How task automation will enable more space for human relationships

22nd March 2023

Some fear the advent of AI but could it actually be beneficial to our careers, freeing our days from the mundane and adding value to our relationships at work?

While we’re used to seeing AI put to work on a production line or even in customer service chat facilities, the possibilities for the office and indeed our leisure time are becoming increasingly apparent.

There are several seemingly monotonous tasks that are already automated in the workplace, from gathering and organising customers’ information to sending a thank you note or a follow up sales interaction. Even something as simple as an auto signature cuts out the faff of getting a contract or agreement hand signed every time.

Finance is one area that has benefited in multiple ways from automatic generation of invoices, reminders or payments to scheduling and approving expense reports. HR is one of the more controversial uses of AI, replacing certain elements of recruitment such as face-to face interviews with virtual equivalents (with some observers worried about potential bias depending on who inputs the data that dictates how the algorithms perform) and even onboarding in some companies.

According to the Harvard Business Review nearly two thirds of current management tasks could be automated by 2025. A LinkedIn post on behalf of software firm Talcura Technologies puts a positive spin on this stating, “Managers will therefore have fewer routine tasks on their plates and more space for human relationships with employees.”

After a couple of years when face-to-face contact was kept to a Covid-mandated minimum, this opportunity for greater time for relationship building must surely be welcomed. This is particularly true for younger colleagues who might have missed out on crucial mentoring time. Plus, isn’t collaboration: forging greater connections with colleagues, an activity that is the cornerstone of what the workplace stands for post-pandemic.

With fewer routine tasks to take up their days, managers can spend more time on other employee-based issues such as discussions around access to flexible work, enhancing employee wellness and having conversations about diversity, inclusion and equity. Inclusivity is of course one of BW’s three layers – for our part, we have reflected on the way our organisation looks at present and are taking active steps to do things differently to ensure we provide a genuinely inclusive workplace.

With task automation, managers can also spend a greater proportion of their time developing their team’s careers and spending time encouraging up-skilling and re-skilling, as well as developing soft skills themselves, such as enhancing their emotional intelligence.

Extending this theory outside the office and into the general work environment, as far back as 2017 a joint study conducted by Oxford University and the Oxford Martin School estimated that nearly half of all jobs are ‘at risk’ of being automated by 2037.

With potentially fewer jobs to go round, could this pave the way for a universal basic income? Open AI CEO Sam Altman wrote about how “Software that can think and learn will do more and more of the work that people now do” in 2021. In a post entitled ‘Moore’s Law for Everything’ he added that “in as little as 10 years, AI could generate enough wealth to pay every adult in the US $13,500 per year.” Detractors of this scenario fear it might disincentive people from working.

Interestingly in a very recent interview, Altman, whose firm is responsible for ChatGPT called AI, “the greatest force for economic empowerment.” Launched in November 2022, the chatbot has grabbed many headlines since for its ability to mimic the written word impressively similar to humans’ own efforts. While Elon Musk called it ‘scary good’, everyone from university lecturers to journalists have raised concerns about its potential while the musician Nick Cave denounced its use in imitating his own songwriting as a “grotesque mockery of what it is to be human.” That said, there have been other creative uses which have been less vociferously rejected from brainstorming side hustles to writing jokes to coding, even poetry.

Illustrator Justyna Green recently prompted ChatGPT to explore issues women struggle with, such as the gender pay gap, body image and sexual harassment, using AI to compose a series of haikus. “This created a metaphor and an inspiration for my illustrations featuring alongside the poems,” she says, “I hope that the resulting works are an example of how AI can be harnessed by creatives to enhance their work and champion issues that are important to them.”

Like it or not AI is here to stay with the Harvard Business Review summing up its increasing adoption, ‘What automation can change for the better is the experience of work’.