My Predictions for 2018
As I was preparing to write my predictions, I came across a talk my grandfather gave at a business gathering in 1956 in which he mentioned a robot he had just seen at a fair in Milan. Its inventors were swearing it would one day automatically translate the words spoken by a human into other languages.
What would my grandfather think if he knew his granddaughter is now training a bot, not exactly to translate foreign languages, but to work with humans by understanding how they speak?
The world of work is entering an exciting future. So here is what I predict for next year:
Integration to Counter Fragmentation
We’ve all done it. We’ve tried to turn our mobile phone into a tool that integrates all our work apps: the Slack channel a conference organiser is using to discuss the content of our presentation; the WhatsApp group our manager has set up to keep in touch with the team when he travels (IT does not approve… but, hell, everybody does it…). The Box files we can’t do without. The Trello board where the tasks from our last team meeting are posted.
It’s no longer about one single ESN. It’s about what channel do I use for what.
There’s definitely channel fatigue out there. And the nature of some platforms makes it worse by throwing tools at the user and leaving it up to them to sort it out (there… I’ve said it… I know I sound biased but that’s how it is…).
2018 will be the year of integration to counter fragmentation.
If you are pondering the future of your collaboration platform. If your ESN has been going for a few years and your new boss wants to replace it with the one she had in her previous job… pause, take a deep breath and think again. It’s no longer that simple.
You need to think integration. Get a sense of how many channels your employees are using. You might have some influential functions (marketing, procurement, supply chain…) which swear by the apps they have. Those are not going to go away. The era of IT diktats is over. It is no longer enough for a platform to provide social features, it has to intelligently understand how to integrate with other apps (Outlook, Jira, Salesforce, Evernote, etc. etc.) The idea is to create a space that brings together work done in different places. One of the many advantages of integrating content in one single platform is that when we need to search it, we can do it all in one place. We don’t need to have ten different search experiences (most of them frustrating). And we can add capabilities to that content… like AI and cognitive assistants.
Bots: From the kitchen to a hot desk near you
I was talking about bots recently at a conference and got a comment from someone about how his wife is refusing to talk to Alexa. I agree, it’s not an ideal comment if you are trying to start an intellectually stimulating conversation. But it’s symptomatic and shows we are getting there. Consumers are exploring the idea of bots. And we know from the past that, when employees start using a piece of tech at home, they expect to be able to use it at work as well.
I’ve just read in a blog that “bots have yet to make a significant impact in the workplace, but where there’s a defined process, we believe they will make a huge difference to employees”. Exactly! The reason we need bots is that we need help navigating the huge amount of data integration (and Cloud) is going to make available to us.
However, there are bots and bots. I am not talking about the conventional ones that run on menu-driven solutions. I am talking about cognitive bots that, thanks to natural language processing, can interpret the nuances of how you and I speak.
Imagine you are having a conversation on a collaboration platform about the upcoming listing of your company on the stock exchange. In the thread, you mention you are looking for a financial comms expert to help you draft the internal communication. A cognitive assistant, which is monitoring the conversation, picks up on the word “expert”, automatically goes and searches your company’s ESN or corporate directory and comes up with a few names. After you have chosen a name to contact, you mention it would be great to schedule a meeting with this colleague. Another bot (let’s call it ROB for ‘room organiser bot’) steps in to suggest dates based on your calendar availability and book a meeting room in your location.
Graduating to core business
There is a particular aspect of the impact of AI on the workplace that really, really excites me. Finally, collaboration has the opportunity to link directly to core business. Say goodbye to the days of being treated like a slightly wacko corporate cheerleader!
Collaboration platforms with cognitive features have the ability to integrate apps with data coming from the Internet of Things (IoT). They can process and analyse it by using natural language processing and machine learning.
Let’s take the example of a company manufacturing “connected washing machines”. These have sensors that via the internet send information back to the manufacturer about their performance, how often they have malfunctioned, how much detergent they use, etc. etc. All that data can be analysed by cognitive apps and fed to a collaborative platform where engineers can discuss warranty claims and sales people can talk about purchase patterns and link to CRM apps. You get the picture. It’s very different from discussing the canteen’s opening hours on an internal social thread.
The days of the annual employee survey are numbered. We’ve all been there. By the time the results are communicated and discussed at department level… By the time all the town halls have taken place. By the time all the feedback has been collected… the company has moved on and … it’s almost time for another survey.
Enter continuous listening.
Employees are used to rating Uber drivers, giving feedback on their last Deliveroo, writing reviews on Amazon. Why should it be any different in the workplace? More and more HR and internal comms practitioners understand that quick poll surveys is what we need. At significant moments throughout the year, ask your employees 3 or 4 simple questions: “How do you feel about working for the company? Would you recommend it to a friend? How do you feel about the company’s transformation program? Do you feel you have received sufficient information from your manager about the program?” … Something along these lines.
Continuous listening gives you the opportunity to get a sense for where a program is going. It also helps with giving feedback to those managers who are not doing it right. And… I am a firm believer in the fact that continuous listening also helps with getting employees to collaborate more. It works like this: the more you are asked for your opinion, the more at ease you feel with discussing your work openly. And the more motivated you are to contribute ideas. Think of this the next time your innovation department asks you to organise an ideation exercise.
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