By Sushmita Majumdar
In the past few decades, technology has evolved quite speedily. Technological breakthroughs have disrupted almost all industries and transformed daily lives too. Human resource or HR functions have similarly been impacted by tech advances.
Earlier, HR was considered a traditional department – paper-intensive and less innovative. In recent years, the advent of digital technology has seen HR functions undergo a steady change too. HR professionals are now deploying technology in diverse ways in meeting their company needs and overcoming any inherent challenges.
Nonetheless, the changes in HR functions were earlier gradual. But the unprecedented coronavirus pandemic has completely transformed the scenario – almost overnight. For instance, while the work-from-home regimen was discussed around coffee tables and boardrooms, it remained more of a buzzword and less a way of life. The unparalleled COVID-19 lockdowns across geographies, including India, have witnessed both – public and private as well as big and small companies scrambling to implement WFH regimens.
Confronted with the spectre of sudden business disruptions, managements and HR heads moved quickly in ascertaining their BCPs (Business Continuity Plans) were up and running. The first requirement – ensuring employees had connected systems at home to keep work moving. The second – ascertaining there were adequate firewalls and security systems to keep hackers/malware at bay.
As WFH went on for weeks, HR heads and employers had a pleasant surprise. Rather than productivity declining due to WFH, most employees were highly productive and putting in more hours daily.
Some months down the line, however, HR managers confronted a new problem –a few employees were reporting prolonged fatigue. The word ‘burnout’ began acquiring an immediate dimension. This is when HR departments undertook proactive measures so that employee well-being and overall health were safeguarded. These include flexible working hours and the option of taking leave once or twice a month. No BCPs can succeed in the long term if staff well-being is compromised.
Apart from the present pros and cons of technology deployment in HR, tech has helped in other ways in recent years. For instance, recruitment is much easier and faster. Multiple HR responsibilities such as employee hiring, on-boarding, trainingand administration are seeing transformation at every level, benefitting employers and employees.
Both employee-on-boarding and off-boarding are repetitive and predictable tasks, including collecting documents, training and exit interviews. These tasks are being safely automated for online implementation via chatbots. Employers and employees save valuable time that is devoted elsewhere more productively. What’s more, data stored on the cloud is saved automatically without the risk of misplacement like paper records.The online data is then amenable to data analytics, which offers comprehensive insights on various aspects of employees such as their reason for exiting and more.
Moreover, automation is helping in many functions where humans are inconsistent and inefficient or even prone to accidents and personal risk. With automation, workers are no longer subject to such risks. By reskilling and/or upskilling, these workers can then be absorbed in other job functions where their cognitive skills cannot be matched by machines.
The next benefit is in ease of communication. Emails and direct messaging systems have completely transformed HR communiqués. Besides being instantaneous, some of these ‘means’ ensure both parties are aware whether the communiqués have been received or not. This enhances employee engagement and relations while also boosting productivity and increasing staff retention rates.
Likewise, automation helps in easily managing compliance issues and other statutory assignments, including appraisals. With tasks being tracked in real-time, employees are more motivated to meet deadlines and work on their other deliverables. As feedback via technological tools can’t be easily manipulated, employees are naturally incentivized to perform as per predetermined objectives.
The other benefit of automation comes from automating tedious and complicated payroll systems. Whereas a manual payroll system is considerably slower and also prone to multiple errors, it is considered natural when human hands are managing the process.
All the above data can be stored safely in the cloud, without taking up immense storage space in offices. Furthermore, as and when required, specific data can be accessed within seconds unlike manual data retrieval, which can take hours if not more, depending on how soon the hard copiesare located.
Finally, data-driven employee performance is much easier to manage and assess. As the lockdown restrictions impact company operations, HR heads can make certain the role of employees retains relevance via online employee training as well as refresher and upskilling courses. These courses can be automated and done online through recorded training modules, webinars and apps. Minimising human interactions through automation can maximise savings in time and money.
Best of all, automation can boost the efficiency and output of employees as well as HR heads. There cannot be a better proposition for deploying technology in HR and other organisational functions.
(The writer is Head, Human Resource at mPokket, an app-based lending platform and the views expressed in this article are her own)