Technology is disrupting the HR industry, but organisations can prepare by embracing policies that encourage a blended workforce.
By Simon Kent
Technology-driven change in the workplace should not be feared. Indeed, HR teams should welcome it as an opportunity to contribute more to the success of their businesses. Recently, the UK’s own Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd emphasised the benefits of technology by saying, “Automation is driving the decline of banal and repetitive tasks so the jobs of the future are increasingly likely to be those that need human sensibilities, with personal relationships, qualitative judgment, and creativity coming to the fore.”
Current thinking seems to be that the so-called “Fourth Industrial Revolution” will ultimately result in a “hybrid” workforce—one that combines human and machine workers in a seamless, efficient, and effective relationship. Technology will take care of the tactical work whilst people will do the thinking and big decision-making. Achieving this new partnership is already placing pressure on HR to understand what machines can do, and how to ensure the machines relate to their human contemporaries in a positive way.
For some, this is not a revolution. AI and machine learning are simply part of ongoing technological evolution. “There won’t be robots on the payroll any time soon,” says Robert Ordever, managing director and workplace culture specialist at O.C. Tanner Europe. “Nonetheless, HR leaders must be prepared for the impacts of greater automation. In particular, they need to ensure the ‘human element’ of the workplace is not lost.”
Ordever argues that technology has already brought greater isolation for people in the workplace and this will be an increasing trend for HR to address. “It’s the role of HR leaders to ensure staff enjoys positive human connections, encouraging workplaces that are collaborative, relationship-building, and full of camaraderie. After all, when an organisation’s workspace enables interactions with colleagues, employees enjoy a 28 per cent increase in a sense of well-being.”
Essentially, argues Ordever, HR needs to create a workplace that first and foremost promotes face-to-face interactions and friendships as a guard against any de-humanising impact brought about by the rise of technology.
“To prepare their new hybrid workforce, organisations must start to identify ‘key employee moments’ or ‘moments that matter,’ using both technology and the human touch to do so,” argues Jonquil Hackenberg, head of C-suite advisory and managing partner at Infosys Consulting. Hackenberg’s department addresses the digitalisation of HR, supply chain, and operations. “Focusing on the human will be the real value add for HR specialists,” she says, adding that it will be HR professionals who decide where human interaction is still needed for a company to do business.
She turns to technology use in HR as an example. “AI technologies help HR professionals move from administrative tasks to focusing on the human and building the best teams possible,” she says. “With more resources and time to invest in the training and support of current employees, HR departments are better equipped to face the challenges presented by the ‘war on talent.’” Hackenberg believes that HR will be tasked with upskilling existing employees, moving them into roles that are vital to the business but difficult to fill. “By harnessing AI to reduce the time and labour taken to source candidates and monitor performance, HR professionals can drive upskilling and reduce the impact of talent scarcity on their organisation,” she says.
According to research by document processing company ABBYY, the hybrid workplace isn’t necessarily something that existing employees will resist. The survey found that two-thirds (63 per cent) of UK workers are willing to outsource work to robots. Those jobs included inputting data, taking minutes and notes, electronic filing, and processing documents. In addition to this, 20 per cent of Britons believe that robots could do a better job than them at data entry and electronic filing. Neil Murphy, global vice president at ABBYY, says the workforce will increasingly expect organisations to adopt innovative automation to remove mundane and repetitive tasks and boost productivity. Again, this trend will place a greater impetus on employers to recognise and embrace the higher value their employees can bring.
Ultimately, getting this right will require not just a transformational IT strategy, but a transformational approach to HR. Murphy believes that HR leaders should be trained to more effectively recruit and manage the upskilling of the workforce, not least to address the generational divide which may dictate how open employees are to working with new technology. “There is no one-size-fits-all approach to introducing new technologies into the workplace,” he says. “It requires strategy, vision, and buy-in from employees across the business—from the boardroom to the back office to the shop floor.”
The time has come for HR to make its own transformation. At Infosys, Hackenberg says HR must embrace analytics to take advantage of the vast amounts of data it has collected about past, present, and future employees. Working with this data can lead to efficiency gains, more accurate candidate profiling, and better recruitment and performance measurement.
“Technology aside, building an intimate connection with potential candidates or existing employees will enhance employee experience, employee productivity, and staff advocacy,” she says. “In turn, this impacts brand equity, attraction, and retention. The next obvious step is for organisations to move towards predictive analytics on all of this data to prepare for the future of their workplace.”
Times may be changing, but with the right attitude, knowledge, and intention, HR can be in the driving seat in the new world of work, bringing the perfect balance between humans and machines to the workplace.