Remote workforce discussions often highlight the technology that enables success. You’ll find shifts from the water cooler to Slack, in-person meetings to Zoom, company memos to recorded videos, and much more. To give one example, think about one of the newest shiny objects in the changing world of work: artificial intelligence.

Artificial intelligence, like ChatGPT, can and will play a role in many different businesses, especially in the years to come. There’s not much of a difference in applying AI in remote or in-person offices. Its operations largely will exist in the cloud and deliver output without any care of where you and your colleagues are at.

However, the adoption of AI gives us good guidelines for deploying new tech or policies that change the social contract of the workplace. Change — no matter if it has to do with AI, benefits, or compensation — requires trust to be successful.

(And, in HR and PeopleOps, following best practices for change management is always ideal — just take a look at the soundly-critiqued RTO mandates where the employee experience suffers.)

So then, let’s talk about how to change well, change effectively, and change with trust at the forefront. 

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Offering honesty

Technology is an enabler of change, but using it the right way requires leadership to be open and make a proper case for their teams. Change only sticks when people are convinced of its value. The hallmark of good change management is making an honest case for what’s new and why you’re leaving behind what’s old, backed by the right data.

Check out this case for remote work for help getting the conversation started correctly.

Using excuses and shifting blame or reasoning will harm morale and destroy trust. The louder or more public efforts to shift blame, especially from leadership, the more likely they will sabotage trust and culture beyond the immediately impacted team or group. Distrust is contagious.

Accepting responsibility

Unfortunately, the excitement around AI is spurring rapid action without reflection on good change management and the need to be honest.

The Duukan e-commerce platform provides us with an unfortunate example. Its CEO recently announced that he laid off 90% of his support staff after adopting an AI chatbot, calling it “absolutely” necessary based on the chatbot’s performance.

The initial response to this layoff announcement on Twitter was a strong backlash because the reasoning didn’t feel honest.

If I’m honest with you, that criticism is warranted.

The AI tool didn’t create the current business climate or the company’s performance. AI didn’t “take” a single job. Rather, each person was intentionally laid off and purposefully replaced by a tool. The company made a decision around revenue, expenses, and outsourcing.

How do we know this? The announcement specifically notes that the company has reduced support costs by 85%.

The lesson every other employee will take away is that their jobs are also just as replaceable, the second some other system can save their company some cash. This leads to a culture of distrust, insecurity, and even fear.

Turning honesty inward 

Blaming AI instead of taking responsibility for the decision just isn’t honest, even if there are business reasons for the decision. When building trust and transparency within a company, the feeling of trustworthiness is just as important as actual honesty.

Understanding the importance of this feeling should guide every leader when they make any foundational change.

So, when thinking about asynchronous work and RTO mandates, ask yourself if you’re communicating your decisions honestly.

Really — is the office better for your teams or just more comfortable for how you worked early in your career? Are you doing what’s best to create a modern workforce or trying to fit new habits and practices into an old container?

There’s no right answer for every company. But being honest with your people and yourself is the right first step.

Category: Workforce Management