Why hybrid work could save knowledge workers’ jobs from AI

As the world slowly recovers from the pandemic, many knowledge workers find themselves at a crossroads.

On one hand, the prospect of returning to the office stirs up a cocktail of dread and nostalgia. On the other hand, the threat of AI-driven job elimination looms large. It’s like being caught between a rock and a hard place, or more aptly, between a swivel chair and a supercomputer.

But let’s take a step back and examine the situation. The office, despite its occasional inconveniences, offers a unique environment for collaboration, innovation, and social interaction. It’s the proverbial watering hole where ideas are exchanged, relationships are forged, and corporate culture is nurtured.

That’s how I encourage my clients to frame the conversation in formulating their approach to hybrid work policy.

The McKinsey Report: A deep dive into the future of AI

The new McKinsey report titled “The Economic Potential of Generative AI: The Next Productivity Frontier” paints a vivid picture of the future.

Generative AI, with its ability to create new, original content, is set to contribute up to $13 trillion to the global economy by 2030. This represents a 1.2% annual increase in global GDP, a significant figure considering the global GDP growth rate has been around 3% per year over the past decade.

Generative AI is making waves in product and service innovation, creating new product designs, generating marketing content, and even developing new business models. Imagine a fashion company using a generative AI model to create new clothing designs based on current fashion trends, or a marketing company using a text generation model to create advertising copy. The possibilities are endless.

But it’s not just about innovation. Generative AI is also improving business operations, automating routine tasks, improving decision-making, and optimizing processes. A logistics company could use a generative AI model to optimize its delivery routes, while a manufacturing company could use a generative AI model to improve its production processes.

The hybrid approach: A response to AI disruption

The McKinsey report’s revelations about the potential of generative AI to revolutionize the global economy and the labor market are indeed staggering. But these revelations also bring to light a significant concern: the threat of job elimination for knowledge workers.

The report finds that “current generative AI and other technologies have the potential to automate work activities that absorb 60 to 70 percent of employees’ time today” and “has more impact on knowledge work associated with occupations that have higher wages and educational requirements than on other types of work.”

However, the hybrid work model, which combines remote work with in-office presence, offers a promising solution. Here’s how the in-office component of the hybrid work model can help knowledge workers safeguard their roles in the era of AI.

While AI has made significant strides in automating routine tasks, it falls short when it comes to human creativity and innovation. The in-person aspect of the hybrid work model fosters an environment conducive to brainstorming, problem-solving, and the generation of groundbreaking ideas. These are inherently human abilities that AI cannot replicate, making knowledge workers indispensable in the creative and innovative processes.

The ability to build and nurture relationships is a uniquely human trait that AI cannot emulate. In-office interactions under the hybrid work model provide opportunities for knowledge workers to develop robust professional networks and interpersonal relationships. These relationships often lead to collaborative opportunities and career advancement, making employees more valuable to their organizations.

A strong corporate culture is a cornerstone of employee engagement, productivity, and retention. AI, despite its capabilities, cannot contribute to a company’s culture. The in-person interactions facilitated by the hybrid work model play a crucial role in cultivating and maintaining a vibrant corporate culture. This makes employees an integral part of the organization, further securing their positions.

AI can analyze vast amounts of data and provide valuable insights. However, it often falls short in complex decision-making scenarios that require a deep understanding of the business, industry trends, and human factors.

Knowledge workers who regularly interact with colleagues and stay abreast of company developments through in-office presence can make nuanced decisions that AI cannot, thereby solidifying their roles.

Emotional intelligence, the ability to understand, use, and manage emotions effectively, is a critical skill that AI lacks. In-office presence in a hybrid work model allows knowledge workers to leverage their emotional intelligence in roles that require negotiation, conflict resolution, and team management. This makes them irreplaceable in situations that require a human touch.

Why the future is hybrid

The hybrid work model, particularly its in-office component, offers a robust defense for knowledge workers against AI-induced job displacement.

While AI can automate certain tasks, the human elements of work – such as collaboration, relationship-building, culture cultivation, complex decision-making, and emotional intelligence – are irreplaceable. By embracing the hybrid work model, knowledge workers can continue to add unique value to their organizations, thereby securing their roles in the face of AI disruption.

Dr. Gleb Tsipursky helps tech and finance industry executives drive collaboration, innovation, and retention in hybrid work. He serves as the CEO of the boutique future-of-work consultancy Disaster Avoidance Experts

He is the best-selling author of seven books, including Never Go With Your Gut and Leading Hybrid and Remote Teams. His cutting-edge thought leadership was featured in over 650 articles in prominent venues such asHarvard Business Review, Fortune, and Forbes

His expertise comes from over 20 years of consulting for Fortune 500 companies from Aflac to Xerox and over 15 years in academia as a behavioral scientist at UNC-Chapel Hill and Ohio State. A proud Ukrainian American, Dr. Gleb lives in Columbus, Ohio.