Over half (56%) of managers and leaders say their use of technology for workforce augmentation, such as AI or chatbots, will increase over the next 18-24 months, according to the MIT Sloan Workforce Ecosystems survey of 5,118 managers and leaders released Tuesday.
Amid shifting workforce dynamics, technology plays a dual role: it can become an ecosystem for scouting talent via online labor platforms, but it can also be a worker itself, according to the report.
NASA, for example, views its virtual bots as employees, according to an interview with Nicholas Skytland, deputy chief, Exploration Technology Office at NASA, included in the report. The bots have unique IDs issued alongside virtual employee badges and integrate with existing IT systems.
Despite the forthcoming rise in use of workforce augmentation technology, only 37% of leaders view the technology as a part of their workforce, according to the MIT Sloan report.
The line between technology and employees blurred over the last year, even if companies are slow to accept automation as a member of the workforce. The pandemic pushed businesses to automate in order to scale without adding staff when faced with financial constraints and uncertainty.
About two-thirds (63%) of employees expect automation to help them do more in less time, according to a SYKES survey of 1,500 employed U.S. adults. But analysts expect automation to also replace human members of the workforce. Forrester predicts automation will eliminate nearly one-third of jobs by 2030, and contribute to new job creation by just 13%.
Digital counterparts fit differently in each business. For some, automation eliminates menial tasks for human employees. The staff can focus their skills on more nuanced or advanced work.
At Walmart, automated systems saved millions and augmented work freed up employees to help customers. A machine learning model optimizing markdowns saved the company $30 million and an augmented reality app to navigate backrooms frees employees from some stocking and inventory tasks.
For others, chatbots act as a digital face for the company. ServiceNow employs natural language chatbots as a virtual assistant for employee onboarding and Royal Bank of Scotland has chatbots for everything from contact centers to mortgage applications.
Post-pandemic, leaders expect the workforce augmentation boom to continue. Two-thirds of senior executives across industries plan to increase investments in automation and AI as a part of their COVID-19 recovery strategy, according to a McKinsey report.