HR teams around the world are now able to access levels of technology which are dramatically altering the working landscape in both human and non-human terms.

These changes impact us on many fronts through areas such as role design, work locations and team collaboration both by geography and discipline.

It’s essential that HR adapts and understands how these changes will affect skills, data management and the demands of future workforces.

Personalising workplace experiences

Workplace efficiency has been the catchcry of company and HR management over the past few decades. Automation, process streamlining and sameness have all topped the priority list in terms of running productive and profitable organisations. 

Mel Parks is the Global Chief of People Operations and CHRO Global Operations and Support Functions for QBE Insurance. Parks sees the tide turning for customer experience (CX), with the introduction of new technology and automation capabilities which personalise our interactions as customers. She doesn’t believe the integration of employee experience (EX) is happening as fast.

Parks says, “We are working a lot on personalisation of experience, personalisation in the context of technology.

“What we haven’t yet cracked is, ‘what about personalisation of your employment experience?’

This personalisation of work is counter to the present approach but will become more expected moving forward.

Parks says there are plenty of people who still seek work in traditional, single location environments with long-term, stable employment. On the flip side, though, are the increasing numbers of people who want to work differently and take advantage of flexible work options. These options vary from person to person, but might include extended annual leave in place of a bonus, or only working in shorter-term project based or contract roles.

The implications and accessibility of this approach to both HR and employees, in a wider company culture designed to the traditional definition of work, aren’t yet clear. Compounding the issue is that those people looking to work in non-traditional ways are frequently bringing niche skills which don’t exist in a company’s current staff, in areas such as CX, EX and analytics. These are the very skills required to address issues around the future of work.

Parks says, “We’ll consistently be looking to integrate these people in a different way, which will change the way we work.

“We’re talking about the workforce of the future, but we aren’t talking about employment accessibility.”

Networks and peer to peer learning invaluable

As the workforce is changing, so is the learning organisations and individuals do to participate in it.

At an organisational level, most research focuses on what the purpose of the organisation is. Parks doesn’t believe this gives space for personal connection or finding the purpose of the individual within a business.

Parks says, “Most organisations leave that finding of purpose of the individual, to the individual.

“Lots of research says this is a big deal for Millennials, but I think it’s a big deal for everybody.”

The traditional role of learning functions is shifting and integrated learning, where context and knowledge duration are more valued, is becoming more sought after.

Parks says learning now is about building platforms and connected networks for individuals to help one another.

“Any organisation’s ability to curate all that learning internally, in relation to all the information that’s available externally, is very difficult.

“Peer to peer sharing and networking is so valuable.”

Efficiency and automation on a downward trajectory

Parks says, “For the last 20 years, anyone who’s been doing HR transformation has been doing two things: Firstly, pushing for efficiency and making everything the same.

“And secondly, wherever you could, automate or eliminate or offshore whatever duties possible.

“We’ve made everything the same for everyone, from on-boarding, changing jobs, all the processes within HR.

“We’ve eliminated our ability to ask questions and personalise the experience.”

Parks wonders why companies are automating to such a high degree, and how we could better evaluate performance and productivity in terms of people, not process.

She says because HR is about people, that personal approach needs to be reintegrated into the processes of HR organisations.

Potential of HR analytics crucial to development

Parks says there’s a significant amount of disruption in technology and business that HR operations are not part of, and this is holding back the industry.

Data literacy is a problem for HR as a whole, with many organisations needing to look to other areas of the business for the skills required to both collect and interpret data in a meaningful way.

This lack of literacy can lead to departments such as finance or engineering holding all the cards when it comes to analytics, and HR relying on those disciplines without the skills to make independent strategic decisions in the interests of people management.

In a 2016 paper published in the Human Resource Management Journal, the authors support this argument, saying that the development of HR analytics is being hampered by a lack of understanding of analytical thinking by the HR profession.

They say that HR analytics products and services often fail to enable HR teams to capture the strategic value of their data.

Parks believes harnessing the power of data will enable HR to respond to change much faster in future.

She says, “We have information about peak demand, about customer experience, and so on.

“Forecasting around that is going to be much faster, and response times are going to get much faster.”

HR must step up to understand and use data more effectively, says Parks, rather than being focused on the individual technological capabilities within teams.

Parks says, “Most HR organisations are so far from being ready to have that discussion intellectually, let alone practically.

“We’re still so focused on ‘what are the leadership capabilities of my team to go digital?”

What will HR look like in 2025?

Parks says collectively, HR organisations are not yet thinking about how we address all of these issues.

While there are some futuristic and controversial predictions for HR and workforce management, like micro-chipping employees and holographic meeting technology, she sees that eliminating operational work and becoming more strategic and functional will be the key to remaining relevant and valuable.

Parks says looking at the design of an organisation, its approaches to work and the strategic integration of partnerships to add value and community is the way forward.

She says organisations should be thinking, “what do HR teams need to look like to move forward?

“What are we actually doing differently around job design, and how are you thinking that this will support and enable people?”

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