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  • 2020: The year the office finds its voice?

    Time: Jan. 15, 2020



    Voice-based AI assistants may soon be as common in the workplace as they are at home,

    handling routine tasks and – eventually – more complicated workflows and business processes.



    While voice-based digital assistants such as Amazon Alexa, Apple Siri and Google Assistant are

    becoming increasingly common at home – and smartphones and wearables can be used  handsfree

    via speech – the use of voice in the workplace is just getting started. That’s likely to change in 2020

    and beyond.


    The promise of voice in the workplace? More efficient employees, “smarter” voice-based assistants,

    easier ways of completing routine tasks and a digital experience in the office that matches what’s used at home.





    Voice AI for office productivity


    Microsoft recently announced that Cortana – now firmly positioned as a workplace rather than consumer

    AI assistant –will integrate with its Outlook mobile app, enabling users to dictate messages and request emails

    to be read aloud. 

    Google, meanwhile, has begun to integrate its Assistant with G Suite calendars, allowing users to check

    schedules via voice commands, schedule events, send emails to certain contacts and dial in to meetings.


    Although these are relatively straightforward tasks, they will get more workers interacting via voice, given

    the reach of Office 365 and G Suite in the corporate world. In addition, voice assistants are being embedded

    in hardware designed explicitly for the office, making it easier for businesses to deploy. 


    Wider availability of voice technology on productivity applications and devices will influence adoption, said

    Castañón-Martínez. “This will reinforce the familiarity of voice user interfaces in the workplace, in a similar

    way as consumers have become familiar with Alexa and Siri, and with smart speakers like Amazon Echo and

    Google Home/Nest.”







    Wider access to voice AI advances


    While conversational AI tools such as chatbots are now common, voice interfaces have been slower

    to arrive, according to Hayley Sutherland, a senior research analyst at IDC. But advances  in the underlying

    natural language processing technology has made voice-based assistants  accurate enough to support regular






    Privacy and security concerns remain


    Another potential barrier to adoption involves privacy and security fears. In the past year, Apple, Amazon,

    Google and Microsoft have each come under fire after reports that staff and contract workers were given

    access to small numbers of customer voice recordings for quality review.


    According to a recent IDC survey, 44% of consumers have privacy and security concerns about the devices;

    those worries are likely to be higher when sensitive enterprise data is at risk. That is especially pertinent as

    voice interfaces are added to business applications, such as software from the likes of Salesforce and Oracle. 





    From simple to advanced tasks


    While there may be resistance to using voice AI assistants in busy offices (for practical reasons), office workers

    on the go or staffers not bound to a desk could find them especially useful. 


    “Those industries where people need to use their hands a lot is where we’ll see it first and where it will have a

    more natural kind of adoption,” said Sutherland. “It could be a lot more natural for field workers, and the efficiencies

    that they gain could mean it is an easier kind of adoption.”


    The healthcare industry is one area that sees promise for voice-based assistants. A variety of startups in the industry

    have attracted venture capital investment, including Seattle-based Saykara, which uses speech recognition to input

    information into electronic health ecord systems. This frees doctors from burdensome data-entry requirements.


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