Augmented Workflows - Preparing for a future of work in which humans and artifical intelligence collaborate

The future of (knowledge) work

When thinking about the future of work, artificial intelligence (AI) will inevitably pop up. While robots taking over the planet will hopefully remain science fiction, a lot of AI applications are already part of our everyday life. Be it the ranking of query results by search engines or the automatic prioritization of emails. Organizations are increasingly working on AI-based technologies with the aim of enhancing business value and obtaining competitive advantage. AI promises, among other things, to improve productivity by performing routine tasks, reducing or elimating human error, and generating insights that improve decision quality.

At the same time, most occupations involve solving a variety of tasks, some of which are easy to automate with AI, some of which are difficult. Therefore, especially in knowledge work (i.e., work which relies on the creation, distribution or application of knowledge), a realistic scenario is that AI-based technologies will augment rather than replace human workers. Thus, AI-based technologies will not take over the tasks of people completely but collaborate closely with human workers. This will change job profiles and modify existing workflows. The design of what we call augmented workflows will affect how human workers respond to the introduction of AI-based technologies and ultimately whether the potential of such technologies can be realized in practice.


How AI changes our interaction with technology

Technology is no longer just a tool we use to accomplish a task or achieve a goal. This assumption about the nature of the interaction between humans and technology is challenged by AI. While an interaction between human and technology typically used to be initiated by a human, AI-based technology now can be responsive to the environment. This means that it constantly monitors information from the environment (e.g., acoustic or visual information) and responds autonomously to it. Examples for these responsive systems are the security software in a car or smart speakers listening for their “wake word” (e.g., “Hey Siri”). This brings new problems as responsive systems might be (falsely) activated by unspecific information (e.g., noise) or misinterpret signals without human awareness.

Furthermore, new self-learning AI-based technologies are contextual and adaptive. This means that the functionality of a system will evolve during use. Because AI-based technologies do not explain their decisions or behavior to humans, it is difficult to understand how they work. This could have different implications for human workers, for example skepticism regarding AI recommendations or the impossibility to meaningful question them.


Relevance for corporate communications

Introducing AI-based technologies promises to create business value. The following examples illustrate possible workflows that could be augmented by AI-based technologies:

  • Selection, modification, creation, and personalization of text and multimedia content, e.g., translating or correcting texts, generating or modifying images and videos (synthetic media)
  • Handling stakeholder requests, e.g., chatbots to answer questions in marketing or employee communications
  • Monitoring & evaluating conversations on digital platforms through social listening, e.g., identifying central actors or networks, key topics, or sentiment based on social media data
  • Improving processes and management activities, e.g., prioritizing tasks or incoming e-mails, identifying promising candidates for job vacancies through social media search and application analysis
  • Mandatory reporting, e.g., automated creation of standardized financial reports or sustainability reports


Four things to keep in mind

How can communication leaders weigh up the opportunities and challenges by AI-based technologies for their organization, its stakeholders, and the business model of the communication department?

  1. Evaluating the impact of augmented workflows on communication content: AI-based technologies can augment the identification of stakeholder interests, the selection and creation of messages, the handling of stakeholder requests, and much more besides. Here, the suggestions made by AI-based technologies are likely to influence what, how, and where content is communicated. Communication leaders should therefore evaluate how the outcomes of internal workflows will change due to intensified augmentation.
  2. Identifying the most promising use cases for augmenting workflows with AI-based technologies, determining the necessary skillsets, and developing staff competencies in these areas.
  3. Preparing for challenges due to shifts in agency: The increasing relevance of non-human agency which is based on workflows modified with AI-based technologies will raise new challenges, especially regarding accountability for content. It is advisable to implement AI-based technologies that are explainable, i.e., that present some form of reasoning for the AI’s behavior to those who use it.
  4. Considering the “human factor” in augmented workflows: The introduction of AI-based systems will not leave human workers unaffected. To maximize the benefits and minimize the risks of augmented workflows, communication leaders should try to understand what competencies or tasks employees view as integral to their professional identity. This will help them to be mindful of potential negative effects for individuals, teams, and the organization (e.g., feeling unmotivated, deskilled) when augmenting these integral elements with AI. As well as addressing this in their own departments, communication leaders could also support colleagues in charge of other functions in which AI-based technologies are introduced.

Key facts about the 5 trends

  • State Revival: The state is experiencing a renaissance. Governments, regulators, political parties and politicians gained in importance both as a partner and as an antagonist of businesses. After a period with almost no state intervention in the economy (neoliberalism), the pendulum is now moving back in the other direction towards more state control (neodirigism). Multiple reasons such as the pandemic or the Russian war against Ukraine have prompted this trend. The state is interfering more strongly in the economy – both by providing subsidies and accelerating the growth of specific markets by means of high spending.
  • Scarcity Management: After years of abundance, Europe has to get used to scarcity. Whether in raw materials, energy, personnel or products – there are shortages in many areas. This development is being exacerbated by demographic changes and geopolitical upheavals. Price increases, inflation and bottlenecks are the result. Many companies have to adapt their value chains and processes in order to achieve their long-term corporate goals. But scarcity offers opportunities as well. Rare products or services raise profitability for those who can deliver. Additionally, in times of scarcity, innovative and more sustainable solutions are increasingly developed for which there was previously no market.
  • Unimagination: A third world war, widespread blackouts or computers striving for world domination – today many unimaginable incidents are considered for being possible someday. However, companies cannot prepare for every future scenario. Rather, it is important to take precautions. Organizations must adapt their structures and processes and empower their employees in order to remain capable of acting even when the unimaginable happens. On an individual level, psychological stability and robustness are needed. This can be promoted through training on ambiguity tolerance, resilience and improvisation.
  • Augmented Workflows: AI-based technologies will enable new forms of interaction between humans and technology in the next few years. They promise to improve productivity by performing routine tasks, to reduce human error, and to generate insights that improve decision-making. As exciting as these prospects are, they may also be problematic. The prospect of augmented workflows challenges us to think about questions such as: Who delegates tasks to whom when humans and AI collaborate? How do outputs change if an AI makes suggestions – and who is responsible for them?
  • Parallel Worlds: New technologies are increasingly enabling us to create and immerse ourselves in extended versions of reality – so-called parallel worlds. This can make abstract concepts more tangible for consumers. More and more companies are recognizing the potential of these technologies, for instance for product launches. Behind this is also the idea of creating a worldwide "Metaverse" in which the real and virtual worlds are combined in a single environment. So far the Metaverse is primarily a vision. If and when it will arrive and what it will look like is anybody’s guess. Due to the increasing possibilities of 3D technologies, this trend should not be misjudged by communication experts.


  1. Sources & screening: First, information sources which provide relevant insights into the professional discourse in the areas of management, technology, and society were monitored and screened. These sources primarily include recent publications from scientific journals and conferences in the respective domains, but also selected newspapers (e.g., Economist Science and Technology), magazines (e.g., Harvard Business Review, Wired), social news sites (e.g., Reddit Science), blogs and websites (e.g., ReadWrite, The Next Web), whitepapers, and corporate trend reports.
  2. Trend profiles: Each potential trend was systematically documented in a trend profile consisting of a brief description and several criteria estimating the trend’s relevance to corporate communications. Specifically, the research team assessed the impact of the trend on the corporate communications function, processes and management.
  3. Scoring: Based on the criteria detailed in the trend profiles, a scoring method was developed that was used to rate each of the trends.
  4. Selection: These trends were first discussed among the Communications Trend Radar team during a workshop. Each team member then voted individually for the top trends in the areas of management, technology, and society. We proposed five trends for 2023 (depicted below) based on the outcome of this process.
  5. Reflection: These trends were examined further and later discussed with communication leaders during an online workshop in November 2022.
  6. Report: All trends were analyzed and described in more detail in our publication - the Communications Trend Radar.

Research team

The Communications Trend Radar 2023 project was conducted by a research team of the Leipzig University, the University of Duisburg-Essen and University of Potsdam.

from left to right:  

  • Stefan Stieglitz is Professor at University of Potsdam. He is head of the SAP-endowed chair of Business Information Systems and Digital Transformation.
  • Daniel Ziegele, M.A. is a research associate at the Institute for Communication and Media Studies at Leipzig University, Germany. 
  • Sünje Clausen, M.Sc. is a research associate at the chair of Digital Communication and Transformation at the University of Duisburg-Essen, Germany.
  • Ansgar Zerfass is Professor and Chair of Strategic Communication at the Institute for Communication and Media Studies at Leipzig University, Germany.