Technology continues to disrupt human resources, a trend accelerated by the pandemic, and it brings massive implications for the workplace. As with all technological advances, there are pros and cons which come with their own major ethical and practical challenges. It also begs the question: as tech becomes more intertwined in our daily work life, how do we humanize technology to build a human-centred workplace? Digital technologies have the potential to profoundly reshape the world of work as we know it.
How technology can help build a workplace centered around wellbeing
HR tech can provide numerous opportunities for CHROs and other HR leaders to optimize processes and improve the overall employee experience, especially when it comes to wellbeing, which could lead to greater talent retention.
In fact, harnessing data to effectively create greater insights into personnel and the workplace can allow HR leaders to assess people’s strengths, their needs, and their mental wellbeing.
“There is a triangulation between productivity, engagement and wellbeing. Personal productivity alone is not enough,” Stijn Nauwelaerts, corporate Vice-President of Human Resources at Microsoft, said. “It is also about engagement and wellbeing and that’s where technology can play an important role, so we can measure and look into what is happening.”
Wellbeing has been at the forefront of leaders’ minds since the pandemic began nearly two years ago. In our Resetting Normal Research, we found that 32% of workers surveyed around the globe said their mental wellbeing has worsened over the past 12 months. Burnout has been particularly prevalent for younger generations, with more than half of young leaders (54%) reporting feeling burnout.
Marcus Gruschow, Co-founder, MGME Nuerotech; PhD Zurich Center for neuro-economics, is on a mission to enhance mental health in society by preventing stress-related disability in the workplace. How is he doing this? Through the use of innovative HR tech.
“MGME identifies individual causes of stress and how this is specifically affecting people’s decision making and we want to prevent this vicious cycle of stress leading to bad decision making,” said Gruschow.
Technology can help predict when staff might suffer from burnout, as well. The work of MGME Neurotech emphasizes prevention tactics and diagnostics, catching the problem before people suffer at the hands of anxiety, depression, and burnout.
They have developed tools that identify what causes stress for the individual, and under which specific circumstances an individual is likely to make a detrimental decision, and how to avoid those. It is based on a person’s behavior and neurophysiology like biomarkers. Gruschow claims the tech can predict when workers will experience stress 300-400% more accurately than current methods on the market.
“Our tools give everyone an objective, equal and fair chance regardless of gender, race, or any other factor. MGME believes truly that every person has a right to mental health, and it is important to understand that good mental health can facilitate sustainable development, improve general wellbeing, and eventually, lead to a fairer world,” said Gruschow.
Beyond automation: understanding HR tech’s impact on employee engagement and upskilling
As more companies adopt hybrid working models, technology is also changing and becoming more than just a tool to automate tasks. HR tech is increasingly being integrated into more personalized communications to keep employees engaged.
“The more engaged people are, the less likely they are to change employers,” said Nauwelaerts.
Nauwelaerts also believes that technology is an important tool for skills development “to learn how we work in the new world,” whether workers choose to work at home or in a corporate office.
At Microsoft, Nauwelaerts and his team use a personalized email system called Viva which lets you know which people you have not connected with in a while and gives a prompt to send them an email or a call, or updates on the great work going on within the organization and reminders to praise those employees.
Technology will be a key driver in training employees for the future of work. Many companies are already providing online courses to upskill and reskill employees as part of their working environment to better fit new and evolving job roles. Training programs and courses are key areas for employees to not only learn key skills, but it is also an opportunity to connect with colleagues, sharing each other’s experience, and lending support in a collaborative space.
In the past year, Microsoft deployed an online coaching course that had a 97% uptake. Nauwelaerts said: “It was a very active and engaging course and they [employees] also got the opportunity to not only attend the course online but also connect with others who were going through the same experience, they could share examples and draft things together.”
The inclusivity promise
One of the biggest misconceptions about technology is that it dehumanizes your workers and their lives. However, technology can be pivotal in creating an inclusive workplace environment with greater insights into workers and their thoughts, So-Young Kang, Founder and CEO of Gnowbe explained at FU.SE 2021.
“Often there is a misconception that technology is dehumanizing which it can be for sure, but if we intentionally think about tech, and designing technology in ways that connect and humanize, I think there is a huge opportunity to create stronger human ties,” said Kang.
Companies have begun to re-examine their working models as they plan for a post-pandemic future. But how do you manage diversity and inclusion when half of your workforce may be at home?
According to an exclusive BBC survey, more than 60% thought young people would struggle to progress when working from home without face-to-face contact or in-person mentoring. This could lead to a negative impact on personal development and also may prove a challenge when implementing business initiatives such as diversity and inclusion. The research for the BBC suggests that some inequalities may be exacerbated by the pandemic, while others might have improved.
Findings from global non-profit think tank Coqual revealed that when teams have one or more members who represent the gender, ethnicity, culture, generation, or sexual orientation of the team’s target end-user, the entire team is far more likely (as much as 158% more likely) to understand that target, increasing their likelihood of innovating effectively which shows that having diversity and inclusion as a top business objective can help to ultimately improve business performance.
HR tech can help enhance hybrid working models by supporting workers and helping reinforce inclusive environments where employees feel validated and seen.
“Many people are currently experiencing a hybrid paradox as many of us want to continue to work from home and want flexibility but still miss connections and feel less connected to where we were 18 months ago,” Nauwelaerts said. Technology can provide solutions to this as it offers “the opportunity to create a link that helps employees feel included and feel valued,” said Stijn.
Tech can also lend itself to different personality traits.
“It has the ability to include people with different personality types, different styles of engagement, and tech is being used to create that inclusive environment,” said Kang.
While video conferencing is a great tool for keeping in touch with colleagues across the globe, it tends to lend itself more to extroverted people, so it is important to explore ways that tech can help you connect with all members of a team. Kang describes utilizing a weekly mood meter to engage with her team and discover their preferences and learn about them on a personal level.
“All of a sudden I start to see some of these people’s children, pictures of their dogs, their plants, and all these other things that were very fun,” she said.
Those not comfortable turning their screens on during video conferencing could contribute through other methods such as chat boxes.
The concerns with emerging technology
Whilst tech poses so much promise, it is not without drawbacks. Video conferencing has allowed for work-from-home during the pandemic, but not all workers are able to adapt. Some workers can’t work from home due to physical, in-person jobs, while other office workers may feel uncomfortable talking on camera or broadcasting their home life.
Another cause for concern: the impact of artificial intelligence, or AI, on workers’ jobs. Some employees worry that automation will make their role redundant, while other workers feel uncomfortable with performance scores and leader boards that may appear to pit workers against each other.
“The risks are there, but at the same time it is really important that we also see the promise,” Jeremias Adams-Prassl, Professor of Law, Oxford University, said on AI technology. He believes that AI should be a tool that can empower human decision-making.
Scheduling automation, for example, gives a much fairer distribution of working hours, and hiring algorithms (like the one-way job interview process) can sift out copious CVs with the desired skills. However, the process is nuanced: there is still the need for human decision-making in order to empower those in the workplace.
Workers struggle to trust AI processes, a natural response to such a young and up-and-coming industry, but there can be so many benefits to explore and embrace, So-Young Kang, Founder and CEO of Gnowbe said.
“Automate the things that can be automated, so you can spend time on those that can’t,” Kang said.
Incorporating tech into the workplace can be tricky, especially when workers might be hesitant about new technologies. However, it’s important to use tech as a tool to empower workers and use it to improve mental health, wellbeing, and diversity and inclusion – in a process to build a more human-centric workplace.