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Thanks To Chatbots, You Won't Have To Talk To Co-workers Anymore

Are you sick and tired of talking to your co-workers? Do you wish you could just phone it in without having to chit-chat with them about your weekend? Well, soon you can do just that, thanks to the chatbot!

What is a "chatbot," you ask? Basically, it's a Siri-like app that acts as a human interface -- sort of like when you call an 800-number and repeat yourself five times only to have a cheery, automated voice say, "I'm sorry, I'm still not understanding you" before hanging up.

For example, say you need to call in sick, but you don't want to fake-cough your way to a workplace Oscar nomination over the phone with a real, live, mid-level manager. Unlike a savvy manager, a dumb chatbot can't read between the lines to suspect that you're hoping to play hooky today so you can finally go kayaking!**

As Bloomberg reports:

Starting this July, when customer service employees at Overstock.com are too sick to come to work, they'll tell Mila they're not feeling well using an app on their phones or computers. "I'm sorry to hear that," Mila will respond. After a short exchange about logistics, Mila will send a message to the appropriate manager, who will adjust the employee's schedule. It sounds like a typical interaction with an office assistant. But Mila isn't an assistant. She's a chatbot.

The introverts in the office are going to love these chatbots! The hard-working, human executive assistant who will be going the way of the travel agent, however? Hmm, maybe not so much.

Chatbots have been around for awhile, but now chatbots are making their way into corporate communications. Soon, chatbots will be the personal assistant that pre-orders your cup of coffee, reminds you to buy your significant other a birthday present, and tells you that a co-worker won't be coming in today (because they're kayaking).



You will also be able to message Sassy or Karma or Juicy or whatever to add something to so-and-so's calendar, to look up an invoice or...to copy a co-worker on a status update because you don't like dealing with them directly, ahem.

Thanks for interfacing with my annoying co-worker, Sassy, so I don't have to do it anymore!

Employers, of course, hope the chatbot will make communication easier, faster and cheaper in a work world where virtual communication is king. But what price will be exacted on employee communication patterns, and general workplace perception? Social media has already ruined our ability to communicate face-to-face, and now we'll have to deal with app-enabled avoidance, too. Will some employees begin to feel like second-class workplace citizens as they quietly keep score on how colleagues communicate with each other?

Wow, Tony always calls or texts YOU personally, but he'll only chatbot with me. What does it all mean!?

On the other hand, chatbots could provide a much-needed buffer between employees and the office chatterbox, the office know-it-all, and the colleague who lacks the confidence to make a decision. (As for the passive-aggressive co-worker, he or she probably wouldn't get back to us anyway, right? At least, not in time to make the deadline.)

Sigh. As chatbots grow more sophisticated, employers of all sizes should be on the lookout for underlying employee morale issues as workers read between the lines to seek out the subtle meaning in chatbot conversations. The human operating system is basic and complex at the same time, and no amount of technological advancement is going to change what's in the manual. But at least your coffee will be ready when you get there, right?

** Any resemblance to real-life millennial co-workers is unintentional, and purely coincidental.

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