5 Innovation Drivers in HR and Workplace Tech
Here's a look at some current trends in HR-systems development and design, and what HR leaders should consider when assessing HR-tech solutions.
By Steve Boese
I've been working on a couple of new talks that I will be giving this year centered around one key idea that has been talked about for some time in HR-tech circles but is now -- finally -- becoming more prevalent in the design, deployment and impact of HR-technology solutions.
The idea is a simple one. Namely, that the traditional way HR and other workplace technologies have been designed -- by programmers, then marketed and sold to CIOs or IT managers, and finally deployed and configured primarily for the needs of the power users in the payroll and HR departments -- is no longer that useful.
The continuing series of tech-driven advances in our personal and consumer lives -- such as e-commerce sites that learn our preferences and make personal product recommendations; smartphones and the emergence of app stores that let us design our own preferred toolsets; "intelligent," crowd-sourced platforms that help us beat traffic jams; and ubiquitous and constant Internet connections -- have combined to create heightened expectations of workplace technologies that look, feel and function like the best consumer technologies we have come to love.
Most importantly, the next generation of the workforce has never known a time when these personalized, highly adaptable, intelligent and easy-to-use types of technologies did not exist.
Indeed, before walking into your organization for their first day of work, these new employees might have dressed in clothes that were personally selected for them and shipped directly to their houses by StitchFix; have prepared to meet their colleagues by perusing their LinkedIn, Twitter or GitHub profiles; learned about your industry and their new job functions by watching YouTube videos and reading Quora threads; and traveled to the office by summoning a car to their house via Uber or Lyft, or dodging the traffic using Waze. And they did all this on their smartphones. It is no surprise, then, that these new workers are expecting the same kinds of capabilities, flexibility and ease of use from the technology they will use at work.
Both HR-technology providers and HR leaders are being spurred on to adapt to these new challenges by creating and deploying modern HR technologies that incorporate these kinds of consumer elements and expectations of personalization, beautiful design and ease of use into the next generation of HR tech tools. The evolution of HR and workplace technologies has begun, and the most effective organizations will look to modernize their workplace tools to meet this new, demanding and tech-savvy employee.
Let's highlight five current manifestations of how modern HR technologies are adapting to meet these these new requirements, and share some thoughts on how HR leaders can better assess, select and deploy HR-technology solutions to meet these demands.
The Internet traffic and measurement firm StatCounter recently released a report showing worldwide Internet usage from mobile and tablet devices has surpassed internet usage from traditional PCs and laptops, with 51 percent of all Internet usage via mobile. This is a trend that is showing no signs of abating anytime soon. When broken down generationally, it reveals that younger generations prefer mobile over desktops and laptops even more prominently. Three or four years ago, it was common for organizations and HR-technology-solution providers to have a "mobile strategy." Now it seems almost behind the times to explicitly discuss "mobile" tools as something distinct from traditional workplace applications.
I thought about calling this example "Social" to represent how the growth of social networks in the last decade and their popularity with the younger demographic has influenced almost every type of HR and workplace technology, but I think "connected" is a better term to describe how social will continue to influence HR and workplace technology moving forward. "Social" feels a little superficial to me, and besides, I don't think it adequately represents the importance of community and younger workers feeling like they are a part of something larger that is considerably important to them. They want to be connected at work similar to the ways they are connected in their personal lives -- not chasing "likes" on their latest selfie, but coming together with their peers, sharing their knowledge and ideas, helping and supporting each other, and finally "belonging" to something important.
A great example of this new trend is in the learning-technology realm, where newer systems provide the capability for all end users to share their expertise and upload their own video tutorials, and for other users to build upon this content with comments, addendum and upvotes, indicating that the content was particularly helpful and useful. Communities end up self-forming around subjects and content that are important for the organization, and people feel more connected and supported by their colleagues as well.
I will admit to being a big fan and early adopter of Twitter, (you can follow me @SteveBoese). While I know that Twitter is not everyone's cup of java, you can't deny that Twitter really shines as a news and information portal during big events such as the Super Bowl, the Oscars or even the recent election. The strength (and admittedly, occasional weakness) of Twitter is that its information is conveyed in real-time. It is one of the reasons that journalists and reporters are some of the heaviest users of Twitter. If you need information first, Twitter is usually the best place to go. And in the United States, Twitter still remains popular with young adults ages 18 to 34, with an estimated 25 million active users in that demographic.
Twitter is a great example of a technology that is shaped by and responds to its users' demand for real-time information. No one wants to wait any longer for news or sports scores or election results. Similarly, employees no longer want to wait for HR information and content they need to better carry out their jobs, or access to the "higher ups" in the organization with the knowledge and influence that they aspire to have. Modern HR technology and processes need to adapt to these increased expectations by moving faster themselves -- rolling out new features almost constantly, providing information for decision support in the moment, and evolving to adopt new designs, input methods (such as voice) and responding to user's requests much more quickly.
If you have followed HR and workplace technology for any length of time, then no doubt you have heard or read what I like to call the Amazon analogy. In case you somehow haven't run across this analogy, it is essentially this: HR and workplace technologies should, over time, get to "know" us as well as Amazon does, with its ability to serve up new product recommendations based on our past purchases, browsing history and, most importantly, what other people who bought and browsed for similar products have done.
The Amazon analogy is really a fantastic framework for HR and workplace technologies. Amazon creates a unique, personalized experience for all its millions of users by understanding their histories and mining their vast quantities of data to make intelligent recommendations and offers. Many of your newest employees have always had this kind of Amazon experience and will be frustrated and perhaps disappointed when a benefits-enrollment tool does not help guide them to make the optimal enrollment choices, or a learning-management system can't present content and learning recommendations based on their work assignments and historical usage patterns. They will ask, "Why doesn't this system 'know' me and help me to make the best choice based on who I am and what I need to do?"
Ask yourself a question: When was the last time you had training (formal or otherwise) on a piece of technology or an application that you use in your personal life? Your iPhone, FitBit, Uber, Netflix, Amazon, Facebook and so on -- you just started using them and figured things out as you went along. And many of these tools and applications are now essential in your day-to-day activities and yet no one really taught you how to use them. And if you did, indeed, need some help, you probably did one of two things. You either asked one of your kids or another young person for help, or you found an online forum or a YouTube video to give you a few tips and tricks.
Every new employee simply expects workplace technology to mirror their personal technology in this aspect. The HR and workplace tools need to be simple to pick up and start using, with designs centered on the real end-user -- the employee -- and with immediate personal benefits. And don't worry so much about creating formal training for these tools. These new employees are used to figuring out how to use technology on their own, or via crowd-sourced knowledge bases from their peers. Remember, these are the people you ask for help with Snapchat.
Younger employees are joining the workforce with greater demands for the tools and technologies their organizations provide. Smart HR and IT leaders are already taking steps to modernize, mobilize and socialize the key tools that all employees rely on to get their work done, maintain their personal information, improve their skills, and plan and manage their career paths.
As HR and IT leaders continue to develop and deploy these kinds of modern technologies, they will get closer to that day when a "mandatory HR system training" is something that every employee can't wait to attend.
Steve Boese is a co-chair of HRE’s HR Technology® Conference and a technology editor for LRP Publications. He also writes an HR blog and hosts the HR Happy Hour Show, a radio program and podcast. He can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.