Future of work Innovation

HR doesn’t need another experience platform

In February 2013 I published a blog titled “Let’s make HR invisible”. I wrote it shortly after a series of cloud acquisitions had completely shaken up the HR Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP)  vendor space. There were high hopes for these new HR solutions to make work life easier and improve employee productivity. Six years on have these HR platforms lived up to the hype?

ERP came with self-service, but it was cumbersome. HR often allowed employees to call or email instead. HR cloud promised to change that by empowering HR to be more strategic and employees to be more productive.

In 2013, my call to action was: “Now that all the excitement is gone, it is time to focus on what really matters: how to make HR work. Although acquisitions and new technologies are cool, they don’t bring your workforce one step further.“

Six years on, have we made HR work for our workforce?

We have certainly made it easier for people to interact with HR. Cloud solutions introduced mobile experiences and enabled employees and managers to get things done far easier.

We are able to use data on a broader scale than ever before, by understanding the workforce we can predict what is needed. Unfortunately, while we were busy moving to the Cloud, we missed the opportunity to rethink HR for the 21st century.

In the meantime, other companies capitalized on newer technologies. Online consumer experience has become the norm against which HR services are measured.

My 2013 article referenced “Year of the Invisible Computer”, a book by Donald Norman. He predicted technology would become invisible to the consumer. And he was right: do you ever think about how much computing power is in your pocket? Your mobile offers fast online access with the ability to get things done easily.

Most people don’t even think about that technology let alone understand it.

With the innovation available we must ask ourselves: have we really succeeded in re-imagining HR? This is so employees can carry out HR tasks quickly and easily so they can get on with their job. In other words, have we made HR invisible?

The productivity problem

In many economies, workforce productivity, measured in output per hour worked, has slowed. Economists can’t agree on the cause of this.

Falling productivity is a strange paradox: improved technology and advances in efficiency should have increased productivity. However, in spite of some spikes, average productivity continues to decline.

Even the arrival of robots and artificial intelligence is not changing the productivity conundrum and there are no signs this trend will change soon.

Easing off productivity graph

To help employees become more productive through collaboration, businesses are increasingly moving to productivity platforms. Microsoft Teams has over 420,000 corporate customers, with 87 companies out of the Fortune 100 using Teams.

Microsoft doesn’t disclose user numbers. G-Suite doesn’t either and reports 5 million businesses are paying clients. Slack has more than 10 million daily active users, and Workplace by Facebook has 2 million users.

All vendors report double digit growth and are rapidly extending their workspace solutions. For example, Microsoft is merging Skype into Teams and allowing 3rd party apps to be added to Teams further extending functionality.

When it comes to employee productivity, the trend is clear. The workspace will become a one-stop-shop where people come to complete their tasks, collaborate, and spend their working day. But where is HR in this?

The big question

In a recent article, Josh Bersin wrote that messaging will disrupt HR Technology: “Let me just assure you that this year is the time to go see your IT department and talk with them about messaging systems.

Whether itʼs Microsoft Office 365, Slack, G-Suite, or Workplace by Facebook – these are new employee productivity platforms, and we need to use them to deliver our HR solutions in the future.“

I believe he is right. But referring to these platforms as ‘messaging systems’ might be underestimating their capabilities. When companies embrace productivity systems, they become the unified entry point for employees.

What is then the role of the Employee Experience Platform? As Bersin wonders: “The big question we have to answer is: why a new platform?”

Why introduce another experience platform?

That is indeed the big question. If you want to solve the employee productivity problem and make work life easier, the employee productivity platform is the employee experience platform.

HR (and other support functions) must stop thinking in terms of functions. Instead, they should think about how to help employees get things done quickly and accurately. This means supporting them where they are, not asking them to come to you for help.

There is another reason to move HR solutions into the background and not make users have to navigate another interface. The median employee tenure is now 4.2 years and for workers aged 25 to 34 it is only 2.8 years (US Bureau of Labor Statistics).

If most people only stay with the company for a short time, we should not design HR support with long term careers in mind. That will become the exception.

We should not give new employees a company-specific experience layer to navigate. Instead we should enhance the workspace employees are familiar with, so they can quickly get up and running. Now wouldn’t that improve productivity?

Channel of choice

I am sure you have contacted a commercial service center with a question. Most companies allow you to use your channel of choice. Be that the App you already use (Whatsapp, WeChat, QQ, Viber, Telegram) to make it easy for you to connect with them. They know it’s more beneficial to be where you are instead of asking you to come to them.

When an employee has a question about pay, expenses or network access, do you connect with them via their channel of choice? Or is it really yours?

While employees might use Skype (or other) messaging at work, they are increasingly using personal messengers like WhatsApp to communicate with others.

While that was considered a private channel before, today, I have personal and professional chats on WhatsApp. This blurs the work/life divide. I don’t mind because it’s so much easier than switching back and forth between tools: it increases my productivity.

Re-imagine HR

Re-imagining HR for the 21st century workforce requires a ‘Design Thinking’ approach: we must show empathy with our employees, and what they are trying to do.

We must think in terms of ‘seamless’ and ‘unobtrusive’ to make HR an integrated part of the work environment. That is instead of introducing a new platform. We have the technology to do this.

When helping employees solve issues, we should be where they are. For HR, that means meeting employees in the company workspace or connect through a channel of choice. Not introducing a new experience platform and expecting employees to go there.

HR Technology vendors must start to rethink the user experience and integrate with workspaces and messengers. HR service providers must also think how to design a seamless service experience from within these environments.

While you are re-imagining HR, why not ask yourself if it matters to an employee to know what kind of questions (HR, Finance and IT) they have or how they get answered?

If we are trying to increase productivity, employees just need to know where to ask any work-related question. Intelligence in the background ensures they receive the correct answer.

When ‘Design Thinking’ 21st century employee support, think in terms of all work-related questions an employee might ask: Think ‘AskMyCompany’ instead of ‘AskHR’.

A simple example

How do you bring HR services into the workspace? You start by bringing chatbots and artificial intelligence together. This allows you to deliver enterprise services the way they are supposed to be: simple, intuitive, and engaging.

Bots can change many use cases into user friendly interactions which are effective and timely. You can integrate these bots in the workspace.

In the illustration below, the bot alerts the employee the moment the payslip is ready to be shared and in the Slack workspace where the employee collaborates on a project. When a new message arrives, the employee can quickly check it. In this case, something doesn’t seem quite right, and the employee can ask the question without ever leaving the platform.

HR platform example

There is a need for simple, automated, and artificial intelligence powered interactions that can facilitate real-time feedback. This is where bots can add value.

Bots can easily be integrated into the existing productivity platforms that businesses already use, to give users a consistent experience. In doing so, the productivity platform becomes the experience platform, without the need to introduce another platform.

Let’s make HR invisible

It’s time to re-imagine HR for the 2020s and capitalize on the advantages that modern, consumer-grade technologies enable.

This brings me back to the original call to action: when we re-imagine HR, let’s think how we can make HR invisible. Let’s design it with the user in mind and focus on the channels they like to use. It should not be about HR, this is about business productivity.

We need to improve the user experience in a way that works for them. Interact with employees in the space where they work, so they can easily get things done. The only way to achieve that is to seamlessly integrate HR in the new workspaces. Today’s technology gives us a real chance to make HR invisible. Let’s not waste it.