Use cases for AI while remote working

As organisations worldwide have had to shift to working remotely, technological measures have had to be taken in order to maintain operations. Keeping networks secure while employees use remote devices and home WiFi, continuing to collaborate on tasks and managing progress are among the challenges that have emerged while remote working, but AI has been able to aid effective collaboration.

With this in mind, we take a look at some particular use cases for AI within work from home (WFH) practices.

Developing skills

A digital skills gap proves to be a prolonged issue, but Paul Clough, head of data science at Peak Indicators, believes that AI can help to nurture skillsets within data science.

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“If there’s at least two things likely to be here in the future, it’s remote working and AI,” said Clough. “So it feels like there could (or should) be opportunities for combining these and using AI to support remote working practices, and perhaps ways that remote work could impact AI.”

“Given developments in IT and data science technologies, e.g. cloud platforms, self-service AI and ML, collaborative tools, it is possible for people to continue building AI solutions in a remote and distributed manner (assuming their internet connection holds up) in ways that were similar to going into the office.

“The wealth of materials made available during Covid-19 for self-study means that people can also continue to learn and develop their skills, and perhaps even helping to fill the data science skills gap.”

Managing compliance

Compliance is another important issue that is ever present beyond the mass shift to remote working, as employees now need to manage documents and customer service from home.

“Many of the challenges around working from home revolve around knowledge of key systems and processes (or lack of) and compliance risk (moving from paperless offices to the home),” said Wayne Butterfield, global head of intelligent automation solutions at ISG. “These challenges are made more acute by the very nature of working alone rather than in the same office.

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“For many organisations, it makes sense to use AI to help bridge these gaps. For example, image recognition can work with an employee’s laptop camera to spot additional people in the room, at which point their screen would go blank to aid with compliance.

“Desktop assistants can help customer service agents access knowledge quickly to resolve customer queries more efficiently, thus mitigating at least some of the problem that a lack of pooled knowledge creates with remote working.”

Sustaining communication and culture

Neil Dunlop, technical director at Infinity Works, cited a number of ways in which AI has been able to help workforces to continue collaborating effectively and sustain company culture.

“A range of AI-powered solutions exist that can solve some of the common remote working challenges,” said Dunlop. “The key to all of these applications is that AI takes the hassle out of the process by automatically doing what would usually take humans a lot of time to achieve. With the effective application of AI, we can smooth the bumps out of our busy working days and free up more time for creative thinking and focussed work.

“Smart AI solutions can help us find the right time to get the team together for a chat amidst packed calendars and back-to-back video calls. AI solutions can make smart suggestions on how multiple calendars can be restructured to make more free time and avoid diary clashes.

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“Working from home presents a host of challenges; lower quality equipment, shared working spaces and limited available bandwidth to name a few. Many of these challenges mean that the quality of our audio and video communication is less than ideal. AI is regularly applied to improve the quality of our video in real time and automatically filter out distracting background noises.

“Remote working can increase the feeling of being isolated or disconnected from workmates, lead to disengagement and even stress and ill health. Through sentiment and interaction analysis of everyday tools like email, messenger and other collaboration applications, AI systems can provide effective means of measuring employee wellbeing and engagement, highlighting where employees need help. Once problems are identified, AI systems can suggest support resources and activities that can help to make things better.”

Digital workers

Lastly, an emerging AI-related method of maintaining operations during remote working has been the use of digital workers.

“Digital workers are becoming essential for businesses, optimising something we’ve never been able to before: the bandwidth of employees,” said Ivan Yamshchikov, AI evangelist at ABBYY. “This is more critical than ever while most teams adjust to remote working. By ‘hiring’ digital workers and incorporating them into a workforce, businesses can empower their staff through AI, and these invisible digital workers – or software bots – can automate mundane and repetitive tasks extremely quickly, giving their human colleagues more time to take on creative, problem-solving tasks.

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“In the current climate, an example of this is the thousands of finance teams helping their businesses keep the lights on from their own homes. By enabling digital workers to create and process invoices, human workers can spend less time on paperwork and more time working closely with the business and its customers, figuring out how to ensure employees are paid and helping the business survive.

“With the age-old fear of automation at work subsiding, IDC recently found that the role of digital workers will increase by 50% by 2021. Covid-19 might speed this up further, but right now, most business leaders still don’t know much about the AI behind the human – and its potential to transform their business. This needs to change.

“Companies that have their processes digitised or have already embarked on an automation journey can adapt more quickly to this, and their employees can reap the rewards. Digital workers will never replace human workers, but they can and should be used to complement the human workforce. As we all continue to work remotely, AI can help workers focus on adding the human touch – at a time when it matters more than ever.”

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Aaron Hurst

Aaron Hurst is Information Age's senior reporter, providing news and features around the hottest trends across the tech industry.