HR Leaders Cite the Value of Technology When Taking on New Roles

By Nicole Lewis October 5, 2020
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​Recently hired HR professionals are finding that technology is helping them navigate a new world of work that's changing—and not only because of the COVID-19 pandemic.  

Erika Duncan started her job July 6 as the first chief people officer at CareFinders Total Care, a home health care company headquartered in Hasbrouck Heights, N.J. The company has a total workforce of approximately 7,000 employees and more than 6,000 certified home health care aides in three states.

By the time Duncan began her job, the coronavirus had already impacted health care services and federal and local guidelines on stopping the spread of the virus began to change people's view on health care delivery.

Duncan said her first task was to prepare the company's home health care aides for compliance with the electronic visit verification (EVV) requirement implemented in the 21st Century Cures Act, which was passed in 2016. The deadline to comply with the mandate is January 2021.

EVV collects information through a secure website, a mobile application or a telephone. All Medicaid personal care services and home health services that require an in-home visit must document the type of service performed, both the individual receiving and providing the service, the date and location of the service delivery, and the time the service began and ended.

To get caregivers onboard with EVV, Duncan started an incentive program that encourages CareFinders' providers to use a mobile app to document their visits.

 "If 95 percent of their visit information is entered on the app and they are compliant with EVV guidelines, they will get additional base pay," Duncan said.

Her second major task will be to implement a human resource information system (HRIS), which is a must-have for Duncan.

"We have a huge technology gap because from a human resources' perspective, without an HRIS you are operating with one hand tied behind your back," she said. "I've implemented an HRIS several times in my career, and I really enjoy building a culture based on people, process and technology," Duncan said.

To help workers be safe during the coronavirus pandemic, Duncan is using video to train caregivers on how safely to handle patients during a visit. The videos will address issues such as how to be socially distant from family members during a home visit and when to use personal protective equipment (PPE) such as masks and gloves, as well as how to properly put on, adjust, wear and take off your PPE. The videos will be shared internally.

"We are using technology to better lean into workforce management and staff utilization," she said. "Technology enables data-driven decision-making and anticipating business needs."

Commitment to Technology Strategy

At Westfield, a property and casualty company in Westfield Center, Ohio, that has nearly 2,500 employees in the U.S., Jennifer Palmieri, the company's chief people officer, said it was important to her to find out what Westfield's technology strategy was before she started the job on July 27.

"I believe that the future of companies like Westfield is going to be enabled and driven by their technology strategy, from big data analytics and artificial intelligence to digital innovation, cloud computing and collaboration tools," she said. 

Before she took the job, Palmieri said she wanted to hear from Westfield executives about the company's technology capabilities and commitments.

"If I did not hear that the company was focused on becoming more digital and is committed to using data analytics to make better decisions, that would have bothered me," she said. "If Westfield didn't have a strong and comprehensive cybersecurity strategy around information protection, that would have caused me to wonder if this was the right organization for me. If I felt the company was more of a transactional technology organization that wasn't thinking about future capabilities, that would have been a deal breaker," Palmieri said.

Jessica Waldrop, clinical assistant professor of management at J. Mack Robinson College of Business at Georgia State University in Atlanta, said HR professionals who want to work at a company that engages in data-driven decision-making, and specifically people strategy that is also data-driven, should look for companies that have integrated HRIT capabilities that collect data across the employment life span.

"This ranges from applicant tracking to exit interview and everything in between," she said. "For this to be done effectively and efficiently, data processes like collecting, storing and communicating data should be automated," Waldrop said.

Using Technology to Bring People Together

Heidi Pirela began her new job as the chief human resources officer at Intelligent Waves in Reston, Va., on Aug. 5. Intelligent Waves provides enterprise systems engineering, cloud computing and security architecture. The company has 265 employees.

Pirela said during interviews with executives, she learned employees and management connect via virtual town halls conducted over Zoom or Microsoft Teams collaboration tools.

"It's an opportunity where the president and the rest of the executive team can come and really connect with staff to keep in touch with everyone in the field because everyone is so distributed," she said. "This is a time when work and personal life all mesh together. You have dogs barking in the background, and you have kids attending remote school. This is a challenge for everyone."

She added that the company is also focused on adding enhancements to its ADP payroll and HR system and will be deploying cloud-based organization chart solutions software from Pingboard and performance review software from Engagedly. Pirela said the goal is to integrate systems and create consistent information on employees as well as to streamline workflows and eliminate data redundancy.

Still, while committed to technology that supports HR goals, she said HR professionals should never lose the human touch, especially during the pandemic.  

"We are in unprecedented times, and we have to think outside the box and really look at the whole employee as a human being," she said. "There has to be compassion in HR. We are strategic partners and we are businesspeople, but there also has to be heart. There has to be a sense of compassion for people, and HR professionals have to put employees first."

Nicole Lewis is a freelance journalist based in Miami. She covers business, technology and public policy.

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