This article was originally published to HRTechnologist on May 31, 2018.
There’s been a huge amount of focus on the improvements artificial intelligence can make to individual consumers, but what are the strategic productivity gains that could be recognized by SMEs, corporates, and other organizations?
Spend any time reading about artificial intelligence (AI), and you might think all the innovation is in the consumer space. While there’s plenty of exciting development — the growing skills of Alexa, the natural language processing (NLP) of Google Assistant, or the ubiquity of Siri, that’s only a fraction of what AI and NLP can do.
There’s another, seemingly intractable problem where AI and NLP could be revolutionary — business productivity, specifically the area that gets a big collective eye roll from employees — meetings.
Why Meetings Can be a Productivity Killer
The idea of most meetings is to draw people together, discuss ideas and options, create a consensus, and develop actions to achieve business tasks. That's the ideal, the reality is a little different:
Most employees attend more than 60 meetings a month.
Executives spend between 40% and 50% of their time in meetings.
There are more than 3 billion meetings a year.
More than a third of meetings are poorly run or not needed at all.
Executives believe that two-thirds of meetings are failures.
Meetings collectively waste almost $40 billion a year.
Meetings between managers could cost upwards of $1,000 an hour in salary and productivity costs.
This is compounded as workforces become more culturally and geographically diverse. Virtual meetings are much more common, while at the same time competition demands faster decision-making and better thought out strategies and action plans.
The old, traditional way of holding meetings isn’t working — we think we can all do better. That’s where AI comes into the picture.
How Artificial Intelligence and Natural Language Processing Boost Productivity
Before digging into the specifics of exactly how AI can enhance meetings, it’s worth exploring what the strategic benefits will be to your business.
Enhance Staff Morale and Make Meetings More Productive It’s fair to say that most staff dislike meetings. Almost half your employees see meetings as a waste of time, so forcing them to attend a large number of meetings can damage morale and company culture. If you can reframe the idea of the meeting and change it from an unnecessary time sink to a valuable discussion, ideas, and action forum through the use of AI, you’ll better engage your employees and create a reason for them to want to be there.
Create More Efficient Processes in Meetings
If there’s one thing that employees dislike more than meetings themselves, it’s all the documentation and artifacts associated with them. Agendas, reports, action plans, notes, minutes, and more, all clog up inboxes, need time to review, and can often times be inaccurate. AI is excellent at parsing complex data and highlighting what people need to know. It can understand employee requirements, know what’s being said via NLP, and create intelligent outputs that people can actually use.
Share Clear Accountability for Staff Actions and Meeting Activities
One of the main complaints about meetings is that it’s not clear who needs to complete tasks that come out of the discussions. This can lead to missed action items and deadlines, frustrations, and escalations. AI can use NLP and other techniques to understand and assign the actions that come from meetings. It can track activities, help staff meet their commitments, and encourage them to be accountable.
Create “One Version of the Truth” for Fewer Communication Errors
Distraction and multitasking is a big problem in many meetings. Attention drifts, important points are missed, communication fails. No one likes taking notes, and understanding the most relevant parts of those notes can be a challenge. An AI transcriber never loses focus. It listens to everything that’s said, records it, and then shares one version of those notes with everyone. The unenviable task of taking meeting minutes becomes a thing of the past, and everyone knows exactly what’s expected.
Improve Productivity for Enhanced Revenue and Profit Margins
This is the big one. Ultimately, you want AI and NLP to contribute to your bottom line. This comes from all the above areas, specifically:
Less time spent in wasteful meetings equals happier staff, and happy staff are more focused and productive.
Less time spent reviewing and processing documents means more time on useful work that expands and grows your business.
Less time spent in meetings by expensive managers, experts, and consultants means they have more paid time to contribute to future business success.
Clear accountability means staff know what they’re responsible for, and takes the right actions to achieve their goals.
Documented and tracked actions means a clearer approach to delivering the processes, products, and services that drive your revenues.
One version of the truth means less duplication and rework, and clear reference materials that make jobs easier.
Combined, these areas can have a significant positive impact on your revenue and profits.
How Artificial Intelligence and Natural Language Processing Create Better Meetings
It’s clear that well-implemented AI and NLP can deliver significant benefits, but how can you actually put these technologies into practice? Our recommended approach is an artificial intelligence meeting assistant, with natural language capabilities. Here’s what an AI assistant can help you do:
AI Activities Before a meeting
Help attendees prepare for meetings by providing context-sensitive documents.
Drive behavioral changes by creating meetings people actually want to attend.
AI Activities During a Meeting
Listen and transcribe all discussion throughout a meeting using NLP.
Capture notes, action items, discussion, attendees, and other key meeting points.
Universal language translation for attendees with different language needs.
AI Activities After a Meeting
Transcribe, summarize, and capture key data including action items and notes.
Create a rich data set of all discussions in meetings.
Assign and track action items with individuals and teams.
Data classification for meeting notes and actions.
Other AI Activities
Combine data sets and discussions across meetings for greater insight, history, and reporting.
View overall meeting time and productivity, both inside and outside meetings.
Collect data simultaneously from multiple meetings.
Provide an emotional analysis of what was said for additional context.
AI-powered, smart search to surface relevant meeting information in response to user queries.
Recommend best practices and enforcement of business strategy, policies, and protocols.
Currently available technologies are still a little ways off from achieving all of these goals, but AI and NLP are improving all the time. It might take a while before employees actually start enjoying meetings, but that shouldn't stop you from considering AI in your strategic business priorities. As technology continues to improves, we’ll see significant strides in NLP and AI, which will in turn boost productivity, and more importantly, your bottom line.
Dave Damer is CEO and founder of Testfire Labs, a Canadian software startup that uses machine learning and artificial intelligence to build productivity solutions that modernize the way people work, so they can achieve more, faster. Testfire's flagship product, Hendrix.ai, is a natural-language artificial intelligence (AI) assistant that attends meetings, captures notes, action items and data points, and uses machine learning to then identify potential workplace bottlenecks and areas for collaboration, delivering insights into organizational productivity.