3 Trends That Are Putting the Focus Back on the Human In HR

We use our phones everywhere — at work, on the train, in the bathroom — for everything from banking to spreadsheets, and yet, when it comes to HR tools, many companies still rely on decades-old, desktop-based legacy software that’s clunky and difficult to learn. But that is changing, and fast. Advances in cloud applications, artificial intelligence, machine learning, and high-level analytics may well rewrite what it means to be an HR professional.

Far from removing the human element, new digital tools enable  HR professionals to gain big-picture insights and offer a window into an employee’s true potential. Here are three trends in personnel technology that will put the humanity back in HR.

The impact of the cloud

Perhaps the most far-reaching change to break into the digital scene in years has been the adoption of cloud computing. HR has been slow to embrace the cloud for fear of confidentiality breaches and lack of funds. No longer. HR team members now have the ability to manage most of their daily tasks online, from applicant tracking, to benefits management, to performance evaluations, to records administration.

For employees, mobile apps have also meant the ability to log hours, access payments and benefits from any device at any time of the day. That allows companies to tap talent all over the globe, and to work with more consultants, specialists, and freelancers rather than hiring a full-time employee to handle every project that comes up. Meanwhile, top-tier millennial candidates are naturally more comfortable with online platforms and tend to prefer — if not to expect — this level of access to their benefits and 401k. This makes the case for replacing legacy software all the more urgent.

Companies who’ve gone all in on customized enterprise HRIS may not like hearing that their expensive systems need to be replaced. However, the evolution of HR technology may make it critical to conducting business in today’s ecosystem. Machine learning should allow HR professionals to use more precise, complicated analytics to both report and predict key performance indicators. Such structures will allow teams to blend data from different sources, and produce more high-level, meaningful measurements — making a single suite of enterprise software unnecessary. Rather, HR teams will be able to pick and choose management software that best fits their needs, then “train” programs to read data from various sources, a possibility that argues against the usefulness of legacy suites.

AI will revolutionize recruiting

The integration of new technologies is especially evident in the recruiting arena — one place where human biases often blind recruiters and hiring managers to a candidate’s true potential and fitness for a role. Recruiting chatbots are already in use at FirstJob, a job search site for recent graduates, and in the US Army, where the virtual guide Sgt. Star has been conversing with potential enlistees since 2014.

It might seem inane to leave these kinds of delicate hiring decisions to a bot. The truth, however, is that AI is a much more accurate predictor of talent, better suited to read through the lines to identify candidates that fit a job profile, and perhaps even better able to recognize certain soft skills as well. For instance, HR SaaS startup Interviewed (recently acquired by Indeed) uses analytics-targeted processes to identify signs of skills like empathy, which are difficult to assess with any kind of hard measurement. Recorded field tests measure facial cues and speech patterns to assess a candidate’s temperament and personal skills.

Of course, the final hiring still gets the human okay. Likewise, Sgt. Star’s job isn’t to identify qualified candidates. Rather, it’s to field questions about the Army that can’t be answered by an FAQ alone. Recruitment bots may be the next generation of HR technology, but they’re not about to replace warm-blooded professionals anytime soon.

The internal startup trend

The rapid deployment of technology has also resulted in a fundamental change to the way organizations do business as a whole. Businesses today are “agile,” able to respond quickly to market shifts and new trends. Even large companies take a startup approach to project assignments and duties, so it’s not uncommon to see employees given more autonomy to wear several hats at once, depending on current needs. Org charts are no longer set in stone, but are living, breathing documents that need to be redesigned to reflect the multi-functional nature of modern employment.

The challenge is how to offer that kind of flexibility while enforcing compliance and tracking employee metrics, such as performance. By all predictions, advanced analytics will offer that ability, as well as allow teams to understand and visualize results from high-volume data sets to fine-tune programs and improve efficiency — and discover the true “culture” in their office.

If anything, the movement to digital HR tools has brought into sharp relief the need for a more thoughtful, human-centric approach to HR. This focus springs at least in part from broader trends in business, where high employee retention rates, morale and engagement have been largely accepted as the most cost-effective way to manage employees.

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Overall, there’s been a “consumer-fication” of the entire employment experience. From recruiting — where companies might ask a potential candidate to create an Instagram post as part of their application process — to the gamification of tasks,  and offering perks like a ping-pong table or access to a company keg, employee satisfaction is very much in the minds of management and HR alike. At the same time, employees can rate and review companies and share information that was once kept strictly confidential, like salary.

Overall that means that employees now have more power than ever to shape their experience at work.

These changes won’t happen overnight, of course. But they will redefine your role as a human resources employee, taking away much of the administrative burden and allowing you to focus on what matters: the people that make your company run.