AI to diversity: What to expect at the workplace this year

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As use of generative AI and automation tools becomes widespread, employers will have to prioritise upskilling



The year 2023 saw several changes to the workplace. After two years of a work-from-home regime, India Inc. returned to the physical office. The conventional five-days-a-week model seems redundant, with most surveys globally concluding that employees prefer hybrid or remote work. Trends like “Bare Minimum Mondays” and “Coffee Badging”, screamed that employees want greater autonomy and flexibility at work, highlighting an increased focus on work-life balance.

The use of generative AI as a powerful tool for businesses was arguably the biggest highlight of 2023. Several companies, including Google and Microsoft, introduced or improvised on their AI tools due to an increasing demand for AI assistants. But, employees also harboured apprehensions of the technology replacing them in the future, pushing them to reskill.

Here’s a look at some of the trends that will rule the workplace of 2024.

AI is here to stay

Technology is all-pervasive in shaping the industry’s approach to the workplace. Generative AI and automation tools are streamlining tasks, while immersive technologies like VR and AR are enhancing collaboration and training experiences. In India, almost 75% of professionals have embraced AI tools for writing and editing, image and video creation and writing code and have saved about 4.9 hours per week, according to Slack, which surveyed 2,039 desk workers from India in 2023.

Upasna Nischal, the head of human resources (India) at Fidelity International, which offers investment solutions and services and retirement expertise, says in 2024, the narrative will be about the art of leveraging AI’s transformative capabilities to drive innovation and operational efficiency.

“The power of new-age tech will be leveraged across HR for analysing and anticipating hot-spots or pain-points of employees, helping managers make informed decisions around growth of their teams, faster query resolution, predicting employees at risk, informing people policies, and real-estate decisions based on working patterns,” she says.

Back to the cabin

One thing is clear: many companies want employees in the physical office. According to a report by Resume Builder, a US-based resource for job seekers, 90% of companies plan to implement return-to-office policies by the end of 2024. The survey covered 1,000 company leaders, with nearly 30% of them admitting that their company will threaten to fire employees who don’t fulfil this mandate. Why? It’s difficult to build a collaborative culture in the absence of staff.

“While we sometimes love to do things remotely, this leads to less access to resources, decreased collaboration, reduced creativity, and a minimal relationship with our co-workers,” says Amit Nandkeolyar, clinical faculty of organisational behaviour at Indian Institute of Management Ahmedabad.

This has a detrimental impact on an organisation’s culture, because everyone is doing their own thing. “This has challenges, because we are unwilling to try new things—which affects innovation and creativity,” he says.

Reskilling is trending

As the use of AI becomes more widespread, it is important for companies to sensitise employees if their jobs are at stake, offering solutions to ensure their roles do not become redundant.

“The rapid pace of technological change may create a skills gap between the existing workforce and the demands of 2024. To bridge this gap, employers must prioritise upskilling and reskilling, equipping employees with skills to thrive in the new technological landscape,” says Atul Tiwari, chief human resources officer at Spice Money, a fintech company that empowers merchants and nanopreneurs.

Nandkeolyar explains: “Whether it’s driven through corporate learning and development, or if the employee has access to resources, they need to reskill.”

Organisations that can reimagine traditional roles, and re-envision adjacent skills for new roles, will be able to stay ahead of competition and retain their key talent.

“The key challenge for organisations will be to anticipate the skills of the future, map the current skill sets, and expedite skill development before the next wave of disruption hits them. These interventions will not only help them, but will go a long way in helping employees meet career aspirations,” says Nischal.

Workplace design

Companies might want to have employees in the office but they need to step up their game to attract and retain talent—through a modular approach to design. Unlike earlier, flexible workspaces are the need of the hour, allowing employees the freedom to reconfigure spaces when they need to.

Sonaali Bhatla, co-founder at Nori Narrative, a New-Delhi based architecture and design studio, says, “Previously, there was a fixed population of employees coming to work; now, the number is constantly floating. Workplaces should adapt to this flexibility of occupancy and have modular pods that can convert into working desks, if there are a lot of people. These pods should also be able to convert into private conference areas if you want to take a call, or expand into slightly bigger spaces when there is a need for collaboration.”

Inclusivity and diversity

Companies are now expected to broaden their diversity and inclusion scope beyond gender and LGBTQ+ to other diversity strands like disabilities as well as cultural and social mobility, says Nischal. “Diversity, inclusion will get more pronounced, becoming integral to talent acquisition, and business strategy,” she says.

At the same time, workspaces for the future are likely to have feeding areas for breastfeeding moms, creches for babies and little kids, and also simple, ergonomic furniture—all the things that are still not given much attention.

Geetika Sachdev is a writer and journalist.

 

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