In the workplace of the not-too-distant future, employees will need to go beyond being tech-savvy to being able to comfortably work alongside digital colleagues.

Artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning and intelligent bots will be automatically making decisions to streamline business processes and empower efficient automation.

The widespread adoption of machines to do much of the “heavy lifting” will change some jobs from the inside out, making individual workers far more productive and less bogged down with repetitive tasks.

Smart chatbots can already handle first- and even second-level customer service calls, and AI is powering everything from manufacturing lines to automated vehicles.

For example, BHP is rolling out automated trucks at its iron ore and coal mines across Australia over the next 5 years, following the success of its Jimblebar mine trial program, which saw a 90 per cent reduction in the number of dangerous incidents. Importantly, truck drivers are not losing their jobs, but being redeployed in other areas of the mines where their skills can be better used.

While today’s workforce is concerned about automation and AI reducing the need for humans in jobs, in reality AI is a long way from being able to replace human emotion, empathy and ingenuity.

AI won’t replace humans, but rather facilitate them by doing repetitive or mundane tasks so humans can take on more high-level, emotionally intelligent tasks, which are characterised by self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy and social skill. When new technologies do take effect, they create as many jobs as they replace. According to recent Australian research, nearly half of the chief information officers surveyed see AI and people working together to deliver services in the future.

The future workforce

This means that workers in the coming years will need to be comfortable collaborating with independently operating technologies such as automation, machine learning and AI.

Humans will have to be agile, willing to adapt, ready to learn new skills, have a high emotional IQ and be used to the idea that jobs will be fluid. They will also require a certain level of comfort with virtual reality/augmented reality, wearables, implanted technology, hyper-collaboration, and the world of big data. In particular, hyper-collaboration will be seen as a core competency, not just with human colleagues, but also with the advanced, intelligent and independent technologies that will be pervasive in the workplace.

So, what do organisations need to do now to prepare employees for this workforce of the future?

For one, businesses will need to focus on employee experience and cultivate a growth mind-set within their teams, so that workers will actively seek out opportunities to learn and develop with the support of their organisation, rather than waiting for top-down training programs to appear.

Workplace fluidity — where workers spend time working across different aspects of a business to learn multiple roles and functions — will also be vital, as it makes staff more agile and able to cope with rapid change.

This should be coupled with a more fundamental change in the way organisations are structured, where all work involves fluid, multi-disciplinary teams coming together to work on a particular project or problem.