Microsoft: ‘Employees are more open to A.I. than you think’

Employees see A.I. as a threat to job security–but also as a way of managing their ever-growing work load, according to Microsoft's research.
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There are only so many minutes in a day–1,440 to be exact–and for many employees around the world, it’s just not enough. The speed and volume of work have increased exponentially, resulting in a swell of data, always-on communication, and information overload. The pace of change will only get faster, but even now, humans cannot outrun work. In fact, they can hardly keep up. And it’s starting to take a toll.

According to our latest Work Trend Index, two-thirds of employees report they don’t have enough time or energy to do their jobs. Those same employees are 3.5 times more likely to struggle with innovation and strategic thinking.

The prevailing narrative around artificial intelligence is that people are afraid it will take their job. And there’s some truth to that–49% of people we surveyed held that fear. But that’s only part of the story. Due to the crushing weight of work today, even more employees (70%) say they’re willing to embrace AI as a means of offloading as much of their work as possible. They know what’s in it for them, and the promise of relief outweighs the threat.

The need today is more acute than ever. But what makes this moment truly unique is the technology itself. Today’s A.I. places people at the center and delivers an experience that almost feels like magic. 

A.I. has been part of our lives for years, powering everything from search engines to autocorrect suggestions. Until now, it has largely run in the background, on autopilot. But the future will place it alongside the user, as a copilot.

With A.I. as a copilot, people are always in control, making decisions about when and how to use A.I.-generated content. And that control is key to both dispelling fears and embracing A.I. at work. Employees know there are plenty of aspects of work A.I. can’t do: It can’t deliver the presentation, navigate the internal processes, or build a relationship with the customer. But what it can do is play a supporting role: creating the first draft, analyzing the data, and summarizing the feedback.

That kind of head start is exactly what employees need today. Though most people told us they’d like to use A.I. for administrative tasks (76%), they also see the value in bringing A.I. support to analytical (79%), and even creative work (73%). From automating repetitive tasks to helping employees avoid the dreaded blank slate, A.I. gives the gift of time: freeing people to focus on the highest value work, the work only they can do. Where A.I. truly shines is in amplifying human ingenuity, rather than replacing it.

Fortunately, this is an area where employees and managers are in full agreement. Our data shows managers are looking to empower their people with AI. In fact, they’re two times more interested in using A.I. to increase productivity than to cut headcount.

Keeping employees in control is the first part of the equation. To truly transform work, we also need tools that can harness the power of A.I. in a business setting.

Up to this point, A.I. has been almost toy-like in its abilities. We’ve largely relegated assistive A.I. devices to serve as our kitchen timers and play our favorite podcasts. It hasn’t been for lack of trying. But these technologies simply didn’t have the capacity to deliver a higher value proposition. Until now.

A few weeks ago, we introduced the world to Microsoft 365 Copilot–a new experience that combines the power of large language models, like ChatGPT, with your business data to bring A.I. to work in a safe, secure, and relevant way.

I’ve been fortunate to have the opportunity to use Copilot for the past several weeks. Though skeptical at first, I quickly realized the tremendous potential of this technology. From drafting emails to analyzing and summarizing key takeaways from a live meeting, it lets me focus on the parts of my job that really move the needle. It’s not perfect, but even when Copilot gets it wrong, it’s usefully wrong–always better than starting at square one. It’s also required a new way of working, but that’s a trade I’m more than willing to make when it means I never need to wade through long email threads again.

Today isn’t the end of our AI journey. In fact, it’s just the beginning. And we’re committed to working alongside our customers, listening to their feedback, learning as we go and adjusting Copilot along the way. We feel a profound sense of responsibility to get this right.

Just as the introduction of the printing press didn’t put writers out of business, the promise of AI isn’t about eliminating jobs or reducing headcount. It’s about unleashing human capacity, enabling employees to direct their energy to the work that matters most, the work that’s most energizing and rewarding. That’s what our employees are hungry for, and it’s a future of work we can all look forward to.

Jared Spataro is the CVP for modern work and business applications at Microsoft.

The opinions expressed in commentary pieces are solely the views of their authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and beliefs of Fortune.

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