HR Sharpens Its Tech Skills
#evolve Magazine
October 20, 2022

The past couple years have forced us all to step up our business game, including sharpening our existing HR-technology skillset.

The number of ways the coronavirus pandemic has dramatically buffeted the workplace are abundant. For HR professionals, one unexpected outcome was the need to really pick up the pace when it came to sharpening their existing tech skillset.

“The pandemic has tossed HR leaders smack in the middle of a swirling sea — treading water around work-from-home, return-to-work, hybrid work, new ways of working, the great resignation and other HR-adjacent revolutions,” said Jessica Wibben, change transformation leader at Notion Consulting, a transformation and leadership consultancy. “While this may have earned HR pros a seat at the table, they’d better arrive well-equipped and ready for strategic thinking — not mired in delivering transactional support.”

According to Alison Stevens, director of HR services at Paychex, a provider of integrated HCM solutions, most every business leader had to make adjustments to lead through the impacts of COVID-19. But HR leaders, in particular, had to act quickly to learn the ins and outs of new systems and technology — primarily introduced to facilitate working remotely.

“The demands and pace of work in HR fundamentally changed and HR professionals worked fast to keep up with new regulations, employee needs and new definitions of the traditional workplace,” Stevens said. “Now more than ever, HR is the place where most employees turn for answers when they’re unsure how to proceed,”

One needs to look no further than HR processes that were more often conducted face-to-face in gauging the impact of the sudden change and its effect on HR tech skill sets, said Dan Staley, principal at PwC. Staley cites some of the more common processes, including employee onboarding/orientation (inclusive of benefits enrollment), conducting hiring interviews, performance feedback and talent discussions.

“While these processes have always had a degree of automation, in a remote setting, the bar is raised,” Staley said. He offered onboarding as a prime example, in that there are a significant number of steps and amount of information that need to be captured, confirmed and/or consumed. Staley listed related efforts such as: confirming personal information; completing the W-4 form; signing up for direct deposit; enrolling in benefits; order background check and/or drug tests; signing I-9 forms; enrolling; and taking compliance training.

“With all of these once ‘higher touch’ areas, a greater use of technology is now needed with increased integration and a more intuitive user interface,” he said. “Why?  Because it is not as easy as it used to be to complete forms or walk down the hall to ask for help from co-workers, HR managers and/or an IT support desk.”

Usage of self-service applications has become more important, along with “anytime, anywhere” access, said Staley, noting that employers who had not previously invested in employee and manager self-service applications and mobile capabilities — instead relying on paper-based processes —  found themselves at a greater disadvantage when it comes to employee experience when working from home.

PwC’s “2022 HR Technology Survey” found that 94% of organizations either had implemented, had a plan in place or were developing a plan to track and report on employee productivity with the workplace shift. The other value comes from assessing how and when people are engaging in work is to root out data on employee engagement (or disengagement), well-being and burnout. 

“With water-cooler conversations harder to have in the remote setting, we have seen an increase in the frequency of employee surveys or employee sentiment polls,” Staley said. “We are seeing this technology used daily, weekly, monthly to capture trends on how employees are feeling about their work, the organization and their readiness to return to the office.”

All of these factors, he said, have caused HRIS, HRIT, HR managers and HR leadership to redouble their investments in HR technology and refresh their IT skills on the “art-of-the-possible” when it comes to enabling HR tech.

According to Wibben, HR professionals can benefit from their own upskilling in several other key areas affecting organizations post-pandemic:

  • Workplace: The task of clarifying the workplace of the future is “like a hot potato” being passed around a circle of HR, legal, operations, facilities and real-estate execs, said Wibben, adding that now is the time for HR leaders to build their expertise and stake their claim to lead this important initiative.
  • Data: The technology that enables HR data analytics is getting more sophisticated every day. The better HR pros understand how to gather and use this data, the closer they will be to act as stronger partners offering smarter decision making.
  • Organizational Design: Everyone is dealing with it now, Wibben said, and that is a trend her firm thinks will continue. “The more skilled you are as an HR professional, the easier you can move your company.”
  • Change Management: Mostly, this comes down to understanding what it means to lead teams through change, from creating a vision to communicating key messages. “It’s an art and a science,” Wibben said, “and after the last couple of years, most companies now have a better understanding of why doing change management right is important.”

HR departments across every industry who have risen to the challenges brought by COVID are now reaping unforeseen benefits, Stevens said. She added that offloading administrative tasks to automated solutions helps HR leaders focus their energies on more strategic endeavors, and that giving employees access to self-service options saves countless hours every year.

“The HR changes COVID wrought are here to stay and smart HR leaders have accelerated the positive impact of driving increased tech-driven workload efficiencies, so that they can be more effective in engaging and developing current and future talent,” Stevens said.

Staley noted that the good news in all the turmoil is that most HR departments are not at “ground zero” when it comes to HR technology and associated automation. Also, as more and more organizations move their core HR applications to the cloud, there have been recognized benefits.

“The leading cloud HR applications offer greater functionality with an increased focus on the employee experience,” he said. “This certainly has helped HR departments who were early adopters.”

According to Staley, remote work appears to be here to stay for the foreseeable future, and HR practitioners will need to continue to stay abreast of how technology can help the organization engage with, manage and develop people.

And, just like HR leaders looking to sharpen their tech skills, employees as well are looking for development opportunities and new skills that will help them compete today and tomorrow.

“If they do not find these opportunities to gain new skills within their current organizations, they will look elsewhere,” said Staley. “So, HR also needs processes and tools in place to help not only themselves, but their entire organization to upskill in order to stay relevant and productive.”

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