Smart Assistants and the Workplace of the Future

Smart assistants have been around for quite some time now. They have been made more popular by Apple, Amazon, and Google’s voice-controlled virtual assistants, Siri, Alexa, and Google Assistant. Initially, these assistants were only available on mobile devices. Now we have them in our houses answering requests and carrying out tasks, from giving you the day’s weather forecast to turning off the light in your room.

Up until now, smart assistants like Alexa have only been used as a personal tool either on mobile devices or smart speakers in homes. They are rarely found at workplaces. This has been changing gradually, though, as the potential benefits from having a smart assistant in the workplace become more apparent. Companies like Unilever have begun making use of chatbots in their workplace.

Unilever created a chatbot called Una, designed to answer their employees’ questions about things that affect them, such as company policies, vacations, salary bonuses, and so on. Nokia also uses MIKA, a voice-controlled virtual employee assistant(VEA), to aid its employees in finding answers while carrying out complex tasks. These are just one of the several companies already making good use of smart assistants.

By 2021, Gartner predicts that twenty-five percent of employees would access their applications through smart assistants, specifically voice-controlled ones. This is a significant increase from the under two percent figure in 2019. By 2022, there is going to be even more of an increase in the interaction of white-collar workers with chatbots. A 70% increase, according to Gartner. These statistics all point to the fact that smart assistants in workplaces are here to stay.

Types Of Smart Assistants

Smart assistants come in majorly two forms; text-based and voice-controlled. Both of these types are already being used by companies, as you have seen from the example above. Text-based smart assistants or chatbots, as they are more commonly referred to, are more common because of their ease of implementation, as they do not require a speech-to-text and text-to-speech interface. All interactions are text-based.

Voice-controlled virtual assistants would be handy in situations where the users work with their hands. But this might prove to be problematic in open floor arrangements. Each person using the assistant would lead to a noisy work environment, one that would be inconducive for work. So in this article, we would focus more on chatbots as smart assistants.

Things To Take Note Of While Developing A Chatbot For Your Company

Unlike consumer virtual assistants like Alexa and Google Home, smart assistants to be used in workplaces, have to be developed specifically for a company. Although there are general-purpose smart assistants for workplaces like Alexa for business, they can only perform generic tasks like scheduling a meeting room. When developing a chatbot for your company, certain things should be noted.

  1. Benefits: The employees must be able to see the merits of using the chatbots. It shouldn’t just be a shiny new technology to play with, but something that would actually make things easier for the employees.
  2. Issue escalation: Whenever the chatbot is unable to respond to a particular query, it should be able to redirect the employee to the appropriate point where the query or request can be resolved.
  3. Integration: The chatbot should be integrated with the company’s existing communication platform. If the company uses Skype for business for communication, the bot shouldn’t be built on Slack or some other communication platform. This would make it easier for the employees to adopt.
  4. Well-defined parameters: The capabilities of the chatbot should be well defined and explained to the employees so that they do not waste time making requests the chatbot cannot handle.

Chatbot Use Cases In Workplaces

Aside from being useful to employees in their daily tasks, there are several other ways chatbots can be used in workplaces.

  1. Used by HR to handle employee queries: One of the human resource department’s job is to respond to requests made by other employees about things like their benefits, healthcare packages, or when they can take a vacation. A lot of these requests are simple enough to be handled by smart assistants. Having a chatbot take care of those requests makes things much easier both for the employees and the HR department. An example of a chatbot used this way is Unilever’s chatbot, Una.
  1. Robo-bosses(Chatbots as ‘managers’): This might seem odd at first, but it's actually an excellent implementation of chatbots, or smart assistants generally. A lot of the things managers do at work are routine. Things like setting schedules, assigning work, doing performance reviews, are always being done by managers. All these routine tasks could be handled by smart assistants in the near future, giving the managers more time to work on more important things.This would also be beneficial to the employees working under the manager as they do not have to worry about any bias or problems usually associated with human managers. This doesn’t mean that in the future, you would be reporting to bots or smart assistants. The manager would still be in charge of the whole process.

These are just some of the many ways chatbots can be used in workplaces. Chatbots are already being used by companies in other parts of their business. They are used to provide customer support, as well as answer queries on the product manufactured or service provided by the company.

Advantages Of Using Smart Assistants In Workplaces

There are several benefits to using smart assistants in the workplace. Some of these benefits are:

  • Easy access to information: It becomes easier to access the information you need through a smart assistant, either voice-controlled or text-based.
  • More time to spend on important tasks: smart assistants like Robo-bosses can handle routine tasks, leaving the managers to focus on more critical tasks.
  • Easier to use: Smart assistants are easier to use than GUI systems and have a shallow learning curve.

How Would Organizations Adapt To These Changes?

The proliferation of AI has led to a lot of discussion about whether AI-powered systems are going to take over jobs or not. While this fear is valid in some cases, it is a lot of times unfounded. This is especially true when it comes to smart assistants in the workplace.

Smart assistants are designed to serve as an aid wherever they are being implemented, not replace employees, or render jobs redundant. In the end, humans are the ones who would define how these technologies are used. So, companies need to research how smart assistants can improve their employees’ productivity and prepare to implement chatbots solutions for the company.