The ‘Tech-Tonic’ Shift: Reshaping the Modern Workplace 0

satyajit-menon
Technology has transformed the way we perceive and perform work by making business processes highly integrated, and more streamlined. Satyajit Menon, Vice President & Global Head Of People Operations at Innovaccer reveals how technology has enabled workplaces to become more fluid, expedited access to work while exponentially increasing productivity, collaboration and communication, giving employees more freedom with not just their job, but their life.

At the outset, I’d like to call out that I started out of a cave-office in the early 2000s, surrounded by dark walls on three sides, marooned on this island that I proudly called my cubicle. Family photos, trophies and certificates and cut-outs of wisdom quotes concealed my physical presence from everyone. Relationships were defined via touch-and-feel and if one wanted adventure, e-mail and other applications were basically Kryptonite. Fast forward to 18 years later, and my current workspace resembles a 24/7 rush-hour city, collaboration and intrusion seem like bedfellows, and conversations seem like more codes on steroids (IDK-I Don’t Know; ICYMI-In Case You Missed It; LMK- Let Me Know; YOYO- You’re On Your Own). It is no secret that through the passage of time, technology has transformed the way we perceive and perform work, industry notwithstanding. When I started out, obviously it wasn’t as though workflows ceased to exist or lean processes leveraging technology were alien. It’s just that back then it was considered exotic to be part of such initiatives. Technology subconsciously has pushed us to think lean and act smart.

Years ago, it was alright to say, ‘I work in an automobile company’s IT department’. Today, it’s perfectly normal to say, ‘I work in Technology Company that drives automobiles’.

Anyway, technology’s impact on work- environment has streamlined tedious and environmentally wasteful processes, expedited access to work while exponentially increasing productivity and made working from anywhere easier than ever.

Let me try and break this paragraph for you:

• Velocity at the rate of efficiency

Productivity has hit an all-time high with the workforce today. Products are being built at an insane pace. Brain
(technology) and brawn (machines) have the combined capability to disrupt the speed with which enhancements and new products are launched. Technology has added tremendous pressure on the workforce to upskill and that has made companies become better and more agile. Any transaction needed to work in a click is now possible in minutes which would otherwise have taken hours, sometimes even days.

• Easier collaboration aided by technology

Winning as a team has never been more possible than it is today. With collaboration channels like Confluence and platforms like Flock and Slack, the concept of e-mail, in my opinion, is starting to become obsolete. So, if you’re not in the office today but need to collaborate with global team members, do your palms sweat? No, because with video conferencing tools like Zoom or Hangouts and cloud sharing platforms like Google Drive or the OneDrive from Microsoft, ‘seeing and believing’ is the new ‘touch-and-feel’. There are AI messaging tools today that remind and follow-up with our colleagues. You can be popular or unpopular in your office depending on whose lens you’re wearing on a given day!

• Technology aligned to workplace culture

You could be misled by asking that if all this collaboration is changing the way we work, why have an office at all?
Well, that’s a fair point but truth be told, all these cool technologies and the hype surrounding it pretty much led to many of the leading tech companies in Silicon Valley to push their workplaces to look different, trendy, comfortable and barrier-free. That didn’t leave the Indian tech ecosystem playing catchup for long. If you’re roaming around some of the offices in San Francisco or Bengaluru, who could tell the difference? In all of this, Human Resources has had to play a crucial role in thinking through talent engagement. Old means and ways have been flushed down the drain to welcome a more ‘healthier’ and ‘well-being’ focused workplace. A swanky office with all the bells and whistles has opened a gateway to lure employees from not going away from the office anytime soon. I visit our Innovaccer WeWork office in San Francisco and I can say for sure that with all that collaboration and cool tech discussions, going back to my hotel room is the last thing I want to do. Technology has made working in these cool spaces even cooler. Such coworking spaces bring a lot of value to early entrepreneurs as well who may not have an office of their own but benefit immensely from the ecosystem they are part of, being in such workspaces instead of their homes/garages.

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• Here’s to the ‘side- hustlers’

Although this is yet to pick up the desired pace and realistic interest in India, it is no secret that a segment of today’s workforce the world around seems to be besotted by the ease of working on their own, regularly. Welcome to the gig economy! In a project-driven, ‘short-term-high yield’ mindset, it has become more relevant to pick up project-based assignments and pay as you go. Deloitte’s latest millennial study (2019) found that 64 per cent of full-time workers want to do “side hustles” to make extra money. Obviously, this will have a significant impact on the workforce. Imagine if you had a person, apt to the custom-fit job you wanted to be done for a period of 6 months and in a project aided by technology, you’re pretty much in autopilot mode right after that project’s implementation. How cool would that be? This is a potent pill for small businesses because as owners, one can control outcomes and resource allocation. The extent of how successful this can be in larger companies remains to be seen though but in my kind of ecosystem, this is gold-dust.

satyajit-menon-allthingstalent-october-2019

With all these groundbreaking technological disruptions that have created a dent in our universe, how could HR be far behind? Well, the truth is we have been the tortoise in this race but somehow business’s agility to enforce change has pushed our fraternity to suit up pretty fast. HR is definitely seeing a ‘tech-tonic’ shift in small bursts that is touching the lives of employees. From ancient files and prehistoric folders, new-age tech is influencing HR to think on the lines of intelligence, relevance and the contemporary. Fortunately, we are thought of as a function that has
woken up to this new reality.

According to the 2019 HCM Trends report, global HR technology venture capital has topped $3.1 billion this year, more than triple the amount invested in 2017. While there’s a range of technologies, some of the most interesting and disruptive examples are powered by artificial intelligence and automation.

“AI and machine learning are opening the door to a whole new world of possibility for the human capital space,” CareerBuilder CEO Irina Novoselsky says. “Our research shows that more than half of HR managers feel AI will become a regular part of HR within five years.”

At Innovaccer, for example, our ‘Dynamic Performance Management’ methodology and application embody a philosophy of reviewing performance continuously through the use of automation that enables, reminds and reviews the progress of our talent on goals, outcomes, discussions and feedback. It gives us a terrific insight into how our employees are feeling every day too. If you’ve had a tough day, let people know and one of us will help you. The platform enables employees to share their day’s experience, give or receive feedback publicly and appreciate their colleagues openly. It is amazing to think that we’re driving transparency, gamify this boring topic and to think that technology could aid us in it, is simply phenomenal.

Looking outside of our work as well, there are so many ways that technology is changing the face of HR.

1. Recruitment teams are looking smarter via AI

consuming is recruiting people, isn’t it? However, when you put AI and automation into the mix, you’d know that starting from building a job description that fits the role, spending less time on screening and basically scheduling interviews without touching anything, a flurry of AI tools has taken away so many hours of repetitive work. Just imagine an entire process run repeatedly over thousands of cycles. Magic! This literally frees up so much of a recruiter’s time that they can then focus on creating real value talking to candidates, assessing the right person for the right role and discussing sourcing strategies, networking etc. While our recruiter is negotiating the best outcomes with candidates or stakeholders, AI is silently integrating and engaging with pretty much every social and professional network and then pulling out candidates that we think could be right for the job on paper. That’s some stealth mode at play.

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2. The world-famous HRIS (HR Information in Silos)

Around 20 years ago, I distinctly remember a people software that did a ‘show and tell’ of pretty much everything an employee wasn’t asking for. What’s worse, eventually when employees did want something, what HR would show wouldn’t amuse the employee either. It was a situation where employees would want to see their information in a particular way or want to make changes to the way their profile looked but all that was restrained and controlled by HR. Well, not that the platform blew our mind either. The UI was anything but..! So how do things stand today? Well, for starters, the power of information has shifted to employees and managers taking ownership of their data. Employees are able to view and access information around their development, review the progress of their tasks, with their colleagues on special occasions, nominate peer groups for the promotion and manage their own careers too. To assume that today, an HRIS platform in a company could look like a pseudo-Facebook page is not overstating things. The moment we made our tech open to the mainstream, disruption began from the outside-in and not vice versa. Today it’s terrific to hear HR folks talk about how tech has disrupted the way they carry out workforce planning or run recognition programs. Lesser HR people running people processes have made even our tech platform’s lives better.

3. Better data via better tech magnifies the importance of diversity and inclusion

McKinsey & Co.’s 2017 Diversity Matters report said that there’s a positive correlation between a more ethnically and gender-diverse leadership team and an increase in profits. Be it, consumers or investors, everyone’s looking at companies that put diversity on their value-map which then has a cascading effect on recruiting, pay, promotions and profits. In today’s polarized and sensitive climate, many companies are forced to think about inclusive practices. Failing to do so gets everyone to shine the light on such companies and then all those creepy-crawlies start falling out from their dark corners. With the use of technology and healthy analytics, organisations can access, what I call ‘dark data’ on fairness in pay, gender equality on performance, fairness in evaluations, the bias in recruiting and so many such dark data features. Now, not a lot of HR software vendors offer these solutions but as consumer, management and investor-pressure crank up a notch, we will begin to see real work around these topics but needless to say, even with the technological capabilities we possess, the information we’re able to retrieve today is unimaginable. This then helps us take corrective and maybe reactive steps for the first time but helps us build proactive measures for the long term.

4. Finally a more strategic role for HR

Now that you all know how I evolved from a cave-office to a rush-hour desk, I must admit that the HR function has also seen a substantial rise to the seat at the table where world-defining changes are discussed. There’s no doubt that technology has provided HR professionals tools that reduce the time they used to spend on administrative tasks, allowing them to focus on issues that require more strategic intervention.

From paper files to cloud-based files, the transition has been arduous but we have not relented either. By introducing cool-tech into the HR bloodstream, functions like recruitment, payroll, talent engagement, performance management, recognition etc. have significantly improved efficiency, accuracy and even employee morale.

As it stands, the lighthouse is guiding our ship pretty well. Now, if only we could get technology to solve our Rangoli effort.

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Satyajit Menon is a global people and change expert with over 18 years of experience, diversified across domains in consulting, technology and outsourcing, leading international assignments in North America, Europe, and Asia for some of the top Fortune 500 companies in the world. Satyajit is a certified commercial pilot and an Economics graduate from MG University, Kerala. He currently heads the global People Operations function with Innovaccer, a leading US healthcare data platform company based out of San Francisco. Satyajit has been instrumental in recognizing Innovaccer as among the top 150 healthcare companies to work for in 2019.

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