Evolving the Workplace with Voice Assistant Devices

You got to feel sorry for people who have names like Alexa, Siri or unique like Google or Cortana. There are clear indications that the early adopter phase of voice assistance in homes is well behind us. Alpine.AI estimates there are over one billion voice searches per month as of January 2018. The public is becoming accustomed to verbally interacting with smart devices at home and we will slowly see this integrate more with the workplace over the next few years. We only need to see how instant messaging moved from a personal product to a common workplace tool as an example of why voice assistant will do the same.

Osmo Wiio, a Finnish academic observes that anytime there are two people conversing, there are actually six people in the conversation:

  1. Who you think you are
  2. Who you think the other person is
  3. Who you think the other person thinks you are
  4. Who the other person thinks he/she is
  5. Who the other person thinks you are
  6. Who the other person thinks you think he/she is

With voice assistance this adds new dimension to the framework above:

  1. Who voice assistant thinks you are
  2. Who you think voice assistant is
  3. Who the other person thinks voice assistant is

By expanding the conversation to include voice assistants, we are deepening the collaboration. Human intelligence and artificial intelligence working together have the power to cancel out each others flaws and maximise creativity.

For example human bias is common knowledge now and we have built safeguards to help us mitigate biases through asking questions or training critical thinking. Although not perfect this is a friction point AI can resolve by helping us realise alternate perspectives.

Another problem with communication is that people are too focused on punctuating the flow of talk to serve ourselves. We emphasise the facts that present us the way we want to be seen and omit the facts that don’t align with our image. What voice assistant can bring, is a mediator role in any conversation. While this is not possible to the full-scale now, we are already seeing voice assistant solve disputes and questions we have in our personal lives.

What really excites me about voice assistant or AI, is how it is going to evolve our work structure. We can struggle to manage multiple work streams and end up siloing work to a linear progress. This can have implications by slowing or halting progress of all tasks when an issue arises at one.

By utilising voice assistant to help us parallel think, as De Bono developed with the six hat system. We can be reactive to where work is most required. Offering us the ability to choreograph information by shape-based, lock and key interactions. Any new or outdated information can be modulated like taking a Lego piece off a structure and finding the best replacement piece to fit or to leave it in its new form.

What voice assistant lacks for the workplace, is being proactive in providing information. Right now we need to give commands, even though voice devices are always listening to us. When the AI behind voice device builds stronger neural networks, this will allow it to understand the environment and context better. Only then can we see a shift towards proactive voice assistance.

This all sounds relatively easy but voice assistant requires a connection to workflows within an organisation via apps and API. Consider the following example:

Sean to voice assistant: “Send Michael the monthly sales report for last month, highlighting pages 1 and 3 as they need to be rewritten and set up a meeting to discuss the changes, a week from now”

Within this example is multiple commands. Each command requires a cohesion of apps with local, network and cloud resources in the workplace to achieve the outcome in the example.

Voice assistance has the ability to remove many friction points within a workplace. As workplaces encourage self-organisation or agile structure set ups, voice assistance will be the flexible chain link between technology and humans.

These friction points are already being answered as we see simple commands to turning on lights and starting a meeting to conducting a deep search in Salesforce for insights. Workplace communication platforms such Slack, Yammer, Hipchat or Dynamic Signal are using AI to generate data on how employees collaborate and how information flows to help executives and managers make high level strategic decisions. It is all leading to creating a complex work map of the organisation, its technology systems and people. This will then help pinpoint communication gaps and begin to understand how organisations can build chatbots and voice assistance apps to resolve gaps in the work map.

If we look into the telescope of the distant future, carbon based molecules, the building block of life, is going to be the next big catalyst for driving advancement in technology and creating Homo technologicus. Once technology is carbon based there is no reason to see it merge with the human anatomy or mind.

What executive leaders need to be mindful of is a disconnect between new communication tools and strategic goals. How personal connectivity to others and technology translates to productivity will require a reboot of practices, workshop and leadership styles. Executives should keep a keen eye on how voice assistance is being utilised in the home. If there can be a seamless transition to how it is used at home to the workplace, employee adoption will be high. Organisations need to redesign their platforms to be symbiotic and focus on principles of interoperability and modularity.


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