In 2020, millions more workers began working remotely as companies found ways to avoid bringing people into the workplace because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Even as the pandemic eases and more people return to traditional office environments, remote work could be here to stay. According to Gartner research, more than 80% of surveyed company leaders plan to allow for some remote work going forward.
While the sudden move for many to remote work about a year ago was done out of necessity, not organizational benefit, the shift has had its upsides for some enterprises. But still, its abrupt nature means that these remote employees may not be integrated into their organizations in the best possible ways. Given the importance of an employee’s early days at an organization, this can affect operations well down the road.
“AI plays a huge role when it comes to easing and enabling remote working,” said Alina Clark, co-founder of CocoDoc, an online software company. “Sadly, it’s still often under-exploited by remote workers.”
Further, employees who came on board after about March 2020 may be in roles that are currently remote but weren’t designed to be. In these cases, optimizing remote employees' onboarding and integration into the organization is especially important, as they don’t have the same experience as their predecessors have.
AI in the Background
For some organizations, artificial intelligence is already quietly improving the onboarding process in the background. “Though often unnoticed, AI’s importance in the onboarding process and streamlining operations during and after the pandemic is vital,” said Manish Sharma, group chief executive of Accenture Operations. “In fact, Accenture’s future-ready research found 48% of organizations said the use of AI-powered automation had a positive impact on its ability to respond to COVID-19.”
CocoDoc's Clark works remotely herself and manages a remote team of employees. “I believe that the AI use cases exceed just the normal automation,” she said. She points to the AI-powered automation of administrative work (file sharing, bookkeeping, emails), troubleshooting and IT (chatbots), and project management (report generation, data analysis, prediction) as a few examples from her own working life.
The use of AI in onboarding for remote employees has several upsides, Sharma said. It can improve the experience of remotely joining an organization or moving into a new role by easing the process of completing all the paperwork that often comes along with a job change through the use of a smart form that captures employee information once, then processes it across business systems, he said.
Documentation is an important part of this process, and one that can save time. Sharing information and processes crowd-sources knowledge from across the organization, and smart cloud-based organization and storage of that information mean all employees, regardless of where they are working, can access it as needed.
“Regarding streamlining operations, you might say that automation is the social distancing of business resilience,” Sharma said. Getting rid of application and infrastructure bottlenecks via automation frees up HR professionals to focus on other issues, such as strategic planning or interpersonal management.
Additionally, using AI and automation during remote operations can help ensure things are operating smoothly, even when direct observation isn’t possible, Sharma said. For example, hyper automation is currently being used to track resource location, safety and productivity.
AI’s usefulness in organizational integration won’t end when the pandemic does, Sharma said. “While AI adoption has grown due to the pandemic, businesses still have room to grow as the workforce comes back to the office and their leaders know it,” he said. His firm’s research showed that nearly three-quarters of C-suite executives plan to completely rethink their enterprise processes and operating models to boost the business’s resilience.
“The COVID-19 pandemic taught us the importance of managing business operations better,” he said, “and AI will continue to be a pivotal component of the broader ecosystem.”