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With more employees working remotely during the first half of this year because of the coronavirus pandemic, technology has become more important to human resources departments. Experts have noted several HR tech trends, including increased use of artificial intelligence in hiring and recruiting, growth of employee tools for financial wellness as well as physical and mental health, and increased automation.
“As we move post COVID-19, it is likely that HR will continue to improve HR technologies to further enable online learning and career development, feedback and engagement, hiring and onboarding and many other key functions,” Joe Monaghan, a principal at Mercer, tells Human Resource Executive.
Here’s a look at these trends and how they’re affecting the employee experience.
Growth of AI and machine learning
Artificial intelligence and machine learning are being used more by HR professionals in recruiting and hiring. Sage People found that “while only 24 percent of businesses are using artificial intelligence for recruitment currently, that number likely will double in the next 12 months, as 56 percent plan to adopt it within the next year,” Vice President Paul Burrin writes in Training Magazine.
However, these technologies also are going beyond tactical uses to strategic uses, such as relationship management, Jeanne Achille, CEO of The Devon Group, tells Human Resource Executive. AI tech will have to be able to handle “workplace complexity,” says Stacey Harris, vice president of research and analytics at Sierra-Cedar. Harris adds that the human dimension of work can’t be completely covered with technology, as employees don’t always neatly correspond with what algorithms say they should do.
Employee wellness tools
More employers are taking an interest in their employees’ financial well-being amid the economic crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic, and one way is by offering financial wellness tools such as budgeting apps.
Other apps and platforms help with mental and physical health and such needs as child care. Fluor Canada is among those offering employees fitness trackers.
“Most of the big health care providers are pouring money into new AI-based automated tools, and these can be mixed and matched to fit any workforce in the world,” analyst Josh Bersin tells Sage People. “Wellbeing platforms can bring these applications together and create real behavior change for your workforce.”
However, these programs and devices also raise privacy concerns. According to Consumer Reports, wellness programs offered by independent vendors, as opposed to health insurance companies and self-administered health plans, aren’t subject to privacy rules under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA. “You are basically trusting them not to share your health data with your employer,” lawyer Dara Smith of the AARP Foundation says. Independent companies can also sell employees’ personal information to advertisers.
Multiple tools for remote work
During the pandemic, “I believe the forced virtual environment has caused many to see the inefficiencies and cost of in-person work/meetings,” Bonnie Tinder, principal and founder at Raven, tells Human Resource Executive. “And that will eventually favor more digital transformation/cloud software deployments.”
Use of self-service employee experience portals that let people handle HR functions on their own is another way that technology can serve remote work, Chris Pinc, global director of product management at Willis Towers Watson, tells HRE.
Remote tools such as Microsoft Teams and Zoom also are dominating interviewing, hiring and recruiting during the pandemic, Cory Calderon, director of organizational development at industrial distributor Valin Corp., tells Modern Distribution Management. And distributors are becoming more comfortable hiring full-time remote employees who’ve shown they can multitask and learn new technology quickly. “We’re seeing a high indicative of success with candidates that are hired for a remote working capacity that have a high degree of self-structure,” he says.
Automation, remote interviewing and virtual assessments are becoming more prominent later in the hiring process, Aman Kidwai writes in HR Dive. According to HireVue CEO Kevin Parker, automation improves efficiency: “When you can automate a lot of [the recruiting] process, the recruiter can really focus on people that are most qualified for the position.”
Learning, training and development
The pandemic has moved more employees to pursue training courses online. Employees spent 150% more time learning in the March-to-May period than in the December-to-February period, Mike Derezin, vice president of learning solutions at LinkedIn, writes in Chief Learning Officer. He notes that “social learning,” in which people join online learning groups, ask others questions virtually and recommend online courses to one another, is taking off.
Successful learning requires making technology more customized and employee-focused, Tom Haak, director of the Amsterdam-based HR Trend Institute, tells HRE. “To really enable learning in the flow of work, we need HR tech solutions that monitor and evaluate the work people are doing, and then offer personalized learning solutions, when required,” he says.
Teaching soft skills and upskilling will be vital, writes Neelie Verlinden, co-founder and editor-in-chief of AIHR Digital. “With technology automating mundane chores, we need to be prepared to handle the more complicated tasks,” she writes. “Soft skills, such as the ability to act as a team player, good communication skills, problem-solving abilities, and time management become essential.”
However, employee self-service tools may not be as ideal for training as they are for other functions. “I think one of the reasons we’re seeing the workforce fall behind in certain skills and competencies is that organizations have become overly reliant on self-service approaches for employees,” Leah Johnson, vice president of advisory at Gartner, tells the Society for Human Resource Management. “They have good intentions in trying to empower employees and give them choice by providing cafeteria-style menus of learning and development opportunities. But there is too broad a range of quality in those menus, and the number of choices can sometimes seem overwhelming to employees.”
Facebook joins the fray
Facebook has gotten into the game with its new Workplace by Facebook tool, which allows for open collaboration. HR departments should appreciate it because “it’s a communication tool, collaboration tool, team management tool, learning tool and HR tool all in one,” Josh Bersin writes. Workplace allows companies to build their own apps and bots to cover functions such as the employee experience. The platform ran into some initial controversy, but it could still grow in popularity.
What does the future hold?
It’s clear that the coronavirus pandemic has changed how HR departments think about and use technology. As longtime stalwarts face new competition and remote work becomes more accepted, it will be interesting to see what new HR tech trends arise to better serve employers and employees alike.
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Catherine Guiles is a copy editor/writer at SmartBrief. Connect with her on LinkedIn.