organisations don’t forget to provide their employees with the right support and training to prepare them for this change. Only with the right skills and learning approaches will employees feel confident and valued in their roles and ready to embrace AI within the workplace.

Reaping the AI rewards
AI isn’t some far-off sci-fi concept. Many organisations today are already using AI technologies to transform business processes and augment the efforts of employees, enabling them to do even better work. And the rewards are already being realised. In a recent study, we found that those UK organisations that are using AI in the workforce are already outperforming those that aren’t by 5 percent – a significant difference to any business’ bottom line. With AI embedded into a skilled workforce, staff are equipped to become more productive, as mundane, laborious tasks can now be automated, freeing up employees’ time to focus on more complex and creative work. Yet while the benefits of adopting AI are clear, there is still work to be done to bring employees on the AI journey and make them feel comfortable using such technologies. Embracing new ways of working will always take time.

The good news is that the appetite to learn and innovate is strong amongst the UK workforce, with over half of employees (59 percent) open to experimenting with AI to improve how they work. Furthermore, 45 percent of UK leaders believe it is worth investing in retraining their current workforce, and believe developing new skills in the workplace is essential to future success. Despite this appetite though, business leaders are still not clear on how to go about upskilling the workforce for the AI economy – with 32 percent admitting to being unsure of where to start. To translate these ambitions into success, businesses need to develop a clear strategy, outlining exactly what development is required – and for which team members. So how can these organisations get started today?

Fostering a culture of learning
Firstly, leaders should define how they want to use AI practically and in what capacity in the workplace. Once this is established, the HR team has a critical role to play, creating a talent map to best understand the core skills that currently reside within their organisation and those that they need to develop.

Here, it’s first important to consider the current gaps in the skills required (on a mid to long-term basis), alongside the level of confidence of current employees. These elements are crucial in helping to determine how organisations should go about building new skills – be it through in-house learning programmes (a strategy used by the likes of or an engaging hackathon from which Ordnance Survey have seen success.

There are a number of options and it’s crucial to find the correct method for each organisation and their unique circumstances – one size really doesn’t fit all here.  For example, running dedicated Learning Days for individuals has proven to be successful for many organisations in creating a learning culture.

More than ever, it’s important to create a culture of continuous learning and improvement throughout the organisation to support skills development – staff should be free (and even encouraged) to experiment, fail fast, refine and try again. Here, it’s also critical for leaders to share the value of this experience and to seek regular feedback that challenges and forces them to try different and new ways of doing things. After all, this is a long journey for us all and the learning won’t stop. 

Fusing the strengths of humans and machines
As organisations of all shapes and sizes seek to adopt artificial intelligence across the workforce, we must remember that this is a people-first journey and that many are just at the beginning. Undoubtedly, this will be a work in progress but as we’ve seen from previous examples of technological revolution, the potential long-term benefits are significant. 

Creating an agile culture which promotes experimentation at work and continuous learning is imperative for any UK business looking to succeed in the AI era. After all, it will be the organisations that find a way to fuse the strengths of humans and machines today that will get ahead now and in the future.

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