woman working from home
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This has been a monumental year for the workplace.

Factors that ushered in dramatic changes in 2018 included the move toward digital workspaces — which, among other things, make it easier for people to work from remote locations — the growth of the freelance market and the rise of modern technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI).

The convergence of those factors means that employees today work in offices that are much different from the ones their parents or grandparents worked in. Companies now work around employees’ preferences — not the other way around.

The developments that are changing how, when and where we work are here to stay. Freelancing and working remotely will continue to grow.

According to “Freelancing in America: 2018,” a report by the Freelancers Union and Upwork, a platform that connects businesses and independent contractors, there are 56.7 million freelancers in the United States and the US freelance workforce grew faster than the non-freelance workforce in 2018.

Not only are we seeing changes in who people work for, there have also been changes in where people work. Less formal workspaces — like our couches or kitchen tables — are growing in popularity. The latest telecommuting statistics from research firm Global Workplace Analytics show that, among the non-self-employed US population, work-at-home arrangements have increased by 140 percent since 2005. While the majority of people still go into an office every day, the number of those who telecommute is rising steadily.

What factors are behind the rise of decentralized work environments, and where is this trend headed?

Technology has blurred what was once a distinct separation between work and home. According to the “Freelancing in America” report, technology is making it easier for freelancers to find work opportunities online, while videoconferencing, instant messaging tools, online collaboration platforms and internet-based applications and services are removing barriers and enabling people to work with colleagues in different locations and even in different time zones.

Looking ahead to 2019, one technology in particular — artificial intelligence (AI) — will play a big role in supporting digital workplaces, working in the background to create a more efficient, supported and fulfilled workforce.

AI Leads the Way to Greater Opportunities at Work

AI will increasingly handle repetitive tasks, freeing up all workers — whether freelance or on-staff, remote or on-site — to become more strategic, creative and resourceful contributors to strategic business operations. 

Although many people fear that this technology will eliminate jobs, research has shown that, rather than laying people off, companies are instead taking advantage of AI to better leverage their human resources. In fact, data confirms that humans should not fear being replaced by bots. In a recent study conducted by research firm Vanson Bourne on behalf of my company, LogMeIn, 65 percent of the 850 business respondents surveyed said that if their organization could reduce the number of inquiries to their customer service teams by using AI, they would train their agents to handle different or additional tasks.

By removing the mundane, AI can help employees focus on more fulfilling activities or hone new skills, increasing overall satisfaction and job loyalty.

When it comes to customer service, for example, online chatbots enabled by AI complement the work of agents by handling repetitive and menial tasks and questions, allowing them to focus on issues that require more creative thinking. This is a huge win for human agents — people can get frustrated when they’re not able to focus on the most pressing issues, or when they’re asked the same question hundreds of times a day.

The same is true for people who work in internal employee support units like IT and human resources. Those professionals are often overwhelmed with repetitive requests for password resets, printer setups, benefits information and more. With the help of AI, they can may finally have the time to focus on big initiatives that always seemed to get pushed aside because employees had to spend so much time “fighting fires.”

Related Article: Why AI Still Has a Long Way to Go in the Digital Workplace

AI Leads the Way to Greater Employee Engagement

Just as AI will free up employees to focus on fulfilling activities, the technology will also help create a more engaged workforce. With the help of artificial intelligence, companies will have a much better understanding of who their employees are and they will be able to offer assistance tailored specifically to individuals.

For example, AI-driven HR systems could provide new hires with onboarding materials specific to their jobs or act as always-on partners available to answer employees’ questions.

When employees travel, AI systems could automatically configure their computers to reflect their current locations or grant them access to physical offices.

Capabilities such as those will benefit all employees, but they will be especially helpful for remote workers and may even help them feel more engaged by making them feel a stronger connection to office life. Getting the same services in-office employees get without jumping through hoops will go a long way toward increasing engagement among remote workers, and AI can help make that happen.

Related Article: 9 Trends That Disrupted the Digital Workplace in 2018

Setting a Good Example

In 2018, customer experience (CX) was the focus of a lot of conversations about how companies could use AI. In 2019, the employee experience will be the focus of those conversations. Taking what they learned from CX-oriented AI implementations, companies will look inward and deploy artificial intelligence in ways that benefit their workforces.

Companies can use AI to benefit employees in most of the ways they use the technology to improve customer interactions. We are starting to see this in departments like IT and HR, where employees have to handle a lot of repetitive tasks and answer the same questions over and over again. In 2019, AI deployments will become more pervasive and the technology will move even deeper into companies’ service organizations.

Innovative companies that have implemented AI technology or are on the cusp of rolling it out are paving the way to a more productive and more engaged workforce. They will demonstrate the true power of technology disrupting the workplace for the better.