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How Will Every Company Invest Its AI Time Savings?

White-collar professionals are feeling very positive about AI and its potential to help workers make more money for the company. At least, that's the takeaway from the Thomson Reuters 2024 Future of Professionals report, an annual survey of more than 2,200 professionals working across legal, tax, and risk & compliance fields globally.

One of the most striking findings was how much time AI is expected to save individual workers. As the press release outlined:

Respondents predicted that artificial intelligence (AI) has the potential to save them 12 hours per week in the next five years, or four hours per week over the upcoming year – equating to 200 hours annually. This timesaving potential is the equivalent productivity boost of adding an extra colleague for every 10 team members on staff. Harnessing the power of AI across various professions opens immense economic opportunities. For a U.S. lawyer, this could translate to an estimated $100,000 in additional billable hours.

In other words, with the right AI tools, people will be able to squeeze more work into their existing workweeks and make more money for their employers.

But is wringing the maximum value from employee productivity always the best thing for the employee -- or the workplace? We've spent the last few years redefining how work actually, um, works. The office has been pretty radically reconfigured, and so has the idea that people actually need to be around each other to collaborate So long as managers and executives are rethinking where their workforce is doing the work -- why not think about how long a work week really has to be?

Back in October 2023, Metrigy CEO and Principal Analyst Robin Gareiss argued:

Too many business leaders see generative AI as a catalyst for higher profits, while avoiding any paradigm shift away from the 40 (or 50, or 60+)-hour workweek. Why not, instead, see it as a catalyst for improving more than just the bottom line? Though there are valid concerns about malicious use of any type of AI, business leaders must also spend time thinking about and educating on how the technology can change workstyles and lifestyles.

In other words, if AI is saving workers more time, why not shorten the work week rather than pile more work on people? Gareiss lays out several benefits to both the worker and the organization, including higher employee loyalty -- which reduces recruiting, hiring and training costs.

According to Edie Goldberg, founder of talent management and development company E.L. Goldberg & Associates, the real costs of hiring a new employee are as high as triple that hire's salary, thanks to what she calls "soft costs," like current employees' roles in the hiring process -- all that time screening applicants and conducting interviews takes time from those employees doing their actual jobs -- or the way team productivity takes a hit as new employees need support on the job. And a new employee may not be up to full productivity for up to a year, according to Gallup -- so that's another soft cost.

Organizations are going to have to do some math -- will they be expecting their employees to use AI and generate another $100K in value every year? Or will that expectation cost them even more when workers leave for the employer who's touting a shorter workweek? Maybe, just maybe, this is the kind of work AI can do to come up with the right answer for the right organization.