Three COVID challenges HR tech can help us overcome right now

Jacky Carter, Group Digital Engagement Director

  • The pandemic is continuing to put tremendous pressure on HR functions around the world as they work to prioritise the wellbeing, productivity and engagement of their people, all whilst operating in a very different world.
  • Both how and where we work is changing at lightning speed, potentially for good, so it’s even more important that HR professionals choose the right HR tech solutions to help them help their organisations thrive in the new era of work.
  • Multiple HR tech solutions are likely to be needed to build and nurture an engaged, personalised, interconnected and happy workplace both now, and in the future.
Back in January 2019, I wrote about the rising popularity of human resource technology (HR tech). A lot has happened in the last 12 months. Fast forward to now, and COVID-19 has made the collaboration between HR and technology even more significant, helping us tackle a range of issues associated with remote and hybrid working, mental health emergencies, and changing employee expectations and requirements.
Whether they’re in the office or working from home, employees now expect a high-speed, personalised and interconnected workplace. This has put additional pressure on HR teams, who are responsible for keeping people well, located and productive – even in the new world of remote work. This is where HR tech can help businesses meet employee expectations – and overcome a range of pandemic-induced challenges.

What is HR tech?

HR tech is an umbrella term. It covers innovations such as the cloud, automation and self-service systems, all of which can help you improve performance, provide cost savings and boost the overall competitiveness of your HR functions. These solutions – covering both software and hardware – are called HR tech.
A huge range of HR tech is now available. Chatbots, for example, can answer employee questions on a 24/7 basis. Automation can massively streamline your onboarding processes, automatically sending new staff the relevant paperwork and next steps to settle into their new role. Online learning initiatives can help your staff reskill and hone their existing skills. Data analytics and visualisation can provide you with easy-to-understand insights into staff performance and retention. The list is endless.

HR tech developments you should know about

HR tech is diverse, and the recent pandemic has unleashed a new wave of innovations into this space. As more staff want to work from home, HR professionals are under pressure to monitor their performance and wellbeing. The recruitment process has also been turned on its head, as we increasingly rely on video calls for interviews and other remote recruitment solutions.
With that in mind, here are some of the main developments in HR tech that you should be aware of:
Cloud and self-service: HR leaders report strong business benefits of using an HR system that’s based in the cloud, as opposed to those deployed on on-premise servers, according to the PwC HR Technology Survey 2020. These benefits include gains in productivity, improved employee experience and better workforce insights. Newer cloud-based systems can also provide employee self-service tools, decreasing the burden on HR staff from processing simple requests like a change of address, for example. Of course, this technology has also been instrumental in allowing entire workforces all over the world to switch to working from home due to the pandemic, pretty much overnight. The benefits of cloud and self-service technology are many, however, they don’t come without their risks, particularly when it comes to security. For example, our increasingly hybrid, blended working world, opens up many more opportunities for cybercrime breaches, so resilient security measures are a must if we are to really reap the benefits of this HR tech.
Talent acquisition: the same PwC survey also reveals an emphasis on talent acquisition tools to help attract and retain top workers. Pre-hire evaluation tools, for example, interview debriefing technology and automated reference checking systems are all helping streamline the hiring process.
Data-driven HR: as an HR professional, data can guide many of the choices you make. Instead of basing decisions on your gut instincts, you can use tools to receive clear and comprehensive reports on each staff member’s employment or each candidate’s performance in the recruitment process. Such tools can optimise your talent attraction, hiring and retention strategies. For example, with the right set of data, you can optimise your best hiring channels to match those used by your best candidates. You can also anticipate and address your employee needs by mining data from employee and candidate surveys. Workforce analytics also enable HR professionals to gauge employee experience, engagement, and satisfaction. Dynamics 365 Human Resources, for example, is Microsoft’s move into the HR tech space and promises to enable workforce insights by centralising your HR data.
Employee monitoring and analytics systems: these systems can help your people understand their working patterns and habits to boost their productivity. This data can then be used to revise your performance metrics and KPIs, and workforce scheduling tools/digital rotas, helping you proactively react to your workforce’s requirements and changing work patterns.
Automation and AI: there’s a great deal of caution these days around the use of AI in the sourcing and shortlisting process, particularly in relation to bias. However, by combining your data with automation, you can use AI and automation to boost the efficiency of your HR department by freeing employees from tedious, manual tasks and allowing them to focus on complex value-added tasks. If you decide to integrate machine learning capabilities with your invoicing system, for example, you can auto-generate invoices from timesheets.
Upskilling and reskilling: this is the area we are really seeing take off. HR tools can help employees identify their skills, weaknesses and future learning direction. Such tools, including remote education initiatives, can help build and enable a culture of lifelong learning. However, it’s important to make sure you make the right tools available to your staff to encourage adoption and engagement with online learning initiatives. Micro-learning initiatives – which deliver short bursts of content for learners to study at their convenience – are particularly useful to help workers with little time (or short attention spans) access educational resources in a quick and easy manner, for example. VR is another growing tool to deliver corporate training and development.
Messaging, communication and collaboration: virtual assistants andchatbots are two key communication tools, which are helping organisations engage with their internal and external audiences across an increasingly diverse digital landscape.
These technologies are continuing to impact the HR landscape – but adoption rates are not as strong as they could be. The PwC report reveals only 27 per cent of respondents rated HR tech as very effective for changing behaviours at work. Eight out of ten (82 per cent) struggle with adoption challenges, where remote working makes it difficult to engage workers with such initiatives. The recent pandemic has exacerbated issues, as staff motivation and productivity levels plummet. But there are a number of measures you can put in place to buck this trend.

How the right HR tech can help you overcome common COVID challenges

The right HR tech can help you keep your staff well, engaged and productive, which is a difficult undertaking in the current COVID climate.
#1 Zoom (insert your VC tool of choice here!) fatigue is real, and can be addressed with a range of tech tools
Tech has risen to the challenge of enabling entire workforces to work from home, pretty much overnight, thanks to tools such as Slack, Trello, Teams and Zoom. But screen-based meetings can be extremely hard on the brain, increasing fatigue and decreasing your productivity – a phenomenon many refer to as ‘Zoom fatigue’.
With remote and hybrid working here to stay, it’s important to ensure you keep your people engaged in the long-term by exploring a broader range of communication tools. This means moving away from your reliance on video calls. There’s no one-size-fits-all solution here – different people work in different ways.
You may want to investigate tools like Facebook Workplace, FocusMate and PukkaTeam, for example, which are essentially virtual coworking spaces helping increase collaboration and enable brainstorming sessions. VR conferencing is another possibility – which replaces video conferencing, helping to substitute in-person meetings and provide another online learning and development environment.
#2 Tech can help address the growing emphasis on mental health and staff wellbeing
Over the course of this pandemic, employee wellbeing has developed a whole new meaning – from both a physical and mental health perspective. The health implications of the virus on workforces is multifaceted.
Employees are experiencing unprecedented levels of sustained stress with three-quarters of the workforce experiencing burnout, and 40 per cent claiming this was a direct result of COVID-19.
HR tech can help reduce the strain. With 83 per cent of employees wanting employers to provide mental health supporting tech – there are plenty of options available.
AI therapists are one possibility – 34 per cent of employees believe access to an AI-therapist provides a judgement free zone, 30 per cent believe this would provide an unbiased outlet to share problems and 29 per cent think it would provide quick answers to health-related problems. Chatbots are another option, which can help guide employees to mental health resources and advice.
When it comes to physical health, there are also plenty of HR tech options out there. Virtual GPs are a growing trend, which could save UK businesses up to £1.5 billion. Such tools provide staff with access to medical advice and clinics to not just monitor, but also help employees proactively manage their health.
In addition to implementing social distancing measures, installing sensor-based technologies throughout the workplace can help minimise physical contact and reduce the risk of spreading the virus.
Fitness trackers are another option to boost wellness and staff engagement. Construction firm Fluor Canada, for example, recently provided staff with trackers, which allow them to take part in fitness challenges and monitor their health during the pandemic.
However, these programmes and devices can raise privacy concerns, which HR professionals must address. Wellness programmes offered by independent vendors, as opposed to health insurance companies and self-administered health plans, aren’t subject to privacy rules under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA, for example, according to Consumer Reports.
#3 Remote learning must include a social aspect
The 70-20-10 model of learning at work is widely recognised, whereby 70 per cent of workers learn from experience gained on the job, 20 per cent learn from work relationships (such as coaching and mentoring), and 10 per cent learn from formal courses and learning interventions.
The Future of Jobs 2020 report from the World Economic Forum also states that 94 per cent of business leaders now expect employees to learn on the job, as opposed to formal training. In other words, it’s not enough to provide a few online courses – you must encourage social learning, which encompasses the first two points above.
However, social distancing and remote working have effectively cut out a major chunk of social learning, where staff may struggle to ‘learn by osmosis’ – represented by the informal, social learning covered in the first two areas.
To address this challenge, there are plenty of quick-win HR tech options. You could set up online discussion boards, team areas, wikis, image sharing systems and other collaboration tools on your intranet, for example. Tools like Google Classroom, Facebook Workplace, FocusMate and PukkaTeam are also providing virtual coworking spaces to facilitate effective collaboration and brainstorming sessions.
VR is another growing tool to deliver corporate training and development programmes, helping people feel like they are in a classroom environment and, therefore, can learn from their interactions with their classmates. At Hays, we are also developing our My Learning platform, which builds on the principles of social learning and offers all jobseekers access to insights around the skills in demand and how they can acquire them.

Adaptability and resiliency are required in the years ahead

Companies have experienced a year unlike any other. The pandemic has massively accelerated digital adoption rates and the HR tech market has grown explosively, as a result.
As we move forward, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution. HR professionals must continue to adapt and adopt the latest tools to further enable online learning and career development, hiring and onboarding, staff engagement and feedback and many other key HR functions. Asking the customer – the employee – is a great place to start, to keep track of how people are feeling, how they are working, and what the potential problems are that a collaboration with technology could potentially help solve. I can’t predict where we’ll be in another 12 months – but I guarantee HR tech will play a key role in maintaining the world of work now, and in the years ahead.


Jacky Carter
Customer Experience Director, APAC, Hays

With more than 30 years of experience in the staffing industry, Jacky’s expertise spans many aspects of Hays’ business including operations, marketing, RPO and technology. Her unique and invaluable remit is to make sense of emerging trends and technology in the HR and broader world, identifying, evaluating and implementing the tools that enable Hays to power the future world of work.