Employees in the New Hybrid World of Work Need Conversational AI

The pandemic will have a lasting impact in many aspects of our lives, particularly in the workplace. Two trends that will impact the future of work include the introduction of a hybrid workforce and an ongoing focus on cost optimization. 

More than half of Americans (60 percent) worked from home in 2020. A recent Gartner survey found that post-vaccine, 90 percent of HR leaders will allow remote work at least part of the time and 65 percent of leaders will continue to allow flexibility on when employees work. Perhaps the most interesting of all, half of the workforce wants to return to the office at least part of the time. As a workforce, we’re now moving away from being fully remote—which was needed during the pandemic—into a more hybrid setup where employees can choose to work remotely or go into the office when preferred. 

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In parallel, there is a new focus on cost optimization vs. cost containment. Last year, CIOs were concerned with the impending recession, so cost containment became a big priority for IT. Today, organizations are moving away from a recession mindset and are focused on cost optimization—a more positive and optimistic way of looking at budgets. It’s important to note that it’s not just CIOs that are focused on this. HR leaders in a recent Gartner survey rated cost optimization as a top business priority—up 13% from 2020. 

Both of these trends (i.e., the hybrid workforce and cost optimization) are sure to impact the future of work. One example has been the growth in automation and conversational platforms. With so many companies shifting to a remote or hybrid workforce, Gartner predicts that by 2023, 75 percent of HR service management (HRSM) inquiries will be automated and initiated through conversational platforms. 

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Before the pandemic, at least half (57 percent) of employees found that it was too hard to find the answers they needed in an HR portal. During pandemic times, I can only imagine that number got much worse especially given the increase in HR-related queries and complex work policy regulations. HR teams are finding it more challenging to handle all the questions that are coming in from employees; questions that relate to different policies depending on role, location, and unique situation. There’s also been an uptick in sensitive HR cases that cause employees to prefer conversational UI platforms as opposed to the traditional portals or desktop search tools. 

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When searching for resolutions to their HR-related questions, employees want a seamless, effortless experience enabled by digital technology—similar to what they’re used to in their personal lives. Employees find it challenging to keep track of where to search for answers. When they do locate the right portal, the knowledge articles are not personalized (i.e., region-specific or role-specific) and are often too technical to understand or even out of date. This poor employee experience leads to frustration and lost productivity. A stark contrast from the frictionless, consumer-like digital experience in their personal lives. 

According to PwC, “employees want their organizations to provide a workplace experience that matches what they’ve come to expect as customers and in other areas of their lives.” In other words, employees want their 9 to 5 digital experience to look like their 5 to 9. To mimic the digital experience employees receive in their personal lives, employers and HR leaders must provide personalized, user-friendly digital experiences complete with immediate responses when and where employees need them. Conversational AI brings enterprises a step closer to delivering a human-like, personalized interaction for employees. 

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Conversational AI Paves the Way

Conversational AI is often referred to as virtual assistants or virtual employee assistants (VSAs). There are three important factors when choosing a conversational AI platform to help solve employee frustration and optimize support costs: multi-lingual, accessible, and immediate. 

A good VSA, or conversational AI platform, needs to understand questions in normal employee language. It can’t require a decoder ring or employees will give up. In addition, the VSA should be able to understand questions in whatever language is preferred by the employee—and respond back in that language. Even when a company’s knowledge articles are in English, for example, a good VSA can translate the information in Spanish, German, or any other preferred language. 

Employees also need to be able to access their VSA in their preferred method. For example, if an employee wants to access their VSA through Slack, they should be able to do so, while a colleague may prefer to access it via an app on their device. The trick is to find a VSA that meets employees where they are. 

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Most importantly, choose a VSA that provides responses that are personalized to the employee’s role, location, and equipment. Correct responses should be immediately available at least 70% of the time. If a VSA does not deliver a response within 3 seconds, employees will abandon the VSA and go back to email or phone instead. In cases when the VSA does not have an answer, a good VSA should be able to route the request to the appropriate service team (i.e., HR, IT, Payroll, etc.) and enable the service agent to respond to the employee within the app versus taking it offline to email.

The future of work is here and companies looking to position themselves for long-term business success need to consider conversational AI solutions to help address the long-lasting impact the pandemic will have in the workplace. By automating employee self-help with conversational AI, you will support the hybrid workforce, optimize costs, and improve employee productivity and satisfaction.

[To share your insights, please write to us at sghosh@martechseries.com]