The Next Generation: Driving HR and Workplace Technology Innovation
By Steve Boese
No employee has ever looked forward to receiving an email with the subject of “Mandatory training on the new HR system.” Why? Because traditionally HR and other workplace technologies were designed by programmers, marketed and sold to CIOs or IT managers, and deployed and configured primarily for the needs of the power users in the Payroll and Human Resources departments.
But a series of tech-driven advances in our personal and consumer lives, have combined to create heightened demands and 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 designed with ease of use as a primary driver types of technologies did not exist.
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 examples of how modern HR technologies are adapting to meet these new requirements and expectations of today’s demanding employees:
StatCounter recently released a report that shows that worldwide internet usage from mobile and tablet devices has surpassed internet usage from traditional PCs and laptops, with 51% of all internet usage via mobile. This is a trend that is showing no signs of abating anytime soon, and when broken down generationally, reveals that younger generations prefer mobile over desktops and laptops even more prominently. Three or four years ago, it was common and perfectly acceptable 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.
In other words, an organization’s “mobile strategy” really should just be referred to as “strategy,” as workplace applications that do not offer necessary and desired capability, while providing a fantastic user experience, on any device your employees prefer to use, will have a tremendously difficult time achieving user adoption and the desired return on investment. More and more, employees will interact will all of their HR and workplace tools on their mobiles, if they are not already doing so.
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. 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 how this trend is manifesting in modern HR technology is in the learning technology realm, where newer systems provide the capability for any end user to share their expertise, 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.
No one wants to wait any longer for news or sports scores or election results, and similarly, employees no longer want to wait for HR information, content they need to better carry out their jobs, or access to the “higher ups” in the organization who have the knowledge and influence that they aspire towards. 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 (like voice), and responding to user’s requests much more quickly.
Amazon’s recommendation engine is a fantastic ideal and goal for HR and workplace technologies to build towards. Amazon creates a unique, personalized experience for each of its millions of users by understanding their history, and mining their vast quantities of data to make these 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?
Let’s get back to the “mandatory system training” email I mentioned at the beginning of this piece. Ask yourself something: when was the last time you had training – formal or even informal – on a piece of technology or an application that you use in your personal life?
Every new employee that will come into your workforce simply expects that their workplace technology will mirror the ease of their personal technology. The HR and workplace tools need to be simple to pick up and start using, with design that is centered on the real end-user, the employee, and the time to when they see personal benefit needs to be short. 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 to help you figure out Snapchat.
This next generation of employees are joining the workforce with greater expectations and demands for the tools and technologies that their organizations provide. Smart HR and IT leaders are already preparing to think about their workplace technologies though this lens of heightened expectations and are taking steps to modernize, mobilize, and socialize the key tools that all employees rely upon to get their work done, maintain their personal information, improve their skills, and plan and manage their career paths. And as HR and IT leaders, in partnership with their technology solution providers, continue to develop and deploy these kinds of modern technologies, they will get closer to reaching a previously impossibly aspirational goal – that day when the “Mandatory HR system training” is something that every employee can’t wait to attend.