Over the past year, it has been difficult to have a conversation about what the future of the workplace might look like without mentioning Artificial Intelligence (AI).

So much so, that sceptics worry this technology will eventually replace humans and jobs and erode the workforce as we know it.

Organisations are trying to understand the near-time implications and applications of AI in the workplace but one thing seems to be clear: AI is going to become even more entrenched, and probably far sooner than we expect. Companies now need to decide whether they keep up and embrace this ever-evolving technology or risk losing any competitive edge.

Don’t be scared of the unknown

Rather than seeing it as a helpful ally, employees seem to believe that AI will eliminate the workforce as we know it. This is an inaccurate notion, in large part influenced by the scaremongering and hyperbole we hear about the power of AI. It is no doubt a powerful technology, but in reality, most applications of AI in the workplace are there to make people more efficient in their roles – not take their jobs. According to McKinsey, Generative AI has the potential to automate up to 70% of the work activities that absorb our time day to day.

It is therefore far more helpful to see AI as co-pilots to humans. Advanced AI tools can declutter to-do lists, from automating high-level data analysis to research. Anything that has the potential to eliminate the pen pushing that takes up most of an employee’s time can’t be anything but beneficial for an organisation.

Management has a shake-up

The most significant opportunity from incoming workplace automation is the transition away from idle management practices. The craft of management has long been overlooked as that particular part of a manager’s role, is often seen as secondary to their day-to-day tasks. This is especially concerning given that 70% of employee engagement and productivity is dependent on their managers.

With the implementation of AI, managers’ roles are set for a complete shake-up. AI will reduce the managers’ day-to-day tasks, meaning the soft skills that were once thought of as ‘peripheral’, like shaping team culture, communication and empathy have now become the core part of the job. Embracing AI will allow managers to spend more time perfecting the craft of management – something that requires time, upskilling and focus – and improving how they interact with their colleagues, which will ultimately drive productivity, efficiency and employee satisfaction.

Upskilling is key

In the UK, 82% of all new managers are ‘accidental’. In other words, they do not have any formal training in how to be a good manager.

To help combat this growing trend, upskilling practices – such as effective training and coaching – have come into sharp focus. Studies show that the number one factor for creating engaged teams at companies like Google is the presence of a coaching style of leadership. But this is a skill that needs to be taught, practised and nurtured through continuous, real-time learning. In short, upskilling and reskilling are strategic investments that will not only drive employee retention and satisfaction, but will also help to develop the high-order thinking that is critical for companies to maintain a competitive advantage.

What does this mean in practice?

By investing in employees  and empowering them to take roles of leadership and responsibility, business leaders will stand in good stead to reap the benefits of AI, without compromising on the business’s most important asset – its people. AI and humans have the potential to accentuate each other’s strengths, and positively impact the practices of managers who are fundamental to an organisation’s success. Businesses would be wise to lean into the opportunity before they need to play catch up.

CEO & Executive Coach at Manageable

Farley Thomas is CEO and Co-founder of Manageable - a tech-enabled skills platform that helps managers world-wide become more confident coaches to their teams. Farley was previously a Managing Director of HSBC's asset management division and he also spent four years in HSBC's investment bank, running a $1bn+ global segment.