Using Technology to Prepare Your Workforce for Post-Pandemic Times

By Shefali Anand October 18, 2021
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​As the Covid-19 pandemic ebbs in India and companies prepare models for a 'hybrid" work environment, they are looking to technology to help find ways to keep a distributed workforce productive and connected. How technology has already helped in this effort, as well as discussions of what will come next, were among the topics discussed by more than 120 speakers at the SHRM Tech 21virtual conference held by SHRM India last month.

Here's an overview of some of the key learnings from that event:

What CEO's Want from HR Today

The pandemic has wrought huge changes and more is on the way as organizations prepare for post-pandemic times.

"Readying the workforce for what might seem to be a very different world as we emerge from this crisis will be my biggest ask from HR," said Nitin Rakesh, chief executive officer of Mphasis, an information technology-services and solutions provider.

Rakesh said that organizations increasingly have new demands from clients, which means that employees need to constantly upgrade their skills to meet those demands. The need for upgrading technological skills is not only true for Mphasis given its role in the IT sector, but for all companies no matter the industry.

"Whether we know it or not, every business is a technology business today," said Rakesh.

Three-Point Approach to Support Business Growth

To help prepare an organization for change, Souvik Maity, employee experience & operations manager at consumer goods-company Unilever, suggested a three-point approach.

"First thing we can do as human resources is to source people who can interpret these changes that are happening presently," said Maity. In the consumer goods industry, he said consumer behavior and buying patterns are changing. So the key is to hire talent who can identify such trends. Once these employees are on board, the organization needs to supply them with platforms, skills and opportunities that enable them to influence change in ways that favor their organizations. HR also should try to create an environment where its employees can influence future trends.

"If we, as HR, are able to drive these priorities, then I think making an organization agile and ensuring business growth becomes easy," said Maity.

He said technology provides tools to do this, such as by helping to identify the right talent by sifting through tens of thousands of resumes, and also provide platforms for employees to become influencers.

For Future Workforce, Think 'Personas' not JDs

One big change that organizations can expect is in talent management, starting with work profiles.

"Role is something that I'm starting to get concerned about, saying is there going to be a role 10 years down the line?" said Kalpana Bansal, a vice president at conglomerate Reliance Industries Ltd. Bansal said that in the future, there will be "value creators" who don't fit any role or organizational structure, and come in to build something and leave. In this backdrop, the whole concept of a 'job description' or JD is becoming obsolete.

Some companies have already done away with JDs, said Sushma Kumar, professional services delivery director at SHL, a talent solutions-provider. Kumar said some of her clients now focus on creating 'personas' needed by the organization, and find talent accordingly.

This trend portends deeper changes in the talent management process. "The whole concept of how you're hiring, what are you hiring for and your performance management metrics around it, all of that fundamentally changes," said Abraham Zachariah, senior a vice president of HR at HSBC bank.

HR Tech Isn't a One-Off Deal

The pandemic has pushed companies into adopting a slew of technologies for everything from collaboration and remote learning to safety and wellness applications. But to get the best out of HR technology, leaders should not approach it in individual pieces but rather as an ecosystem, said Stacey Harris, chief research officer and managing partner at research firm Sapient Insights Group.

Many HR executives look for technologies to resolve specific issues, like software for virtual recruiting or a technology to automate a particular process. But technologies adopted this way sometimes don't yield the expected results. Instead, she said leaders should think of what is needed by the organization as a whole, such as what is in line with the organization's culture. With this approach, all technologies, including those which resolve HR issues, can connect with each other and function better, said Harris.

"Stop thinking of HR technology as a project and start thinking about it as a strategic initiative that has continuous change management tied to it," said Harris. Organizations that approach technology in this way got 21% higher outcomes over past five years, according to their research.

Where to Start a Data Journey

Companies are increasingly using data to make decisions, ranging from  operations to understanding employee engagement. But for someone just starting out on this journey, it isn't easy to understand which analytics tools to use and how to make sense of terms commonly thrown about, such as 'big data' and 'data lake.' 

"The truth is, these are only jargon," said Partha Ray, CEO, dDriven, which provides data analytics solutions. He said HR should just ignore these terms and instead focus on the business issues that you want to resolve.

"We don't go to a doctor saying that I need an antibiotic, I need a steroid," said Mr. Ray. Rather, we go with a problem that needs to be resolved. The same principle goes for organizations.

"Focus on what you want to solve, what opportunity you want to get, what processes you want to optimize," said Mr. Ray. "Then find a consultant who will give you an architecture based on what you have."

What Tech Doesn't Have An Ideal Solution For

While technology has allowed organizations to recruit remotely, onboard remotely and create a digital experience to share the company culture, it hasn't yet provided an ideal solution for engaging with employees.

"We haven't been engaging with them the way we used to," said Rakesh of Mphasis.

To be sure, companies have been using creative ways to connect with staff. The annual rewards and recognition ceremony of Mphasis was held on a virtual cruise, where employees and their families could experience a vacation by traveling to different islands in the Mediterranean sea as if they were in a 3D game room.

While that was a great way to make the event special, it's not enough to replace the physical experience, said Rakesh. It's still important to have "those touch points that actually keep that culture and the fabric alive."

One Tip to Deal with Digital Exhaustion

With more tech usage, both at work and at home, some HR leaders pointed out the need to save employees from 'digital exhaustion' and burnout. One step toward this would be to optimize communication, said Satish Rajarathnam, senior vice president & global head of strategic resourcing at Mphasis.

Rather than having a quick chat to resolve small issues, many managers set up a Teams or Zoom meeting that can drag on. Instead, focus on resolving the one key issue. "Make it short and simple and precise," said Rajarathnam.

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