The COVID-19 pandemic has sped up digital transformation by as much as seven years in some organisations, according to McKinsey & Co.

This technological shift was, in part, born out of necessity, with businesses needing to enable hybrid and remote working as quickly as possible. But it also represents a major opportunity to accelerate digital transformation across key functions. One such function – perhaps the most impacted by the pandemic – is HR.

And yet our latest research indicates that two out of five (39%) of HR professionals currently believe their processes are less efficient than they were pre-pandemic. A further 22% also feel under increased pressure from the board to accelerate their HR-related digital transformation plans in order to support a move to hybrid working.

There is clearly work to be done. So, where are the biggest technology opportunities for HR in the hybrid world of work?

1. Increasing process automation

The pandemic has only served to highlight the critical role that HR plays in every organisation. But it has also generated a raft of challenges in areas ranging from recruitment to employee wellbeing, to keeping culture and collaboration alive across dispersed workforces.

Therefore, in order to have enough time to focus on activities requiring the ‘human touch’, it is necessary for HR professionals to find ways of becoming as efficient as possible – which is where automation comes in.

As a result of an anticipated long-term shift to hybrid working, about 22% of the HR professionals we questioned expect to boost their investment in automation, artificial intelligence, and other emerging technologies. The most use cases in this context were those identified as business-critical, but also time-intensive and traditionally manual. This includes aspects of recruitment, onboarding, workforce scheduling/rostering, and time and attendance tracking.

Since automation helps to improve the overall accuracy and quality of such processes, the benefits tend to be felt not only by the HR team alone but also by employees.

2. Enhancing the employee experience

One of the most important areas to consider in a hybrid working environment is how technology can best be used to create a positive employee experience. While the emphasis to date has been largely on providing people with access to video conferencing and collaboration tools like Microsoft Teams or Slack, there are a number of other often-overlooked technologies that can make a real difference to staff engagement.

One example is employee self-service systems. A dedicated mobile app for self-service, which enables staff to access key employment information, such as payslips and holiday entitlement, no matter what their location is, is a real must these days. Automatic notifications and reminders of, for example, when to celebrate colleagues’ work anniversaries or birthdays are also becoming increasingly de rigueur in order to ensure employees feel appreciated and part of something bigger.

Another key area is reward and recognition. Finding easy and effective ways for colleagues to recognise and reward each other, especially if they are not office-based, is essential, not least because doing so can help boost staff mental health and wellbeing. At Zellis, for example, we use Benefex’s recognition app, which acts like an easy-to-use social feed for employees to celebrate work that demonstrates company values. It even empowers managers to give high performers small monetary rewards or shopping vouchers.

3. Analysing data to understand workforce trends

The impact of the pandemic – and the shift to hybrid working – makes it more important than ever for HR professionals to be able to analyse data effectively. And more specifically, to be able to pinpoint and understand workforce trends, such as staff absence and turnover, in order to make stronger, better informed decisions.

For example, the mental and physical toll taken by lockdowns and the widespread move to remote working has been well documented and requires ongoing monitoring. Our research indicated that just over a third of employers (35%) have experienced higher than normal levels of COVID- and non-COVID-related absenteeism as a result.

But without a single, centralised source of data, it will be even more difficult for organisations to accurately measure rates of absenteeism and turnover while operating in the complexities of a hybrid world. Without reporting and analytics tools, it will also be nigh on impossible to identify the key factors influencing such trends, whether they relate to age, gender, department, location, length of service or a combination of them all.

In other words, taking a sophisticated approach to data management and analytics will be vital to underpin a truly effective hybrid working model as it provides HR teams with a more holistic view of the workforce at a time when employees are becoming increasingly dispersed.

4. Moving payroll and HR systems to the cloud

As has been widely reported, pandemic-related lockdowns forced most knowledge workers into operating from home, a move that in turn accelerated an ongoing trend among organisations towards moving their IT systems to the cloud.

This move also looks set to continue as hybrid working models become more widespread, with 28% of the HR professionals we surveyed planning to accelerate the migration of their payroll and HR applications to the cloud. There are several reasons for this acceleration, including the need to:

  • Provide hybrid and remote workers with access to key systems and data. The goal here is to ensure the efficiency, reliability, and continuity of critical employee services, such as payroll.
  • Cut costs during difficult economic times. Moving systems to the cloud enables savings in capital expenditure terms on everything from hardware, servers, and maintenance.
  • Scale computing power up and down as required and have access to robust disaster recovery capabilities in order to ensure high levels of business flexibility and resilience.

But for organisations to really get the most out of the move, it is also vital to build cloud into a long-term IT strategy, rather than simply treat it as a quick fix or temporary safety net during the pandemic.

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