Post lockdown, HRs must accommodate a workforce used to remote working, with the requirement to bring employees together in one space for a more cohesive business environment. Faced with reluctance from some team members to return to the office, HRs may wish remote working platforms never existed, but technology will aid the transition back to the workplace and shape its future direction.
Enabling a gradual return
Today, people want to work from home part time and visit the office sporadically. HR professionals often accommodate returning teams by providing ad-hoc resources, typically a hot desk. Yet a hot desk only used to two thirds of its capacity isn’t cost effective, and more efficient working arrangments must be created. Furthermore, a hybrid workforce will experience changing work environments, sometimes by the day, and HRs need the digital means to communicate and manage this change. Therefore, smarter solutions are needed, characterised by cost-effective shared working spaces supplying concierge services, catering, hospitality, green spaces, incident reporting, readily available meeting rooms and work spaces available on demand. Offices must also be places employees should want to spend time in again, aided by the tools and faciliaties they need to respond to changing circumstances. Digital tools will therefore help communicate with, and organise a returning hybrid workforce, enabling a frictionless return to work.
Employee service 2.0
HR software enables efficient solutions for employees to log and resolve challenges such as cleaning rotas, timesheets, expenses, billing hours and timetabling. Self Service portals have also become more user-friendly. Outdated software is being replaced by smartphone applications, becoming the cornerstone of employee self-reporting to HRs. Yet, even the most tech-savvy employee needs help with management software, which is why simple single form software is best, enabling HRs to focus more on the more human facing, customer centric roles.
Smart building solutions utilising the internet of things (IoT) are experiencing a huge growth, as businesses are storing and managing complex data on how and when offices are used. Smart sensors can process real-time information on the occupancy of a parking slot, a meeting room and a hot desk, and can help remedy absences or overbookings. Indeed, the sensors can be set to free the booking after a few minutes in the event of an attendee absence. According to Allied Market Research, the global smart office industry is estimated to reach $90.63 billion by 2030, witnessing a CAGR of 11.1% from 2021 to 2030. Advanced data analytics enabled by IoT will help managers and HRs to make investment decisions about the space they rent by enabling predictive measurements relating to building use.
Smart contracts existing on the blockchain could streamline payroll and HR functions. The technology is still in its infancy, but it could enable more cyber-secure contracts and speed up the pace of document exchange and payments, particularly to contractors. JP Morgan’s Quorum platform, a version of Ethereum blockchain, was trialled to offer faster royalty payments to game developers. Smart contracting could potentially cut back-office costs, giving HRs more time to manage employees.
AI is providing HR professionals with new ways to anticipate and resolve the challenges of the modern workplace. In time, Artificial Intelligence will use wider data gathered by functional ESS systems and integrated smart building infrastructure. In the next two or three years, widespread adoption of AI is expected to allow companies to offer employees personalised support around the clock, managing the hybrid office with unparalleled efficiency. Controversially, perhaps, AI may also in time be used to screen and interview employees and measure productivity. In any event, I would always advocate AI to be human-lead, and the soft skills and empathy deployed by HR managers will remain essential.
New problems, new solutions
HR teams must now wrestle with serious health concerns, mixed-use occupancy and varying working hours on top of existing obligations. Smarter tech is not a quirky luxury of the modern metropolitan office but a necessity for staying on top of change as it happens. Smarter ways to gather and analyse information have always been at the heart of HR innovation. As our leaders look to make sense of an ever-complexifying world, it will be technology that has the power to be the difference between an obstacle managed and an opportunity wasted.
Eliane Lugassy is CEO and co-founder of Witco. After studying business law and obtaining a degree from ESSEC, she began her career at Rothschild & Co in Paris on Mergers and Acquisitions. She accompanied several real estate projects, including the sale of the “Cœur Défense” building. In 2016...