As AI twists further into the public consciousness, we’re starting to see dystopian stories about the future of work, predicting a kind of final victory for the Machiavellian forces of capitalism.
As the most notable example, science-fiction author Ted Chiang recently wondered if there is “a way for A.I. to do something other than sharpen the knife blade of capitalism?” According to Insider, employees at JPMorgan may already be suffering under that dynamic due to the company’s powerful employee monitoring tools.
These stories paint a bleak picture, raising many concerns I share myself, and indeed my own worries with A.I. go well beyond the potential impact to work. But I believe we’ll overcome them, however, and want to take a moment to consider a world where people are thriving in their jobs because of A.I., not in spite of it.
While Chiang is right to raise the specter of grim possibilities rooted in these new technologies, we’ll have to actively steer our fates to avoid them. That may involve finding ways to increase the relative power of labor, like improving the social safety net so that it’s easier to leave a miserable job. Or by elevating stakeholder capitalism, as in the current ESG movement, so that board members and officers aren’t myopically focused on optimizing the interests of shareholders.
I believe we will figure out a positive way forward with AI and unlock a future that is unimaginably good. Even in the next couple of years, though, I see clear opportunities to improve the lives of workers and increase efficiency and profits at the same time. We can accomplish more, while also improving the lives of everyone who contributes, by realizing our full potential. Here are a few of the possibilities I know are within our reach.
At the beginning of my career, I burned myself out trying to sprint for years on end. I hadn’t yet learned the lesson that optimal performance requires cycles of engagement and rest, in addition to blocks of focus time for creative work. AI is capable of facilitating better balance in a few ways:
What you need to know, when you need to know it: We all face an avalanche of notifications. AI can shelter you from the flood, balancing the importance of your current work, how deep you are into a work block, and the urgency of the incoming message to handle each notification the right way.
A Slack message from your boss? Let it through with an alert. Something from your friend? It can wait—for now.
Symphonic scheduling: A high-performing team is like a group of musicians perfectly in sync with each other while individually in flow. But finding frequent time for connecting across groups often means cleaving your focus time apart, and many eventually succumb to a fractured agenda. AI provides a way to satisfy large sets of detailed preferences, much like Calendly already allows you to do, iterating to maximize focus blocks for everyone without having to rely on coarse coordination measures like No Meeting Wednesdays.
Exhale: Like a great manager, AI can encourage you to take breaks or a vacation when it’s been too long.
Hybrid work, your way: With AI, synchronize the days you and your team are in the office together—without relying on a rigid company-wide schedule. A hybrid work schedule driven by AI can bend to your team’s needs, accommodating heads-down projects, collaborative planning, and vacations as needed.
Cutting out slack in people’s work days can improve productivity for a few days or maybe a few weeks. But ultimately, people slow down when they don’t have balance and eventually burn out and quit. Using AI to try to distort this balance and eke out a little more out of each hour is not just cruel, but it’s bad for business.
The internet helped make the world feel smaller and more familiar. Similarly, AI can jump-start employees’ onboarding and institutional knowledge by becoming a personal tutor that brings every individual up to speed with expert patience and grace.
Unfamiliar acronyms, custom Slack emojis, project code names—all the tiny nuances that make up the connective tissue of culture—can be alienating to those unfamiliar.
AI can decode company or team culture, replacing the uneasiness that accompanies transitions with a quickly achieved sense of belonging. It can make it easy to start contributing to the team’s goals.
For example, AI can add inline context alongside written text (like comments in a task or emails in a thread) to catch you up to speed.
And when it comes to writing, many AI tools have already demonstrated their ability to write, revise, and rewrite within any parameters. With further advancements, these tools will be able to tailor your writing to any audience, adding familiar acronyms or removing idioms that don’t translate across cultures.
These kinds of efficiencies not only save us time but reduce the friction created when joining a new company or team. It’s empowering for individuals—and builds stronger connections between us all.
Stories born from paranoia teach you to see AI as the ultimate surveillance tool, watching your every eye moment and jiggle of your mouse.
This type of fear is sewn into micromanagers, the ones who worry you’ll slack off and be unproductive. The ones who are afraid you’ll go too far in the wrong direction or that you’ll miss deadlines and prioritize unimportant work.
But what if AI is used instead to catch you doing things well? What if it could foster trust between managers and employees?
With the ability to compile reports of your accomplishments—or even assess their quality—AI can help managers better appreciate the output of their employees, rather than relying on quantified inputs, like time spent at your desk. It can watch out for deadlines and critical paths, automatically steering you toward the work that’s most urgent. And if you do fall behind on deadlines, AI can let your manager know—they don’t have to poke their nose in all the time just to catch the one time you fell behind.
With AI helping everyone focus their attention to match intentions as they do their work, managers can instead spend their time investing in ways to support their team and grow individuals.
At work, we’re at our best—that is, effective, fulfilled, and happy—when we’re engaged in tasks that are distinctly human.
These are the tasks that allow us to infuse our creativity, empathy, and judgment into them. These are the tasks that AI can enable our days to be filled with, by automating the busy work that slows us down.
The time you spend on status updates, check-in meetings, information gathering—the grueling tasks no one had in mind when they decided to start a career—almost all of it can give way to creative and rewarding work with the help of AI.
A world with less “work about work” is a world with more breakthroughs. It’s a world with bigger ideas, better execution, and faster progress. It’s a world full of happy individuals, living their best lives.
The way we work right now will soon look vestigial, a kind of social scaffolding in our journey to build something better. We know that AI will transform the future of work. Will the future edifices of our labor be austere, brutalist towers that callously process resources? Or will they be beautiful, intricate monuments to growth and thriving?
We have agency in how this future unfolds, but we can only manifest something wonderful if we also create positive visions for what’s possible.
When my co-founder and I started Asana, we were fueled by the power of teams. When the world’s teams work together, we can do great things—the kind of things that contribute to a better life for people and the planet.
Customers should demand the positive version of the future. Technologists can build it. AI and humans can co-create that future. We can realize our full collective potential, together.