How HR can make a successful shift into 2021

HRM Asia talks to some of the leading HR thought leaders on how organisations can make a successful transition into 2021.
By: | January 13, 2021

The end of 2020 cannot come quickly enough for many, with the hope that 2021 will usher in a sustained period of stability and recovery from the disruption and uncertainty brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic.

For HR and business leaders, there are many key strategic decisions to be made as they prepare to welcome a new year. Will remote work stay, or is a mass return to the office on the cards? How can the digital transformation be expediated to gain more productivity improvements? What are the key technologies that will allow organisations to thrive in a new normal post-pandemic?

From HR Tech to Work Tech

There are many technology trends in HR, but the biggest is the shift from “HR Tech” to “Work Tech”, suggests Josh Bersin, Global Industry Analyst and Dean of the Josh Bersin Academy.

He tells HRM Asia Magazine, “While companies desperately need reliable HR systems for pay, recruitment, learning, feedback and more, none of these systems are useful if they are not easy to use and embedded into people’s work lives.

“This means the new world of HR tech is not only focused on ‘experience design,’ but actually integrated into the tools we use at work.”

Instead of creating a user ID to log into a recruiting website to apply for a job, can the recruiting system present a chatbot that ask the applicant questions about background, interests, location and pay?  “You could upload your resume or point the chatbot to LinkedIn and apply without ever filling in a form,” Bersin explains.

He continues, “As an employee or manager, why can’t we just ‘ask Microsoft Teams’ for help and find the right learning module, the right form for vacation, or our 401k balance, without leaving my work experience and logging into Workday or SuccessFactors?

“Ans now that we are worried about office scheduling and work location, why can’t I just ‘chat’ with my collaboration tool and let it figure out my location and assign me a desk automatically?”

For HR professionals who have to log into enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems to run reports and find data about people issue, can this process be streamlined such that the survey platform sends the user alerts and updates when groups or teams are out of range, when If there is a harassment claim, or when a team is reporting high levels of turnover?

Because HR business partners are just as busy as everyone else, “flow-of-work” solutions will grow in demand, Bersin says. “Every company we talk with is struggling to find better HR tools that are easier to use, easier to customise and easier to configure. This year, and into 2021, we do not have the time for three-year implementation projects, but we do need collaboration, communication, safe workplaces and flexibility in our platforms.”

While acknowledging the increasingly importance and influence of AI and new systems such as talent marketplace tools, learning experience platforms and flexible workflow designers, Bersin highlights how the number one criteria now invariably centres around how easy the system is to use and will people actually use it.

He adds, “I think 2021 will be a fantastic and important year in HR Tech. We will not see quite as many ‘brand new’ platforms as we have in the past, but everything will become more seamless, productive and easy to use – and this is what ‘employee experience’ and wellbeing is all about.”

AI and automation on the rise

As organisations better accustomed and equipped to manage the disruptions brought forth by the pandemic, another item that is likely to be high on the priority list is the hiring process.

Tim Sackett, President of HRU Technical Resources, predicts, “I believe one of the things we’ll see post-pandemic within the TA Technology stack will be organisations further diving into the use of AI in automating most of the high touch points in our hiring process.”

From a technology standpoint, the components are already in place, but as organisations get back to hiring in a more robust way, decisions will have to be made. “Do we add back headcount in talent acquisition or do we add technology?” Sackett asks. “As we saw during the Great Recessions, world-class organisations will first turn to technology before they turn to headcount.”

“So, we will see a disruption where it will become the norm for organisations to use technology for things like auto-sourcing candidates, matching candidates to jobs, the use of natural language processing to communicate and screen applicants, the continued use of video interviewing, but also video assessments and pre-hire insights to make higher quality selections.”

Within the next 12-24 months, Sackett expects enterprise organisations hiring mass volumes of candidates in the “no to low-skill arenas” to stop using human interactions to make hiring decisions. From attracting to onboarding talent, all hiring can be automated and organisations can build a stack and a process that will run 24/7 and be more effective that what they have traditionally done, he described.

“As you ramp up the skill level, the human component of recruiting will be in building relationships with great talent faster and stronger, developing an on-demand pipeline of talent for organisations to tap into when the time is needed,” Sackett adds.

HR priorities for 2021 and beyond

While it is hoped that 2021 will herald a higher degree of normalcy to the workplace, clearly, ambiguity will continue to be prevalent. For HR and business leaders focusing on their priorities for 2021 and beyond, what should they be emphasising on?

For starters, clarify the “where of work”, advises Brian Sommer, Technology Analyst, Strategy Consultant and Writer.

He explains, “There are millions of employees globally wondering where they will be working next year. Will it be at home or in the office? People do not know if they need to get a bigger home for a permanent home office, or get a better car for their commute.

“Let’s give people some certainty and decide where work will occur long-term while acknowledging that the ‘when’ answer may lag. Next, give them the confidence to know you are doing your best to make that the safest, best and most productive space of all. This uncertainty is stressful and stress does not make for an engaged and productive workforce.”

Because of the pandemic, 2020 also saw many companies lay off workers, enforced pay and benefit cuts, or withdrew job offers. This, according to Sommer, did “massive damage” to recruiting and employment brands.

He pointed out that only half of the workers laid off from a company return to their old employer. After all, why should or will people come back to your company? “If your firm wants to be perceived as sincere re: its values and culture, then acknowledge these deeds, sincerely ask for a second chance and do your best to ensure that this remains a once-in-a-career event and not a pattern of callousness towards employees,” Sommer cautions.

As HR continues to face serious challenges to the heart of its existence, organisations need to get in touch with the soul of HR. “The soul of HR will be affected by how well HR manages algorithms and AI tools that, if run unchecked, can subvert your D&I goals,” says Sommer. “Likewise, HR must be maniacal in rooting out all manner of unattended bias in hiring and promotions. HR needs to establish a new North Star and get all of its team, technologies and processes aligned to make this a reality.”

Last, but certainly not least, improving productivity needs to become a priority. While many HR technology acquisitions were made to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of HR employees, new HR technologies must now drive productivity gains not just for HR, but also the entire organisation.

Sommer observes, “The pandemic and its business closures and supply chain challenges have really hurt productivity. As companies fight to regain their competitive edge, they need a workforce with skills in new technologies and disciplines.

“Can your HR group find and develop the people with the skills of tomorrow, instead of the skills of yesteryear? Help your organisation be a long-term success!”