READ the August 2021 issue of our magazine: The Rise of Work Tech
Six years in six months, or a similar acceleration: that's how organisations around the world have been describing the jump in their digital strategy. Driven by the pandemic, the remote or hybrid working model has evolved very fast, and organisations are stepping up their adoption of increasingly sophisticated integrated systems to enable the replication of real-world interactions in a virtual milieu.
And now, the technology is going well beyond payroll and administrative tasks. It is increasingly about actively anticipating and meeting employees' needs before issues arise, ensuring that employees' interactions with the organisation go smoothly, and overall maintaining and enhancing employee experience – not through introducing new activities, but by phasing out old activities. One report by Josh Bersin research describes this shift as going from 'HR Tech' to 'Work Tech', with new technology designed to fit with existing systems in a way that makes it easier for employees to do their jobs.
How is this transition playing out in practice? People Matters asked a number of large firms, who are frequently ahead of the curve in such tech trends, what their HR technology implementations look like. Here's what they shared.
Faster and smoother administrative processes
For companies that link technology to employee experience, the biggest draw of worktech is its ability to make administrative tasks quicker and less disruptive for employees.
Rajesh Ramanathan, Vice President and Regional People Lead for Asia Pacific, Middle East and Africa (AMEA), Mondelēz International, listed out an entire series of worktech-powered programmes that have already yielded real benefits to the Mondelēz workforce: from an upgraded Employee Centre system that incorporates metadata to allow for better search capabilities, letting employees locate information by themselves much more quickly, to a secure app for field workers that lets them access company information, policy roll-outs, and even make requests for documents, without having to make a trip to the office.
“It is early days, but we are already seeing clear and tangible business benefits – better employee experience through self-service adoption, getting the right balance of data-led versus instinct-powered decision making for our leaders, a highly engaged workforce who experience transparency, advancement and personalisation at scale. And technology ensures a lower cost to serve for the Human Resources function,” he said.
Looking at the bigger picture, some HR leaders also pointed out that the shift towards employee-focused technology is really about attracting and retaining talent by empowering people to be productive anytime, anywhere. Just last year, PwC's 2020 HR Technology Survey found that finding, attracting, and retaining talent is the number one issue driving HR technology decisions.
And in an earlier conversation with People Matters, Lisa M. Buckingham, the Chief Human Resources Officer for Lincoln Financial Group, put it this way: “We want to implement technology that fosters more connectivity, more time to be present, and focus on things that matter most.”
Agreeing with that sentiment, Jo Mason-Cox, HR Director at DocuSign APJ, shared: “The key to a successful business is about creating an employee experience that enables employees to work in the best way for them – fostering a culture of trust within the organisation, which leads to higher productivity across the board.”
Better engagement strategies through more accurate sentiment analysis
Employee engagement and communication ranks right up among the top priorities when implementing HR tech, right after the nuts and bolts of administrative functions. For instance, Gallagher's 2020 HR Technology Pulse Survey found that HR leaders were most interested in communication and engagement technologies, and that it was the number one unmet technology need. So it's not surprising that now, in 2021, many applications of worktech are aimed at gathering real-time, actionable feedback about how employees are getting on in the workplace.
Mondelēz's Rajesh Ramanathan said that in order to foster a culture of empathy and actionable insights, he and his team are now shifting their feedback strategy from traditional annual surveys to engagement surveys. “Employees will have a platform to provide continuous feedback and managers will receive frequent and timely data, allowing them to build an inclusive and engaged culture. This technology to frequently pulse ‘in the moment’ engagement helps us run better sentiment analysis within specific cohorts and take targeted actions here and now,” he shared.
There are two aspects to worktech-powered engagement strategies, said HR leaders: firstly, there is the growing use of data analytics, and secondly, the customised interventions that can be developed from that data. Karen Tan, Director of HR Shared Services at Johnson Controls APAC, told People Matters in an earlier conversation that HR is slowly shifting towards becoming an analytics function, simply because upgraded HR systems collect so much data that is highly useful to the business.
And Sheena Ponnappan, Chief People Officer of Everise, said that in her organisation, HR technology has been “instrumental in improving analytics to support strategic decision-making with functions such as performance management, recruitment, compensation and benefits.” But it's not just about decision making either, she pointed out: “Ultimately, HR professionals need to remember why these technologies are being implemented – for people.”
That is the second aspect of worktech: targeted, customised engagement and intervention, said Rachna Sampayo, Vice President Human Resources, Oracle Corporation Asia Pacific & Japan at Oracle. “Reflecting on the last 15 months, when we started working from home, we’ve seen significant changes in how organisations are engaging with the employees – ensuring their physical and mental well-being – and how employees are interacting and collaborating with each other,” she noted.
“The days of simple automation using spreadsheets or generic tools are gone. The new-age HR is defining tools that cater to different employee personas, which is happening exponentially.”
Implementation must be driven by strategy
A common theme throughout recent months has been that HR's work, whether in building driving D&I or building culture or implementing technology, absolutely has to be guided by a broader strategy in order to effectively support the business.
Radha Shreeniwas, Vice President Global Talent, HR Business Partner – APJ, ServiceNow, shared that even the best digital platform and workflows relies on robust strategy to be effective, and people-focused strategy is key.
“The three pillars forming our strategy include: ensuring employee productivity and safety, simplifying onboarding and access to essential systems and services that all employees require, and enhancing employee experience and wellbeing,” she said of the approach she and her team have taken.
Going forward, HR leaders said that the evolution of worktech and its use will continue to be driven by strategy, which in turn will be heavily influenced by remote work.
Ang Sze Pheng, HR Director at WWT, APJ, observed that much of the shift towards worktech has been driven by the remote or hybrid model. “Businesses had to reprioritise technology investments to accommodate a distributed workforce,” she pointed out. “I believe the working model will continue to shape what employees are expecting from these tools – whether they are able to fill in the gaps in remote collaborations and engagement, while delivering a seamless and secure digital experience.”