As we move into a new creative era that rides the wave of AI automation, what repercussions might this technological tsunami have for the way we go about our day-to-day business in the modern workplace? The IPA’s Head of Insight, Damian Lord, explores the result of its second report on AI.

We dwell here not on how many jobs AI will potentially create or displace, but rather the very integration of artificial intelligence into these familiar spaces – and the possible reshaping of familiar routines conducted by those within. This is the topic that the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising (IPA) decided to explore in its second AI Radar, ‘Employing AI’ – its quarterly report series accompanying IPA President Sarah Golding’s Magic and the Machines agenda.

By surveying 1,000 Brits and an additional 110 advertising and marketing professionals, we set out to investigate whether respondents would be willing to action certain workplace queries through AI alone (or alternatively a human utilising AI to some degree). 

Our findings reveal that among the public, AI intervention is most welcomed for matters with a distinct utilitarian feel – 35% would be happy to use AI to complete administrative tasks; 30% to update on projects and tasks that needed completing; and 28% to enquire about general payroll and annual leave respectively. Around a half overall would be happy to involve some form of AI for the above. 

Public receptivity tails off however when less workaday queries are put forward. Take negotiating a pay rise: 8 in 10 Brits would still only wish to raise this issue with a fellow human, with less than 1 in 10 (9%) happy to do so through an AI system alone (a similar proportion to those who would rather a human utilising AI). Similarly, when considering personal, sensitive subjects – such as reporting mental health issues – 80% say they would defer to a human.

But what about adlanders? Given their (likely) above-average exposure to all things AI, their sentiments differ somewhat. Just under a half (45%) say they would choose to negotiate a pay rise through AI in some shape or form, if presented with the option. A third (34%) would be happy for an AI system to train new job starters, with a similar number (33%) saying they would opt for the same automated route when conducting appraisals or performance reviews. And while 80% of the public would choose a fellow person in the event of reporting mental health issues, our adland sample would be more inclined to opt for either AI (20%) or a human utilising AI (33%).

If we assume a more progressive rollout of AI in the office environment of the future, what would the most attractive practical applications be? An AI system that provides healthy working prompts appeals across both samples (45% of the public and 60% of adlanders agree this has ‘high appeal’), as does an AI system that can help make the workplace more environmentally friendly (41% public and 56% adland). Using the technology to help with data analysis is the most popular application among ordinary Brits (just under a half say this has ‘high appeal’) while adlanders go with healthy working prompts.

 Meanwhile, the prospect of an AI ‘confidant’ in the workplace carries much greater appeal among the latter audience, with 52% ranking a chatbot or voicebot you could talk to about personal and sensitive issues as being of high appeal (compared to only 14% of the public sample).

Elsewhere in our survey we find that those working in advertising are far more inclined to agree with the statements “Employers should make AI training programmes available for all staff” (76% versus 48% public) and “I am responsible for learning how to work with new technologies such as AI” (70% versus 27% public). Just under two-thirds (63%) of adlanders agree that AI will improve productivity and make the workplace more efficient, compared to around a half (48%) of the public. However, sizeable and similar majorities from both camps agree that AI will reduce the amount of time spent at work on mundane tasks.

All of this inevitably has a knock-on effect when considering the next wave of emerging workplace trends. Marta Vilella, Client Partner at trend forecasters Foresight Factory, believes that the office will become a far more ‘fluid environment’ where technology and automated services are commonplace...and where a level of adjustment from both employees and employers will be required:

“For employees, not everyone will be affected in the same way. Just as many on low incomes are used to juggling more than one job, some middle-income workers may well find certain skills cannibalised by AI, which may even prompt some workers to pursue part-time, multiple income solutions instead.

“That said, many of us will ultimately get used to working alongside – or even under the direction of – our new AI helpers. And we will certainly be looking to our employers to deliver the right kind of training, customised to our own individual need, to help us navigate these changes as they happen. Get that right and AI can become a real enabler for a tech-rich, less stressful, more engaging and even healthier workplace.”