Workers want to use AI—they’re not waiting for their companies to adopt it

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Welcome to the Bring Your Own AI to Work (BYOAI) age.

More than a year after generative AI debuted, the technology has become ubiquitous in the workplace. Fed up with the pace and intensity of their work, employees are turning to AI to lessen the pressure their jobs have placed on them. In fact, workers appear to be taking an “ask for forgiveness, not permission” stance regarding gen AI. They’re not waiting for their companies to give the green light.

On Wednesday, Microsoft released its fourth annual Work Trend Index, teaming for the first time with subsidiary LinkedIn to explore the state of the labor market. Unsurprisingly, this year’s report focused on how AI was reshaping work. “AI is democratizing expertise across the workforce,” Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said in a statement. “Our latest research highlights the opportunity for every organization to apply this technology to drive better decision-making, collaboration—and ultimately business outcomes.”

Microsoft isn’t just releasing a report today. It’s also launching new Copilot for Microsoft 365 capabilities to help people get started with AI. More on that later.

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The AI Groundswell

microsoft wti data viz 1 employees want AI at work
Image credit: Microsoft

A reported 75 percent of workers now use AI at work, claiming the technology saves them “time, boosts creativity and allows them to focus on their most important work.” However, while 79 percent of leaders say AI adoption will help their companies remain competitive, 59 percent are concerned about quantifying AI’s productivity gains, and 60 percent say they don’t know how to implement it.

No longer willing to deal with managerial indecision, employees have taken it upon themselves to leverage the AI they use personally in their daily work. It’s not limited to one specific generational demographic either—BYOAI appears to be universally accepted. This trend is similar to one many years ago when we were clamoring about the consumerization of IT with services like Slack, Dropbox, Trello and Google Apps. And leave it to workers to lead the charge in having companies embrace AI because it makes their jobs easier.

According to the Work Trend Index, AI enables workers to find order in their work’s chaos. Sixty-eight percent say they’re struggling with the pace and volume of their jobs, with nearly half feeling burned out. And let’s not forget about the stress caused by our inboxes: AI can minimize the feeling of email overload.

Using AI to break the career ceiling

The report suggests that AI competency will likely give some workers an edge in new career opportunities. You don’t need to be a technical AI expert either—there’s demand for workers who can use ChatGPT or Microsoft Copilot.

Sixty-six percent of business leaders state they won’t hire someone without AI skills, and in the absence of formal training in the workplace, employees are taking matters into their own hands, choosing to take classes from LinkedIn Learning, Coursera, Amazon, Google and other online education services. With AI infiltrating every part of the workforce, it’s no surprise that being knowledgeable in the technology is critical.

The rise of AI power users

With most tech trends, there are two ends of the spectrum: skeptics and power users. The Work Trend Index looks at the latter, revealing that workers who use AI extensively are saving over 30 minutes per day. Nearly all of these power users state that the technology helps make their workload more manageable and work more enjoyable. However, their embrace of AI isn’t solely the result of non-work influence. It’s likely because they heard from their CEO about the importance of using gen AI at work (61 percent), have received encouragement from leaders to explore using AI to transform their function (53 percent), and had tailored AI training for their job (35 percent).

So, while executives may be hesitant to invest in AI for their organizations, they still encourage employees to find use cases for the technology.

“AI is redefining work and it’s clear we need new playbooks,” LinkedIn CEO Ryan Roslansky remarked in a statement. “It’s the leaders who build for agility instead of stability and invest in skill building internally that will give their organizations a competitive advantage and create more efficient, engaged and equitable teams.”

Advice to business leaders

Organizations looking to take advantage of their employees’ enthusiasm for AI can take the following steps:

  • Identify a business problem and then apply AI — Microsoft cites its latest Estée Lauder partnership as an example
  • Take a top-down, bottom-up approach. Participation is required by all levels of the organization to turn an AI experiment into a transformative moment successfully. Business line leaders are needed to activate teams around AI.
  • Prioritize AI training for workers to help them skill up and use it more for their role and function

Copilot for Microsoft 365 updates

For those looking to get started with AI, Microsoft is releasing new features for Copilot for Microsoft 365, its AI-powered productivity tool. The new capabilities include:

  • An auto-complete feature to help users generate the best prompt
  • A rewrite feature in Copilot that will modify a basic prompt into a “rich” one
  • A chat interface called Catch Up that surfaces personal insights based on recent activity and provides responsive recommendations

Microsoft says these features will be available in the coming months.

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