ArchMen - Fotolia
Working remotely has gone from a desirable option to an essential part of how most organizations operate during the COVID-19 pandemic. Some of these remote changes may stick regardless of how soon the crisis has passed.
A recent Gartner survey of over 300 CFOs and finance leaders found that 74% said they will move at least 5% of their previously on-site workforce to permanently remote positions after the worst of the pandemic is over.
Like it or not, companies have been forced to embrace working remotely almost overnight, which comes with its own set of challenges. Working with AI tools and technologies, companies are rapidly enabling digital transformation and a digital workforce.
Boosting digital transformation
Louis Tetu, CEO of Canada-based AI firm Coveo, believes the pandemic could be an incredible catalyst for digital transformation.
Now, with a majority of workforces suddenly remote, AI technologies and tools are being constantly tested, iterated and improved. Since AI is studying micro-instances, the more the technology is used, the better it gets, Tetu said.
The most popular remote work AI tools are helping customize and personalize the employee experience, whether on-site or remote. AI is also enhancing employee contact with services such as IT help desks and HR systems to make them more relevant to each employee and their personal work.
"When an agent picks up the phone … the screen is pre-populated with your history and problems reported earlier," Tetu said.
AI tools like remote collaboration, time-tracking tools or SaaS platforms can make the remote workforce operate more effectively. The widespread usage of these tools is testing the ability to plan, organize and make effective decisions on platforms, tools and projects during remote work.
If you have a system that tells you what people are working on, what the risks are and how long things will take, AI is pivotal, said Jeff Haynie, CEO of AI software company Pinpoint.
Improving applications for remote workers
While new applications are emerging, established applications have seen a surge during the crisis, such as Zoom, Teams, Slack and other remote conferencing applications. Jason Cottrell, CEO of studio software company Myplanet, said these applications are constantly improving thanks to the uptick in usage that creates new data and feedback for future iterations.
"AI needs data to run well and if you look at things like video conferencing, the volume of data has increased exponentially so it's perfect for machine learning models to adapt user experience if it's architected well," Cottrell said.
As one example, Cottrell cited Gong, AI-powered software that records and analyzes phone and video calls to see what was effective in closing deals in lieu of a manager.
"What used to happen when a manager wanted to help coach is that they'd listen in on a call and do a post-mortem. Now that we're all siloed remotely, Gong is like an always-on coach," Cottrell said.
Similarly, AI platforms can help companies better manage their projects among a more dispersed workforce by measuring and anticipating risks.
"There are a lot of companies operating in a highly centralized fashion with hundreds of engineers in one location and suddenly they're in a hundred different locations," said Haynie.
He emphasized these use cases have to be designed for immediate value to the end user, not just to the company.
"The ones that are being adopted the fastest are of most benefit to the remote worker when it's a tool they can't do without," he said.
An uptick in virtual agents
With remote work more the norm, Ken Seier, data and AI leader at IT services firm Insight, said that development of chatbots and virtual agents are getting priority.
AI that enables remote work uses both conversational AI and RPA to automate tasks across departments including IT, HR, Facilities, Sales, Customer Service and Operations. Companies are offering solutions to remedial IT problems -- like installing a VPN client, or coaching sales through a conversational interface.
Muddu Sudhaker, co-founder and CEO of AISM company Aisera, notes the system is conversational to the user, but there is more going on behind the scenes. For example, after a VPN request is sent, it automatically sends a notification request for authorization to the appropriate manager and waits for approval before ultimately installing the software or tool onto the remote worker's computer.
AI plays a huge role in tech support, especially in a time an IT support person physically upgrading or analyzing your computer or device in person is impossible.