The reality of AI in today’s workplace (new research)

Alicia Raeburn contributor headshotAlicia RaeburnSeptember 15th, 20233 min read
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Artificial intelligence (AI) is no longer a futuristic concept; it's the heart of today's workplace transformation. To better understand how organizations are navigating AI adoption, The Work Innovation Lab, a think tank by Asana, conducted a survey of over 4,500 individual contributors, middle and senior managers, and executives in the U.S. and U.K. 

What did they find? It depends on who you ask. Use cases, adoption, and feelings regarding AI are mixed across teams and role levels. This love-it-or-hate-it dynamic makes it especially challenging for leaders—how can you thoughtfully leverage a new technology when your teams are so conflicted about it?

There’s no one-size-fits-all answer, but one thing is clear—high-performing companies take a different approach, adopting and implementing AI in more effective ways. They navigate the AI leadership divide, bridge AI perspectives across functions, and strategically select AI vendors. 

What is The Work Innovation Lab?

The Work Innovation Lab is a think tank by Asana that develops human-centered, cutting-edge research to help businesses evolve today to meet the growing changes and challenges of work.

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The current state of AI is marked by progress and caution

If there was one take away from all the data collected by The Work Innovation Lab, it’s this: Despite the narratives around fear and concerns, most workers are cautiously optimistic. Roughly half (52%) of knowledge workers anticipate that AI will have a positive impact on their work. More than one-third (36%) of knowledge workers are already harnessing AI's capabilities in their roles at least weekly, signaling an opportunity to unlock even more value from AI.

But despite recognizing AI’s potential, there are challenges that need to be addressed. On average, nearly one-third (29%) of employees reported thinking their jobs were replaceable by AI. This could create resentment and friction for AI adoption and use. The challenge and opportunity lie in discerning what AI can skillfully automate and what still requires a human touch, crafting a future where AI amplifies human intelligence rather than competing with it.

Executives are leading the AI charge, but workers aren’t so sure

Executives are paving the way for AI adoption, realizing its potential to augment human intelligence. Over half (52%) of executives use AI on a weekly basis, compared to just 36% of the broader workforce. 

For employees, use cases include:

  • Data analysis (30% of employees)

  • Administrative tasks (25% of employees) 

This disconnect extends beyond just AI usage—it also shows up in perceived transparency. 44% of executives feel they've been transparent about their organization’s plans to use AI, but only 38% of managers and 25% of individual contributors agree. Likely, this gap is from a lack of AI-related policies and guidelines and a shortage of AI training.

Despite their differences, executives, managers, and individual contributors all agree when it comes to ethical AI concerns—81% of individual contributors fear that AI will compromise their human rights and 73% of leaders share this sentiment.

According to The Work Innovation Lab, connecting these differing views and opinions could start with human-centered AI. Human-centered AI is driven by values and guiding principles that put employees and ethics first. This is the core of how successful companies are approaching AI; from a human lens. 

Bridging the AI gap across departments

The data shows that every department in your organization views AI through its own unique lens—whether it's the tech-centric sphere of IT, the creative realm of marketing, or the pragmatic world of operations. As a leader, you’ll need to grasp these varied viewpoints to tailor AI implementation and change management processes for each group.

  • IT: The (cautiously optimistic) AI enthusiasts: IT professionals view AI as a transformative force that will fundamentally reshape the contours of work. While they’re enthusiastic about AI, they’re still concerned about the security risks associated with AI.

46% of IT professionals anticipate their organizations investing in AI in the upcoming quarter, much more than other departments. 

  • Marketing: The AI skeptics: Marketing thrives on understanding human emotions, creativity, and cultural subtleties. Many marketers are wary of AI, guarding the creative core of their field.

About 31% of marketers worry about being labeled "lazy" for using AI, a concern more prevalent here than in other departments.

  • Operations: The AI realists: Operations teams see AI's promise and also its complexities. They recognize the need for role-specific AI training and advocate for it.

50% of operations professionals foresee AI playing a role in goal-setting. Moreover, 55% believe AI can help achieve objectives more effectively than traditional methods.

To successfully weave AI into the fabric of your organization, it's vital to recognize and cater to these diverse perspectives. This ensures a cohesive and impactful AI strategy throughout your organization.

The path forward

Organizations are at a pivotal juncture. Fully harnessing AI goes beyond mere tool adoption—it requires serving as a guide and connective tissue between leadership and departmental gaps within your organization. By making informed vendor decisions, businesses can tap into AI's transformative power and leverage it to unlock new levels of human ingenuity. 

In this ever-evolving AI landscape, you can’t just be a decision-maker; you need to be an architect of change for your organization.

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