How To

How to keep HR's human touch during a tech revolution

Embracing new tech is a must for every business, but has this gone too far and is HR losing its human touch as a result?

Words by Jade Burke| Design by Matt Bonnar

Making a business more streamlined and efficient is a vital goal for any employer. That may mean concentrating on budgets and utilising spend or introducing new management systems to allow for better communication between teams – whatever it may be, these days technology is often the answer for making new additions a success.

In fact, 2019 research from Reward Gateway, an employee engagement company, revealed that 89% of HR professionals believe technology integration is now a key priority. This is corroborated by Deloitte research, whose 2017 Human Capital Trends report found that almost three-quarters believe having a digital HR function was ‘important’ or ‘very important’ to make an organisation successful in a digitally-driven market.

We need to strike a balance and find harmony between how we use tech to communicate with our workforce, without losing fundamental human interactions

Yet, with HR increasingly seeing technology as the solution, has the function begun to lose its human touch? This certainly could be considered true. In a study shared by PwC in 2018 of 12,000 workers from the UK, US, Germany, Canada, China, Hong Kong, India and Mexico, between 40 and 45% of employees shared anxieties and preferences for human elements in HR tasks that could now easily be automated.

Similarly, Kate Burn, Director of People at premium hair product manufacturer ghd, thinks it’s important that HR questions how far the function goes in its bid to use technology to make our ‘lives a little easier’. “As we see the evolution of technical advancements in the HR space it’s easy to get carried away and place much emphasis on streamlining and automating our essential processes to make our already busy lives a little easier. How far do you go?” she asks.


Balancing act

However, technology can be useful during daily work, boosting productivity. A study by Apperian discovered that 23% of staff members believe that mobile apps improve work, while Microsoft previously shared that 46% of employees identify social tools as important factors that have contributed to their improved productivity at work.

However, Burn warns that while these technologies can indeed be useful, HR needs to ensure there is a balance between tech and human interactions to ensure a workforce and its team members can flourish together. “We need to strike a balance and find harmony between how we use tech to communicate with our workforce, without losing fundamental human interactions,” she explains.

“We [ghd] do this by having a people-centric approach. Emotional intelligence manifests itself everyday in praise, empathy, apology and support. This is how we build lasting human connections, which strengthen the working relationship with our employees. In turn this positively impacts employee engagement, commitment and loyalty that contributes extensively to the productivity of our business.”

How is tech impacting HR?

Sage’s 2019 report: The changing face of HR, discovered that 42% of leaders believe that HR decisions are driven by data and 51% are planning to access data in real time within the next year.

A 2018 survey by Clutch of 521 employees discovered that nearly half of workers (48%) believe technological advancements will have the biggest impact on the future of work.

Deloitte’s 2017 Global Human Capital Trends report of 10,400 business and HR, discovered that 73% believe that having a digital HR function is ‘important’ or ‘very important’ to make a business successful in a digitally-driven market.

Meaningful interactions

With digital advances dominating much of the workplace, when the opportunity for human interaction arises it should be more meaningful, something that Stephanie Biernbaum, Chief People Officer at real estate investor Hines, believes shouldn’t be neglected as HR tries to stay abreast of current tech trends.

“The availability of automated and scaled digital touchpoints with employees puts a higher premium on meaningful, person-to-person interactions between HR or management and employees,” Biernbaum explains. “When we do invest in in-person events, they must help employees connect with each other, and with the firm, in deeper ways than are possible through our internal/external social media, or other digital channels.”

She also points out that technology can in fact enhance HR’s human touch and elevate the function’s opportunities to engage a workforce. “Technology, when fit-for-purpose, can amplify HR’s human touch and help it scale. At the pace of growth and change we’re experiencing today; we depend on skilful use of technology to engage a global workforce and automate transactional HR activities,” she adds.


Upskilling HR

In order to meet the changing needs of a workforce and its employees, HR certainly has a duty to become as skilled as possible and that of course means having the ability to take on and utilise new tech. Pam Simmons, Head of People and Wellbeing at the Scottish Ballet, agrees with this view: “Never has it been more important for the HR professionals to have the skill to truly understand the unique needs of their teams and organisations to help lead through such rapidly changing times.

“For the arts, for example, it’s about understanding that digital and social media in one form or another are here to stay, that audiences expect it and helping to negotiate what middle ground there might be to deliver something for all competing needs. A journey that all or at least many companies are, I am sure, only at the very beginning of, in our rapidly moving world of embracing all things technological.”

With all of this in mind, HR still plays a fundamental role in delivering a culture that is trusted by all employees and keeping a human touch during a tech revolution is paramount to that. As Burn puts it: “Workplace culture is based on trust, respect, and caring. HR are at the heart of these people centric connections.”

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