The employee experience of AI

Create's Romain Colomer writes on fostering innovation while protecting your employees’ sanity (and their jobs)

It was a typical Tuesday morning, and I was settling into my second cup of coffee as I joined my daily team meeting. When the meeting began, my colleague shared her screen to present her latest work. However, for a split second, we were presented with the familiar plain white interface and structured charcoal text of ChatGPT. My colleague, visibly flustered, quickly closed the tab and proceeded with the presentation.

The moment was brief but gave me pause as I considered that for many of us, using AI at work still feels like cheating. If anyone finds out or even suggests that we have used it, we feel ashamed, guilty, or judged, and I realised that this could have big implications for all of us.

If you are an office worker in 2024, then there’s a high chance that you’ve recently experienced something similar. In fact, a recent survey found that an overwhelming 90 percent of office workers are using AI at work.

75 percent of those surveyed are scared that AI could make some jobs obsolete, or negatively impact their salaries.

Meanwhile, another survey found that over half of those using AI at work are doing so without approval, and 64 percent have passed off AI work as their own.

So, with most of us using AI in our daily work, why do we still feel the need to hide it?

I believe it’s time for us to collectively air our dirty laundry. We need to open up about AI usage in the workplace and set a healthy precedent to avoid feelings of shame that may result in increased anxiety and even burnout.

To add to this, a lack of transparency could potentially also lead to poor leadership decisions, causing organisations to be left behind.

Last year, I had the misfortune of watching a team of copywriters be introduced to ChatGPT for the first time by an account director. It was a surreal moment that I couldn’t look away from.

I watched as they gasped in disbelief while testing it for ad straplines and social copy. Needless to say, the copy wasn’t groundbreaking but nonetheless, finally, one of them said, “We’re all going to lose our jobs.”

This hasty yet poignant observation has haunted me ever since, and while I’m happy to report that this team is still gainfully employed and now using AI to do their work faster and more easily, the underlying sentiment and feeling of unease, seems to still be there for many of us. Bubbling just under the surface.

This pressure, caused by the digital elephant in the room, is further amplified by contemporary workplace dynamics.

Where does the pressure come from?

It is likely one of the very few times in history where there has been both bottom-up and top-down pressure within organizations to adopt a new technology. The bottom-up pressure comes from the workers themselves, finding tools that are useful to them (until they get caught and told not to). While the top-down pressure comes from leadership aiming to capitalize on this paradigm-shifting technology.

Yet, from a management perspective, there is an added layer of pressure that I’ve come across, when office workers are asked by management to use ChatGPT to complete a task. Which can often feel insulting, as though it diminishes the worker’s value, or frustrating, as it might require them to deliver faster outcomes than they are accustomed to.

Between these competing forces and feelings is where I believe the challenges associated with AI process innovation in today’s organisations lie. Heavily impacting employee experience (EX) and overall morale.

It’s a strange time to be an office worker. As the nature of work rapidly changes around us, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. Not to mention the impact of the endless barrage of headlines about companies such as IBM or Google announcing mass layoffs in favour of AI.

It’s not likely that this uncertainty will naturally dissipate either, given the nature of this technology and the exponential curve we find ourselves on. With each new release, the capabilities will increase dramatically. As Sam Altman, the CEO of OpenAI, recently put it, “This is the most interesting year in human history, except for all future years.”

Needless to say, these issues will only exacerbate as technology evolves, unless organizations can evolve alongside.

Image sourced from Pexels.com
What to do moving forward

While many leaders have mentioned the need to use AI during recent all-hands calls or Q4 results meetings, we haven’t yet really seen many organisations openly tackle this new phenomenon with the kind of considered effort that is necessary. Which is why I believe it’s time to face these issues head on.

Going forward, short-sighted leaders will likely focus primarily on cost-cutting through layoffs. But others will focus on adding value through redesigning, restructuring, and reskilling to improve the overall quality, cost, and speed of output without lowering organisational morale or losing valuable organisational knowledge and intellectual property to competitors.

So, what might it look like to facilitate this kind of organisational change?

  1. Leaders should start by encouraging openness. Don’t just say it. Show it.
  2. Consider launching an anonymous employee survey to identify both how they are using AI and how they are feeling about it.
  3. Use the results to look for opportunities to drive adoption through training and incentivisation while providing guidance and reassurance.
  4. Empower teams to openly share their learnings with each other through workshops in which they map out existing tasks, process them, and share ideas on where and how they can use AI.
  5. Give employees access to an enterprise version of the latest AI model (like Microsoft’s Copilot) to ensure data security so that they don’t have to secretly find their own workarounds, putting your data at risk.
  6. Consider allocating a percentage of “Google time” that allows your employees to experiment and look for ways to do better work or make better things.

At Create, we take this mission seriously. Through regular check-ins, lunch and learns, and inspiration sessions, we are working to improve our employee experience while capitalising on the benefits that generative AI technology affords us.

We believe it’s important to get a better understanding of our employees’ concerns as well as the opportunities that exist and then tackle this by instilling confidence through a culture of trust, transparency, and experimentation. However, this is uncharted territory, and there is no one-size-fits-all approach. Every company will need to find its own path forward, experimenting with different strategies and learning from both successes and failures.

Ultimately, the key to success in the age of AI is not to wait for the perfect solution, but to start experimenting now. To quote Ethan Mollock, Professor of Management at Wharton, “There are only two ways to react to exponential change: too early or too late.”

Let AI take your job

If you’re reading this and thinking to yourself, “I wonder if AI will eventually take my job?”

Of course it will. In your job’s current form. But don’t you kind of want it to? Most of the day-to-day tasks many of us deal with are menial. Emails, spreadsheets, meetings, things that could soon be better done by AI.

But what does it look like when all of your staff are truly empowered? When everyone has the resources, knowledge and skills of large scale, highly effective teams, made up of AI agents. My suspicion is that delegation, adaptability, curiosity, and a willingness to experiment and explore new ideas will become more important than ever.

It’s a no-brainer that while ChatGPT is currently mostly used for coding, writing, and analysis, this will soon shift to larger and larger tasks with less and less human input. Eventually driving large portions of our organizational processes.

As AI creeps backwards along the OGSM chain, all of us will need to change our approach to work.

The road ahead is uncertain. It’s almost hard not to see AI as capitalism’s final interface with humanity. But one thing is clear: AI in everyday work is here, and it’s only just the beginning, and I suspect that those who embrace it through courage, curiosity, and a commitment to human-centered innovation without fear of judgement will be the ones who thrive in the years to come.

There’s an old, much quoted, and somewhat ironic curse that goes, “May you live in interesting times,”  implying that interesting times have historically mostly been times of trouble.

Let’s just hope that we can all evolve quickly and collaboratively enough for Sam Altman’s recent claims about interesting times to turn out to be a blessing rather than a curse.

By Romain Colomer, Experience Director at Create.

Author’s note: Yes, I used AI to help me write this.