Featured in today's briefing:
- The most important skills for working with generative artificial intelligence.
- Why more workers are taking parental leave.
- The states where remote work is most and least common.
The Macro Context
- President Biden earlier this week signed a bill ending the national Covid state of emergency, which expanded the federal government’s powers to coordinate a pandemic response, ahead of the previously planned date of May 11.
- Inflation slowed in March for the ninth month in a row as the Consumer Price Index rose at an annual rate of 5%, down from 6% in February.
Focus on How to Prepare Your Workplace for Working With Generative Artificial Intelligence
ChatGPT is making its way into workplaces, and organizations are grappling with what policies to put in place and how to prepare their workers.
We recently spoke with George Westerman, a senior lecturer at MIT’s Sloan School of Management, founder of the university’s skills-focused Global Opportunity Initiative, and the co-author of Leading Digital: Turning Technology Into Business Transformation, about the AI-related skills employers should be prioritizing right now. Here are excerpts from our conversation, edited for length and clarity:
How much should employers be approaching AI literacy as an employee skill?
We want to think about levels of knowledge. You want to train people with enough knowledge to understand, without making them go overboard on some of the technical concepts. Some of your technical people may need to know the depths of how AI works, while the people who are non-technical are going to have to be much more understanding of the AI-enabled tools: what are the limits there, where are the biases in there. So not necessarily training them on AI, but training them on the tools instead. For example, if I write customer-service emails all day, I don't need to know how AI works, but I probably need to know how the new tools coming out of AI are going to help me design those emails easier. It’s like how some of us may need to know Excel, and others need to be really expert at pivot tables, but not everybody.
The other thing they're going to need more of is to brush up on the things that are uniquely human. The circle of what is uniquely human gets smaller and smaller over time, but certainly there's empathy and there's interaction and there's creativity. If we're still training skills for routine jobs, that's not good for the employer or employee. What you want to do is more critical thinking, higher-order thinking, because that's something where the humans can continue to contribute to the story as advanced automation takes over their routine stuff.
Presumably critical thinking will also become more important in learning to evaluate AI-generated information…
For everything that organizations can do to make their products and their marketing better, the bad people out there will find ways to make their products and their processes better, too. So you can expect that phishing emails will become more personalized and more professional-looking. You can expect that the people calling and trying to fake you into giving them passwords will start sounding an awful lot like people who are trusted in the organization. You can expect, moving beyond the text world, that the deepfake videos and voices will become pretty compelling. And so what that means is we need to help people be more aware of these threats that are coming down the line. It's going to become more and more difficult.
You’ve done research around skills and technological change that led you to develop your human skills matrix. Can you explain what that is?
We kept hearing that you hire for hard skills, you fire for soft skills. And so of course, typical professor, I'm like, ‘Well, how do we define soft skills?’ We went out and we found these 41 different frameworks. There was commonality among them, but there were also some things that just felt like they weren't quite there yet. So we synthesized those 41 frameworks, we did a lot of interviews with experts, and we came up with our human skills matrix. So the top is doing, the bottom is leading, the left is me, the right is other. Just thinking in terms of those four levels—how I think, how I interact, how I manage myself, how I lead others—can be a really powerful way of thinking about what these human skills are. We say these are the skills that can help you thrive in a time of rapidly advancing technological change.
Do you see AI as a tool that could help with the development of these skills—for example, by giving employees a space to practice difficult conversations?
Absolutely. We haven't known how to code it, but we're starting to look into it now. A lot of these human skills, the best way to train or assess them is through role play, and we’ve developed role plays for some of these things, but that requires having a human actor involved. Can the computer be the other actor? Now you don't need to get two people together. You can just practice these things whenever you want.
Some organizations are currently in the middle of creating policies around workers’ use of ChatGPT and similar technologies. What would be your recommendation as they figure out what their policy should look like?
The first response to anything unknown is always to say, ‘No, we don't want to do that.’ So the first and wrong answer is just to block it. If you block it in-house, it’ll just be used out of the house, and then you won't have any idea what's happening there. Number two, you might want to set up some policy just to say, ‘Here are the dangers that can happen. Here's acceptable, not acceptable.’ Get that out pretty quickly so that people have some idea what the right way is. And at that point, once you get better at it, then you can start thinking about other policies, other ways you might use this.
This stuff is really pretty early. I think it's too early to create a real GPT policy yet, other than to say no, and I think no is the wrong answer. You just want to help people get comfortable with what's possible as you get more clear on what specifically you want to do. You want to put out guidelines, help people understand where the swim lanes are, so they can at least understand if they're going too far one way or the other. And then put in the more specific policy guidance once we all know what we're doing. That could be a while. Certainly it's not in the next couple weeks or months.
Read a full transcript of our conversation.
What Else You Need to Know
Workers are taking more parental leave amid expanding leave policies and a pandemic baby boom. In January, some 478,000 US parents were absent from work for paid and unpaid parental leave, the highest number on record, according to the Labor Department.
- The increase is especially pronounced for fathers: Between 2018 and 2023, parental-leave absences among men grew 183%.
- The shift is driven largely by more widespread access to parental leave. Some 25% of workers now have the benefit, compared to 19% in 2019, though low-income workers are still disproportionately shut out. Eleven states and the District of Columbia have passed paid-leave legislation, compared to the four states that mandated paid leave in 2018.
- A growing number of employers are advertising their paid-leave policies as a recruiting tactic. Some 3% of listings on the job-search platform ZipRecruiter now include information about parental leave, five times as many as a few years ago.
The uncertain fate of the abortion pill presents another challenge for employers. With conflicting circuit-court decisions on the validity of the Food and Drug Administration’s 2000 approval of mifepristone, the Supreme Court issued a temporary stay that temporarily preserves access to the drug, which is used in over half of US abortions.
- Employers who committed to providing reproductive care in the wake of Roe v. Wade’s overturning last summer should proactively reaffirm that commitment for employees.
- In an October survey from gender-equality nonprofit Catalyst, nearly a third of workers said they were considering switching jobs because of how their workplace had responded to the overturning of Roe.
- Fortune’s Broadsheet newsletter this week highlighted several ways employers can respond to the mifepristone developments, including supporting the codification of abortion rights by engaging lawmakers and signing amicus briefs, auditing the data privacy of their own products, and reevaluating their political giving.
Corporate travel still hasn’t rebounded to pre-pandemic levels. In the latter half of 2022, work-travel spending remained low compared to leisure travel due to ongoing Covid concerns, tightened budgets, and the widespread acceptance of remote work, according to a new report from Deloitte.
- Deloitte predicts that by the end of 2023, work travel will rebound to two-thirds of 2019 levels. It expects a full recovery by late 2024 or early 2025, with attendance of conferences and other live events as the largest driver of growth.
More employers are now outsourcing jobs overseas. With the success of remote work demonstrating that workers can accomplish their jobs from anywhere, some managers are looking abroad to fill vacant roles.
- Some 7.3% of US managers have moved jobs overseas as a result of remote work, according to a survey by the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta.
- Stanford University economist Nicholas Bloom predicts that 10% to 15% of service support jobs could move abroad in the next 10 years, with destinations including India, Latin America, and Eastern Europe.
The federal government is exploring AI regulations. Earlier this week, the commerce department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration issued a request for comment on “what policies should shape the AI accountability ecosystem.”
- The agency, which advises the president on telecommunication and information policy, called for specific feedback on how to incentivize accountability in AI creators, the data needed to conduct AI audits, and how different sectors might require different approaches.
- Amid a shortage of workers with AI skills, technology companies are aggressively recruiting college and graduate students with AI skills, to the point that some AI PhD programs have seen a dip in enrollment.
Return to workplace speed round:
- Available US office space, including space up for sublease, is at an all-time high, according to real-estate research firm CoStar.
- Managing directors at JPMorgan have been called back to the office full-time with a staff memo that outlined in-person expectations for those employees: “They have to be visible on the floor, they must meet with clients, they need to teach and advise, and they should always be accessible for immediate feedback and impromptu meetings.”
- Some employers are now hiring behavioral scientists to design their return-to-office incentives. Others are threatening to reduce bonuses for workers who don’t comply with in-person attendance requirements.
- A new analysis by hybrid-scheduling platform Scoop found a red state-blue state divide in flexible work. Roles with remote options were most common in Massachusetts, California, Oregon, Washington, and Colorado, and least common in Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, Arkansas, and Louisiana.
Here are some of the best tips and insights from the past week for managing yourself and your team:
- Take advantage of ChatGPT’s session history. Each time you start a new chat session with the AI chatbot, it relearns your preferences from scratch. Instead of starting from scratch every time you log in, resume a previous session using your saved session history.
- Ask, reframe, then ask again. To solicit more honest feedback or facilitate better brainstorming sessions, try “frame-storming,” or reframing a question and asking it in a few different ways. These changes can be as simple as small wording tweaks.
- Learn from former applicants. If you’re struggling to make new hires, try identifying problems with the pipeline by soliciting feedback from candidates who have withdrawn from the interview process.
- Help colleagues brush up on remote-work skills. Three years into remote work, employees may be reluctant to admit that they still don’t know how to use certain features of videoconferencing or collaboration tools, such as creating breakout rooms. To address these hidden knowledge gaps, write out a list of concrete remote-work skills, and provide resources like Loom videos or written tutorials to help employees master them.
- Don’t lead with work when making small talk. Carve out an identity outside of your job—and make space for others to do the same—by leading with hobbies, friends, and families rather than work when introducing yourself. Instead of asking, “What do you do?” ask questions like “What fills your time?” or “What brings you joy?”
Looking to fill the void left by March Madness? A new kind of office pool is gaining steam: Amid the final season of Succession, some employees have started their own bets with colleagues over which of the Roy siblings will succeed their father at the helm of the HBO drama’s fictional Waystar Royco.