How AI Is Transforming the Workplace

Artificial intelligence is changing the way managers do their job—from who gets hired to how they’re evaluated to who gets promoted

Consider just a few of the AI-driven options already available:

AI service lets companies analyze workers’ email to tell if they’re feeling unhappy about their job, so bosses can give them more attention before their performance takes a nose dive or they start doing things that harm the company.

Meanwhile, if companies are worried about turnover, they can use AI to find employees who may be likely to jump ship based on variables such as the length of time they’ve been in the job, their physical distance from teammates or how many managers they’ve had.

Tracking what workers do at their desks

Once managers have hired ideal candidates, artificial intelligence can help keep them productive by tracking how they handle various aspects of their jobs—starting with how they use their computers all day.

Veriato makes software that logs virtually everything done on a computer—web browsing, email, chat, keystrokes, document and app use—and takes periodic screenshots, storing it all for 30 days on a customer’s server to ensure privacy. The system also sends so-called metadata, such as dates and times when messages were sent, to Veriato’s own server for analysis. There, an artificial-intelligence system determines a baseline for the company’s activities and searches for anomalies that may indicate poor productivity (such as hours spent on Amazon), malicious activity (repeated failed password entries) or an intention to leave the company (copying a database of contacts).

Customers can set activities and thresholds that will trigger an alert. If the software sees anything fishy, it notifies management.

Dancel Multimedia of New Orleans uses Veriato to keep a team of around 16 artists, animators, salespeople and administrative employees on track as they produce supporting materials for attorneys to present in court. “It has allowed us to be more streamlined and focused on the task at hand,” says Dancel CEO Celeste O’Keefe. “We can see what they’re doing and guide them in the right direction.”

Employees sign an agreement indicating they know that their actions are recorded, but “it’s kind of like surveillance cameras in a store,” Ms. O’Keefe says. “Everyone forgets, so they try to steal anyway.”

She checks up on new hires roughly three times weekly and longer-term employees only when she wants to address a productivity issue. She doesn’t use alerts—and thus the system’s AI capabilities—but says she would consider it if she were managing a larger team.

She says it takes five minutes to skim Veriato’s graphs and screen grabs to spot or diagnose a problem, which usually stems from lack of familiarity with software tools used by the company. But sometimes the issue is personal. “When I feel like somebody might not be doing whatever they were working on, I can glance on there and see, ‘Well, no wonder! You’re on Facebook for three hours a day or you’re on sites buying shoes and clothes,’ ” she says.

She resolves problems by explaining what the system showed her and offering to help. Her use of Veriato has resulted in at least one firing, but it has also given her insight that enabled her to retain good employees who simply needed guidance.

Do you know where your employees are?

Companies can also track employees’ whereabouts in the office. Bluvision makes radio badges that track movement of people or objects in a building, and display it in an app and send an alert if a badge wearer violates a policy set by the customer—say, when a person without proper credentials enters a sensitive area. The system can also be used to track time employees spend, say, at their desks, in the cafeteria or in a restroom.

Bluvision’s AI compensates for the margin of error in determining location of radio transmitters, allowing the system to locate badges with one-meter accuracy, according to COO John Sailer. Without it, people near one another would be indistinguishable, and the positions of doors, desks, walls and the like—useful information for security and optimizing use of space—would be blurred.

Mr. Sailer says the system is also useful in situations where contractors are paid hourly or piecemeal, such as on a construction site, where subcontractors must complete work in order and on schedule to avoid cost overruns.

Although Bluvision tracks individuals, it can also be set to present only aggregate trends. That allows customers to take advantage of location tracking without breaking privacy laws or agreements protecting personally identifying information about employees.

A question of  feelings

AI is also beginning to help managers peer into personal aspects of job performance that used to be left up to managers’ instincts and observations—for instance, attitudes toward the job. Veriato analyzes email and other messages, looking at words and phrases employees use. Then it scores those expressions for positive or negative sentiment. The system can set a sentiment baseline over time, and then calculate a daily score for each employee.

It can send an alert if a worker’s use of certain language exceeds a threshold, or if it detects any change in tone or a shift in relation to a group of employees. The customer can evaluate the context in which the expression occurred—including screenshots captured by the system—to decide how to proceed. “If the tone of a typically happy person suddenly goes negative, that may be an alert that they’re at risk of flight, insider threat or even just a productivity problem that needs remediation,” says Veriato Chief Security Officer David Green.

Keeping top performers on board

Some AI aims to predict when employees may be winding down their career at the company—and advises how to keep them on board.

Products from Entelo, International Business Machines Corp. IBM and Workday, as well as Microsoft Corp.’s  internal management system, look for patterns identified by researchers and their own software to predict when workers are likely to jump ship.

For instance, Workday’s retention-risk analysis feature, which made its debut in April, bases its analysis on data from selected customers representing 100,000 individuals over 25 years, says Leighanne Levensaler, a senior vice president of corporate strategy at Workday. It tunes itself to a given customer, calculating a risk score for individual employees based on roughly 60 factors including job title, compensation, time off and time between promotions.

The software also suggests potential next steps in an employee’s career path based on what other people in similar situations have done, so managers can move proactively to retain valuable workers. Ms. Levensaler says the retention-risk score is best thought of as one element of a broader picture, “a pattern we see that’s instructive for you in your conversation, but you’re still managing.”

Source: Ted Greenwald

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