Creating an Inclusive Dialogue With Workers About New Technology

BY Matthew Koehler | February 22, 2024

AI in the workplace is no longer emergent, it has emerged. It's in our computers organizing our tasks, talking to staff and clients, writing content and generating images, and hiring the next generation of workers. At a recent From Day One event, Carrie Teegardin of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution spoke with a panel of experts on why we should be having more conversations about AI in the workplace.

Marshall Bergmann, vice president of advisory services at i4CP, has done a lot of research on AI, looking at who's using it and what successful use of AI looks like. “We surveyed over 1,500 leaders across organizations and 50 different companies across 50 different countries. Just one thing I will point out is that if you’re not trying to get involved in Generative AI right now, you are already behind."

Bergmann says that organizations that are using Generative AI, and experimenting with it, are ahead of the curve. He identified three types of organizations that exist on a "maturity model" with AI. The first are the AI laggards, or organizations whose leaders don’t discuss usage of AI or have any guidance on it. The next are AI inquirers. “These folks have leaders actually researching, but are largely in a wait and see mode. The messaging to employees is mostly ‘don’t use Gen AI unless we say you can use it,’” Fordyce said.

Lastly, are the AI innovators who are “already seeing advantages in productivity, efficiency, error reduction.”

"They have leaders who are effectively communicating their support for AI use. Leaders need to step up and discuss how Gen AI is going to be used.”

The panelists discussed the topic "Creating an Inclusive Dialogue With Workers About New Technology" (photo by Dustin Chambers for From Day One)

Sherlonda Martin, the global head of DEI at Takeda, touched on the power of AI to eliminate monotonous tasks human workers typically do, or used to do. “Imagine a tube coming through that we need to make sure has no particles or floating objects in it. Typically, those have been inspected by people, right? So imagine sitting in a dark room watching a vial go by for eight hours out of your day. That just won’t work,” Martin said.

Teegardin brought up the recent instability in the journalism market, citing that over 500 journalists lost their jobs in January alone. “In my industry, people are always afraid we’re gonna be losing our jobs. How are you all dealing with that and addressing that fear?”

“Our research shows that organizations that are communicating more about Gen AI to their employees and listening more about their fears, and their concerns, are performing better than the organizations that don't.” Bergmann said.

“It’s really critical for the CEO, the top of the top ELT (executive leadership team), to come forward and talk about how AI technology is able to embed into the strategy of an organization,” said Tanie Eio, the human resources business partner and vice president at UPS.

Eio says that talking about apprehensions is important for leadership and the workers under them. More important is upskilling for when AI takes over in some areas workers will be able to transition to new or altered roles with the new technology.

“We started with this program called the Digital fluency training that starts from the top. And then we also allow employees to come forward say, ‘Hey, I'm interested in trying to introduce certain technology or system or platform with this company.’” The end result is they form a group that works on ideas to adapt technology to improve processes then pitch it to senior leadership, which leadership will adopt and experiment with.

Martin says they’ve already introduced upskilling into the workplace and have given employees the space to pursue that effort.

“At Takeda, we’re starting to give people time to upskill. We’re now giving people three hours a month to be able to upskill on a topic that’s important to [them]. It doesn’t have to be a topic related to work. But if you are now signaling that you want to now go in a different direction and upskill from a technology perspective, you now get that time," Martin said.

Mark Fordyce, regional sales director for Workvivo, sees upskilling as an all company, all roles effort for organizations. “I think AI is going to affect every department, meaning it’s going to help make finance people more productive, legal people more productive, and so on. So I think the upskilling is relevant for anyone and everyone within your company no matter what they do for a living.”

“Every part of your organization will be transformed in the next five years. So you might as well get started now and have some fun with it,” Bergmann said of the ongoing AI revolution.

Matthew Koehler is a freelance journalist and licensed real estate agent based in Washington, DC. His work has appeared in Greater Greater Washington, The Washington Post, The Southwester, and Walking Cinema, among others.


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