AI at Work: The Importance of Soft Skills in the Workplace

April 10th, 2024 – SkillCycle

AI has been a specter on the horizon for some time, especially for those who feel any type of automation represents a risk to how humans work — or if they work at all. While AI isn’t actually coming for anyone’s jobs, it has put a spotlight on the importance of soft skills in the workplace.

What’s fueling the uncertainty around AI in the workplace? Some consider AI a threat to how we work and a potential risk to people’s jobs. For example, it’s estimated that up to 30% of hours currently worked across the US economy could be automated by 2030, in a trend accelerated by generative AI, according to McKinsey.

“There needs to be a shift from thinking about AI as a tool rather than an entity,” says Rebecca Taylor, CCO and Co-founder of SkillCycle. “There’s an opportunistic view and a catastrophic view. When you think of AI as an entity, that’s where fear comes in.”

Leading with fear isn’t the answer. Instead, organizations can prepare for the future by recognizing the potential that AI can unlock in their teams and by cultivating the human skills required to leverage these tools successfully.

In this article on how AI is changing the landscape of work, we’ll explore:

  • AI and the importance of soft skills in the workplace
  • What COOs should know about the current AI landscape
  • The value of AI in employee growth and development
  • How organizations can cultivate critical soft skills 

AI and the importance of soft skills in the workplace

Once employers recognize AI as a tool, imagining how it might help people perform their jobs better becomes easier. Across history, people have used tools, and new versions of tools, to advance their efforts and increase their impact.

“A machine can increase the speed of getting some tasks done,” says Taylor. “It also allows people to unlock the part of their brain that can go far beyond those repetitive tasks, so they can spend their time in more valuable ways.”

This perspective can help shift the focus from the idea of AI taking jobs away to AI handling routine and repetitive tasks. This way, humans can reap the many benefits of AI in the workplace and focus on the more creative aspects of their work. 

While machines are efficient, humans will always be needed to operate them to put their powers to meaningful use. This brings the conversation to soft skills, which will be crucial to adapt to evolving AI tools and imagine the possibilities ahead.

While technical skills focus on the practical application of certain skills to complete work tasks, soft skills can be valuable in many different ways. Organizations that cultivate core skills such as curiosity, problem-solving, creativity, adaptability to change, and being comfortable with ambiguity will nurture teams with the capacity to navigate the future. 

What COOs should know about the current AI landscape

While fears about automation are common, AI is predicted to create, not diminish, workforce opportunity, according to Gartner

AI can allow your employees to use their time more effectively, making your organization more efficient. In many cases, companies are relying on AI in various tools without much concern. 

“AI provides tools and resources so people can show up better and use their time more efficiently,” says Taylor. “It can also give you objective data you can use to improve.”

For example, your sales team might use AI to record sales calls. Doing so would assure you of transcription, helping your salespeople focus more fully on the customer conversation. They’re likely to partner more effectively to find solutions from these calls. In some cases, AI can even identify patterns across these calls to flag areas of opportunity or growth. 

“It’s critical for COOs to encourage their teams to get comfortable using AI now because it is evolving quickly,” says Taylor. “If you wait to learn it, you’ll be doing so when it’s more complicated, which will be more difficult.”

The value of AI in employee growth and development

Another area where automation can offer substantial value is employee development. If this is an area with room for improvement in your company, AI can help you get there faster. 

“AI can be a tool that enables valuable feedback across your organization,” says Taylor. 

“This can be especially valuable in remote environments or organizations where the skills of providing regular feedback haven’t been actively developed.”

With AI’s support, you can also take a more proactive approach to developing the skills you’ll need in your workforce in the future. You can leverage the benefits of AI in the workplace and focus on building out your skills inventory in a deliberate way.

Adapting to change in the workplace means accepting that how work gets done may change and that technical skills may become less important over time. However, a team full of people who can solve problems, think critically, lead others, and communicate well will likely succeed, no matter what challenges lie ahead.

How organizations can cultivate critical soft skills

The importance of soft skills in the workplace has been brought into sharp focus for leaders who want to position their companies for success. So how can you create the type of environment that will support these soft skills even as you get better at developing them in your staff? Leadership can model the same core skills they want to grow in their teams to show adaptability to change.

“For example, COOs can also embrace ambiguity,” says Taylor. “One idea is to tell your teams you want everybody to start learning to use AI and leverage it in their jobs in some way. Don’t tell them how, don’t police it, and don’t measure it.”

With encouragement and the expectation that the entire company will explore AI together, they’ll likely get creative with the tools they already use. They may not have felt free to embrace it or to devote time to it, but if you set a company goal to thoughtfully embrace AI with no expectation of outcome, you’ll set people free. 

This type of exercise can help employees in adapting to change in the workplace. It can nurture the type of culture that will support soft skills, opening up room for knowledge sharing and the social element of learning. Experimenting is an essential component of innovation, but people need to feel they are free to do it in order to be brave, make mistakes, and find useful new ideas. 

Another important piece will be how you hire and recruit new talent into your organization. Recognizing that the future of work may look different in your organization can help you bring new people in who possess skills that complement those of your existing team rather than simply filling open positions. 

Ready to learn how you can prepare your organization for a future with AI? Download our white paper Shaping the Future of HR: AI in the Workplace.


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