woman saying 'hmmmm'
Today's workers aren't sure what to think about AI, Atlassian found. PHOTO: Joseph Antoniello

The vast majority of people — 87 percent — are skeptical about the potential of artificial intelligence technologies in the workplace. But a nearly equal number — 86 percent — are excited about its potential.

That's the mixed message from the "Future of Work" survey released today by Atlassian, the company that provides collaboration software for teams with products including JIRA, Confluence, HipChat and Bitbucket. Atlassian interviewed 2,009 US employees about AI, including advancements like Salesforce Einstein, digital assistants, communication bots, Siri, Cortana and Amazon Echo.

"There's a mix of anticipation and fear," Dominic Price, head of research and development and work futurist at Sydney- and San Francisco-based Atlassian, told CMSWire. "A good majority of people are saying, 'I know this is going to happen, but I'm really nervous about how it's going to impact me.'"

Feelings About AI

Nearly 40 percent of those surveyed already use some kind of AI at work. About half of respondents said they were "slightly or moderately excited," and 36 percent were "very or extremely excited."

However, 63 percent are slightly or moderately skeptical about AI’s usefulness in the workplace — and 24 percent are "very or extremely" skeptical. 

More than half (53 percent) of Baby Boomers, the workplace veterans, said they were only slightly or not at all skeptical.

Millennials were the most unsure: 28 percent said they were very or extremely skeptical. They also have greater fears AI will increase the unemployment rate: 25 percent versus 17 percent for Generation X (those born after Boomers and before millennials) and 14 percent for Boomers.

Baby Boomers are more relaxed, Price theorized, because, "They've been though all these changes and are probably a bit more resilient in terms of what they've seen in technology advancements in the last 30 to 40 years. Millennials were the most excited and most fearful, which was a massive surprise seeing they were raised in a world of technology and connectivity. They have a long working life ahead of them and a lot of uncertainty around them in terms of what their roles will be."

Teamwork Matters

The Atlassian survey also dove into how teams work together in the digital workplace. It found more employees are motivated more by their team's success (50 percent) than their company's success (27 percent). And more of them (43 percent) feel their efforts impact the mission of their team more than the broader mission of their company (33 percent).

Most respondents trust their teammates very much or completely (69 percent) while 30 percent trust their teammates to a slight or moderate degree.

Workers believe in working with others: 56 percent of workers are more confident working as a team than as individuals.

"The thing people most identify with is teams," Price said. "They're mostly committed to working on team goals."

The study also reported the top productivity drivers for workers:

  1. Meaningful work/passion
  2. Compensation
  3. Individual recognition 

What gets in the way of good team work and productivity? Communication (59 percent), accountability (29 percent) and trust (26 percent).

Embracing Diversity

Atlassian researchers found that diverse, distributed, dynamic teams are harder to lead. Different viewpoints are good, researchers said, but companies need to invest more time harnessing those differences to realize that potential. 

"We perceive that extra care as a tax, but we should look at it as an investment — a way to improve our effectiveness and ultimately build adaptability for the changes ahead," they wrote.

Workers can do a better job at embracing diversity and different viewpoints, Price told CMSWire. "We're still grappling with how we work human-to-human" — a fact companies may want to consider before investing in AI.

Finding ways to embrace diversity and working smarter can lead to success in the workplace. Have empathy and learn from each other's strengths. 

Price has seen examples of work environments where ideas that don't account for "a million dollars" are shamed. Companies need to promote any and all ideas and learn from those that fail.

"Give people the freedom to do their jobs," Price added. "It's more important to know who you're working with and what you're working on. Leadership has to set really clear goals and a mission. There is a huge amount of pressure for them to step out of the way and trust their teams to get on with it. They can't micro-manage. They have to trust their teams."

Digital Workplace Structures

Workplace structures that are process-driven, hierarchical, optimized for efficiency and predictability and reliant on command-and-control structures to regulate human interactions fail today, researchers found. Work is shifting from a focus on "how well you can execute a command to how well you can drive change, and work effectively with those around you to make it happen."

"If we can get teamwork right, our excitement around AI will be warranted," researchers wrote. "Teamwork isn't going away any time soon. It's only getting more important, and AI has the potential to massively boost our efforts if we're starting from a healthy place."

(Interested in learning more about the challenges and opportunities impacting the new digital worlds where we work? Join us for Digital Workplace Experience June 19 to 21 at the Radisson Blu Aqua hotel in Chicago. Simpler Media Group, Inc., publisher of CMSWire and creator of DX Summit, and boutique consultancy Digital Workplace Group (DWG) are working as strategic partners to present #DWEXP17.)