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14th May 2018
3 Min Read

When AI meets workplace culture

Tony Stewart
Tony Stewart
Culture & Insights

Organisational culture can be broadly described as how it feels to work for a particular company. So how is this culture shaped when parts of your workforce are artificially intelligent programs, supporting your work using natural, relatable language?

This tweet got us into a bit of a debate:

In a future A.I.-powered workplace that’s more whenthan if, we’ll have automated PAs and virtual team-mates that can tap into the systems that help run our business. We’ll be talking to insightful devices around our office to book rooms, arrange meetings, make HR enquiries, or forward the most recent version of that important presentation to our stakeholders.

And one of those devices may well be Bob’s coffee machine.

Much was made of Google‘s incredible demonstration of their A.I. powered assistant making phonecalls booking hair appointments with real people. Politeness, umms and ahhs, and slang have been programmed into the assistant.

Talking to these devices, and their reactions to us, can change our experience at work, and could impact our business culture and employee experience.

Unconditional etiquette

If we drop our manners when speaking to an automated assistant, won’t that spill over into how we interact with our more organic-based colleagues? And wouldn’t it be weird if, during a team meeting, an AI assistant kindly announced a room booking, and the requestor didn’t say ‘thanks’ afterwards. The rhythm of etiquette would be off, and the room would be left to feel kinda… stiff?

And who’d want to work for a company where the A.I. that supports your everyday tasks did so in a cold, emotionless manner?

The exchange is two way; it’s about how we interact with these platforms, and how they interact with us. And these exchanges will have an intrinsic effect on workplace culture and how enjoyable it is to work somewhere… so what can we do to ensure this impact is a positive one?

It seems we’re not really ready yet to get all chummy with the machines that serve us. In fact, we often don’t watch our Ps and Qs when it comes to interacting with automated assistants now…

“Computers don’t have feelings, right? They’re just wires and fancy algorithms!?”

But even in light of this fact, isn’t it about time we re-looked at this dynamic, for the sake of etiquette and creating a culture of respect in our future workplaces?

It might feel like pantomime at first, but without it, we might find ourselves on a slippery slope. After all, this direction leads us to question why we use please and thank-yous in the first place. They’re not essential parts of doing a good job, and the world wouldn’t stop spinning… but they do make a business a lot nicer to work at, and our everyday interactions with each other much sweeter.

Future culture and our role in Internal Communications

While it seems that *most* people don’t use polite terms with their automated assistants right now, maybe this is something we should encourage, champion and even reward to ensure our business cultures and our etiquette doesn’t erode in the long-term?

We’re not suggesting saying thank you to the coffee machine Bob mentions in his Tweet, but sharing thank yous with a device that can recognise the expression, and even respond appropriately; ‘you’re welcome, Bob.’

And as the teams who will help introduce these assistants and other such platforms, like Chatbots, to the workplace, we do have a role and influence on how these platforms respond to our workforces too. These platforms are ours to build, and as such, we have power, and need to consider their language, tone, and perceived personalities.

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