Are Virtual Assistants in the Office becoming more Mainstream?
The rise in popularity of virtual assistants being used in the office has been quite staggering over recent years. Whether you choose to use Apple’s Siri, Amazon’s Alexa, or Google Assistant, there is no denying that workplaces are becoming more vocal than ever before.
However, despite the growth in use of voice-activated assistants within offices, can they really be used to tackle just about any task?
Over the past six years since Apple launched Siri, and voice commands could utilise technology, have these virtual-assistants helped productivity levels in a true sense, or are we still only seeing the beginnings of the ‘rise of the robots’ where automation hasn’t yet completely evolved to change our world.
In the years since Siri was introduced, Google Assistant and Alexa have also launched, along with Cortana for the PC. While these voice-activated assistants have become central players in the way we manage a lot of our apps and smart-home devices, they still do very little other than provide us with information so that we don’t have to search the internet for ourselves, or control smart devices that we often forget to set manually.
We have grown accustomed to using these virtual-assistants for such tasks as getting directions, checking traffic conditions, checking the weather, setting reminders, setting appointments and checking our calendar. But a lot of these services have not changed much since around 2011 and there is nothing much on the horizon to say they will drastically change any time soon.
Much as we have come to rely on their convenience, they still have yet to actually make an impact in the real world of work and productivity. For example, Siri cannot sort your mail, forward your business post, scan and email documents, or answer your business phone and direct your call or give out company advice to customers phoning in with a query. Not yet anyway.
Voice operated virtual-assistants are not good for every situation
Although company bosses are speaking with confidence about their ‘smart office’, meaning they have fully-integrated tech at their disposal, it doesn’t mean that their offices are staffed by people sitting at desks talking to their computers and giving voice commands to get their work done.
Offices still need to be staffed by real-world humans doing functional tasks that cannot yet be handled by virtual-assistants. You can only imagine the level of noise and chaos that would be created if offices really were equipped to work on voice commands, like some sort of science fiction themed control centre as seen on fictional television shows set in outer space.
In reality how could this possibly work? In any office you have situations where human conversations need to take place, so you couldn’t have a busy office full of people all simultaneously giving voice commands. Imagine how much confusion this would create where virtual-assistants were picking up commands from neighbouring co-workers or interpreting conversations that were being held in the background and reacting as a result.
Basically, this technology isn’t yet ready to handle large scale business environments like this.
Where these devices could continue to be of use in the workplace are on personal devices, as we are using them now, and within conference rooms for use within meetings to bring up relevant data. Mostly how we are already using things like Google Home Mini or EchoDot at home.
Real-world Virtual Assistants
What we are also seeing a steady rise in is the use of real-world virtual assistants in the office workplace. Such tasks as virtual receptionists, physical roles such as business mail sorting, scanning, forwarding etc. These are the real life essential business tasks that are successfully being outsourced by many entrepreneurs and small to medium business owners.
While Siri can provide you with directions to a business meeting or can tell you if you will need to take an umbrella with you, poor Siri cannot handle your business telephone calls for you while you are busy in your meeting, or intercept important clients while you are brokering deals or talking one-to-one with prospective new clients.
There is no comparison when you compare how useful Alexa would be against a real-world virtual-assistant who is taking in your mail, sorting out your important statutory post from the junk mail and making sure that you get your most important pieces of mail either physically or via a scanned version sent by email.
When you don’t actually have a business premises to hold important meetings in, or a place to invite clients in to discuss deals with, Siri isn’t going to be able to magic a plush virtual office out of thin air for you. However, here in the real world you can hire fully-integrated Central London meeting rooms for this very purpose without actually having to pay out for costly commercial rents, utilities, business insurance or even hire the staff to man the office and meeting room for you.
This is where your voice-activated virtual-assistants fall flat. They are limited in their usefulness when compared to real-world virtual offices that are fully functional and involve using real people to perform your administration tasks for you quickly, effectively and at a very cost-effective rate.
Are voice-activated assistants ready for the prime time?
While voice-activated virtual-assistants can help to power some aspects of productivity within the office, the technology still very much remains in it’s infancy. The rise of the robots may still be on the horizon, but this doesn’t mean that the likes of Siri and Alexa are in a prime position to replace any real-world virtual office services just yet.