The era of true digital disruption has finally hit HR, transforming the way HR delivers solutions to employees. Finally, HR has the opportunity to revolutionize the entire employee experience by transforming HR processes and systems using new digital platforms and mobile apps.

We spoke with Claire Dunne about her perspectives on the new digital HR world and the challenges of HR software.

Claire Dunne, a chartered FCIPD, is an accomplished and experienced executive HR professional with in-depth experience in change management. Claire is a HR consultant who works with start-ups as well as developing and mature businesses across a number of sectors, covering all aspects of HR. Claire is also a qualified and experienced coach and mediator.

You can contact Claire via her LinkedIn page.

On the digital HR explosion, tech savvy and HR professionals

Claire Dunne
Claire Dunne

HR professionals have a lot of interest in digital platforms, apps, HR software – these are today’s trends. But the fact is that digital HR solutions are not used as much as people would like them to be. Of course, everybody is interested in what HR tech is able to do, but HR professionals are probably quite conservative in how we use technology.

Speaking about digital HR in the governmental sector in Ireland, it is much more conservative than the private sector, and they tend to have more restricted spending. Over the last 7 to 10 years, because of huge restrictions on spending in the public sector (due to our economy), their spend on technology would have been only what was absolutely necessary. That could change in the next few years with a new government coming into place recently; however, as it is a coalition government (more than one political party), there is still likely to be a focus on ‘unnecessary’ spending, which could include digital HR technology.

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It has been said that technology is something that scares HR professionals – from my point of view, there is some truth in that. In general, HR are not necessarily the most technical people in the company. They will see technology as something to use to do their jobs and do it better, to provide the information they need when they need it, but they don’t necessarily want or need to know how it works behind the scenes.

It may well be that younger people coming into HR will have different views on what types of technology should be used, but they won’t be the decision-makers for a while yet. One thing that will drive digital technology in business is the age profile of employees.

For example, millennials are much more tech savvy because they grew up with mobile tech, with phones and iPads, and they have no experience of being without these. Their expectation of their employer and how information is provided to them will drive change.

I think another aspect is that HR will always be mindful of the confidentiality and the security around employee information. They will always make sure that these would be absolutely guaranteed before they consider adding technology. So from that point, they will always hold back a little.

How HR may be driven to adopt technology

Speaking about the most popular HR apps in Ireland, they involve two particular areas – recruitment and onboarding.

There is a little bit of a drive to use technology for pre-onboarding, to use it before employees join, so that you can give people some information they can read in their own time, for example, some standard documentation, like policies, procedures and information about the company. Once they sign the contract, if that information is given to them, they can read all of it and have that completed before the start date – some of it may be a ‘tick box’ exercise (just ticking a box to show they have read the documents).

Certainly younger employees are quite happy to do that because they are able to flick through that tick box exercise. It is probably used more at the lower end of compliance, where a company just needs to say: “Look, employees have done this and ticked this box and this box.”

The risk comes when a new employee or candidate goes through the material so quickly that they are not really reading or absorbing the information that’s coming through, but are kind of just doing it because they have to.

So I think HR professionals have to look at what they give the employees in this way at pre-onboarding, and what they will need to hold on to and put into their online training, where they can see that somebody has been able to go through every slide and every piece of content and to capture all of it, to ensure they understand everything and are not just glossing over it.

Digital HR and business

I think that, in number of ways, using digital tools will certainly be more efficient for business. In terms of programs like performance management, for instance, if both employees and managers want to be able to access important work information anytime and anywhere, they will need to use digital HR tools.

But it depends a lot on the type on industry.

If it is a new tech company, they will certainly want to be more mobile and they use technologies for business anyway. If you get into a much more traditional, maybe manufacturing, company, you will probably find that just the sales people have an access to any kind of mobile apps because they need to communicate with people who are based in the office.

It can be difficult to persuade some people that their business processes can be a lot more efficient with technology. I think a lot of companies are afraid they will lose some kind of quality around a process if it goes into apps and digital technology. But it is obvious that using technology today makes much more sense and creates much more efficiency, better and easier access to information.

This year’s HR tech trends

Today everybody is talking about employee engagement and getting more feedback from employees, but they are looking for this more frequently than before through employee opinion surveys and client and customer service and satisfaction surveys.

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Several years ago, companies did paper surveys, and these were completed once every two years; now they have to move online.

Now, the idea is that companies really need to get more frequent information about employee engagement in a less formal way, making it much more open. And from that point of view, any kind of app that can be used for that makes it much easier.

Again speaking about the age profile, where people can give opinions about different things very quickly, now most companies are looking to say that they need to do it more often than before – twice a year instead of once a year, for instance, or to do a ‘snap’ survey to get opinions quickly on one topic. Companies need technology to get that feedback more quickly and on a regular basis.

If you take the millennials, they want to see your feedback almost every week or every two weeks. They want you to be able to capture the feedback from different parts of the business and you need to be able to capture it in real time because everybody moves on to something else very quickly.

Standard and regular performance management systems may have 360 Degree Feedback. But, for instance, if you do it at the end of the year, it is too late, because people have forgotten what they did three months ago.

Minuses and pluses of using mobile apps 

I think that one thing that could be a real benefit of using mobile apps, such as WISP, for instance, is regular communication between employees, no matter how far people are from each other.

Typically an internal newsletter goes out by email to all employees once a month, or is posted to the intranet. Getting a 2-page email on a Friday will have employees wondering if they want to bother reading it, so they may scan through it to pick out what interests them, but not read most of the newsletter.

Sending out little snippets of information, almost like using Facebook or Twitter, as a regular form of communication with employees is pretty good – even if we are doing something small, a good news story or something that happened in our particular branch or location, you can tell employees immediately. It almost connects people more, and it is much more real time information than if you read it at the end of the month; at that stage the information is almost stale and has little impact.

Another point is that this is exactly how employees lead their personal lives. You get messages through Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat or any other social media that’s around. If this is how you get work-related communications, your mobile phone is always close to you, and that means that you will constantly read the messages. This also means that you never finish working. The line between work and personal time begins to blur. It also means that work-related communications are competing with personal social media updates, so retention of the work-related information may be questionable.