As the world of work gradually comes to terms with the conditions imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic, companies around the world have been looking back to see that in terms of technology adoption, they have covered as much ground in the last nine months as they had originally planned for the next five years.
Sheena Ponnappan, Chief People Officer at customer experience solutions provider Everise, told People Matters: "The coronavirus pandemic has catapulted leaders into reevaluating their operations and strategic goals. The decisions made today will have lasting impact on the future of work and business, and we are seeing an influx of companies adopting technology at such a fast rate that if not for the pandemic they would have taken years to realize how important it really is to the success of the company."
Everise itself had launched a work-from-home pilot program back in 2018, with the objective of expanding its talent reach and offering a better work-life balance to employees, and that experience served well when COVID-19 forced businesses out of the office. Now, most of a year down the road, People Matters asked Sheena how the knowledge from implementing remote working has become a springboard for more comprehensive and effective adoption of HR technology. Here's what she shared.
How has your HR tech investment and adoption changed since the initial rush to WFH?
In the past few months, Everise has scaled up our global recruitment efforts and we have found that remote video calls have been an effective method for recruitment. The prevalence of remote work has already seen us shift in our hiring practices from seeking specific demographics to looking for certain psychographics.
For example, we would qualify or disqualify candidates based on physical parameters—such as if they can reach the office. But with a remote workforce, we have no such limitations. Instead, we can focus on factors that permit us to consider an individuals’ preferences and aspirations to ensure that they are aligned with the realities of working remotely.
What are your thoughts on "new age technologies" such as AI, RPA, or blockchain? Have you adopted any of these to digitalize your HR processes, and if so, how are they working out?
There’s a Silicon Valley expression, ”Eat your own dog food” that describes a company using its own products or services for its internal operations; we are one of those companies. As a company with a core value of incubating innovation, we have built solutions to our own challenges using our technology.
For example, we use our Digital Experience (DX) technology, which helps enterprises to evolve their customer and employee experience with AI and Automation. We used it to design an AI-powered chatbot called Ana. Employees interact with Ana, a virtual assistant from onboarding, to welcome emails, virtual site tours, and virtual checkups. She helps keep new hires connected and can answer one thousand different questions to help make the employee experience a better one.
With HR having taken on so much importance thanks to the pandemic, how are you aligning your technology investments with the larger business goals?
As a people-first company, our technology investments are aligned with improving the employee experience. This means having deep relationships with our logistics partners who deliver technology to the doors of our home-based agents to engaging training platforms, to having actionable business intelligence that informs how we train and coach our teams.
In committing to this strategy, we have found that the efficiency of employees in a work-at-home environment is significantly higher. All of these factors have aided our ability to increase the employee experience as well as improve delivery and satisfaction for our clients.
As a user of HR tech, do you find that vendors are stepping up their game to address post-pandemic market needs? What are some good initiatives you've seen, or want to see, from the service providers?
There’s a saying that the worst of times brings out the best in people, and I have seen that to be true for many businesses during this pandemic as many are rising to the occasion. We have all had to pivot and figure out quickly how to serve customers and communities in a socially distanced world with some doing better than others.
Good initiatives I’ve noticed are more people-focused such as health and wellness programs, virtual fitness sessions, single or group therapy sessions and remote work options just to name a few. There’s still ways to go, though, as things change quickly.
People management has increasingly involved an emphasis on empathy and authenticity since the pandemic began. What role might technology play here, and what kind of balance do you think needs to be found?
With the current crisis, empathy is more critical than ever as the globe is stressed from mental and physical health issues and job instability.
Empathy is the biggest single leadership skill needed today. Technology plays a vital role to build trust and relationships virtually as we adapt to the ever-changing economic landscape.
Now that everyone is working from home, I believe leaders and managers realise how much employees really have on their plates aside from work which will reflect in their behaviors in the coming times. While softer company rewards such as bonuses, incentives and benefits still are valuable, the most valuable is empathy.
As we’ve learned, we’ve found that employee retention is significantly higher in our work-at-home environment. That translates into more experienced, better-trained people, which improves customer satisfaction.
What do you think the future holds for HR in an increasingly technology-focused and data-driven world?
The future is fluid. So when it comes to mitigating risk in the global labour market, diversification and long-term thinking are vital. More importantly, HR leaders need to embrace an entrepreneurial spirit and gain the technical ability to act quickly and smartly.
Digital transformation, culture and agility are things many businesses are talking about but relatively few have the ability to take action on. Our experience has shown that a strong commitment to these principles and access to intelligent technologies can improve the employee experience.