Interview: how AI can empower more people-focused remote working
Could AI help put the ‘human’ back into ‘human resources’ for remote workers? Adam Harrold, CEO of conversational AI provider Humley, explains how technology could be the key to creating a more human-focused workplace.
Remote working has had a significant impact on employee wellbeing during the pandemic. While many employees are keen to continue working from home, HR teams now have to face the significant challenge of adapting their employee wellbeing offering to ensure they can continue to support their people, wherever they are in the future. AI could be the key to this transformation, according to Humley’s CEO, Adam Harrold.
AI hasn’t always been your personal area of focus, has it? Can you tell us a bit about your background and how/why you were attracted to this sector?
Adam: I have always worked within and been interested in technology, helping organisations to deploy solutions that were not just at the forefront of technology advancements, but also delivered true value.
Conversational AI has up until this point been very much focused on front-end processes such as customer service, delivering improved experiences and efficiencies. Very little has been done with the technology to offer the same benefits and experiences to HR teams and employees. Employees are after all, businesses’ internal customers. I realised that a lot of employee information and HR processes were contained within multiple and separate systems or very manual, leading to wasted time and frustration. Humley’s Digital HR Assistant was born out of this realisation and designed to help HR teams tackle these challenges and deliver enhanced experiences.
You recently conducted research into the lasting impact of Covid-19 on employee wellbeing. What are the main challenges employees and organisations have been facing?
Adam: Overall, the survey found that, unsurprisingly, the change to remote working has impacted employee’s wellbeing to some degree, with 69% stating they have been severely or moderately impacted. In addition, we found that 31% of employees are struggling with isolation and a lack of connectivity with their organisation and a further 31% are finding it difficult to balance their work and personal life, with 25% stating low motivation to be their biggest challenge.
Overall, the challenges faced by employees all have a similar theme of connecting with their organisation – not just from a technical point of view, but also from an engagement perspective. The pandemic has certainly had an impact on all of us and it is now a question of how we find solutions to keep those connections alive and make them stronger, even as we continue to work remotely and in an environment of great uncertainty. I think a lot more of HR’s focus will be on the strategies and tools they can use to facilitate this going forward.
Do you think our experiences this year will change the way HR teams oversee employee wellbeing in the future? How do you think they can improve things, based on what we’ve learned?
Adam: There’s a great demand for continued remote working; in fact, we found from our survey that 91% of employees want to continue working from home some or all of the time after the pandemic, so ensuring employees are not just productive but also looked after will be key. There has been so much uncertainty, both in the wider world and at work, so organisations now need to provide stability and clarity. How they achieve this is by providing employees with consistent communications, information and support.
Working from home clearly offers many advantages to organisations and individuals too. But what are the potential pitfalls, and how can HR teams avoid them?
Adam: In a traditional office environment, occasionally an employee’s role might require them to stay late or work additional hours to complete a specific project. This is something many employees are happy to do if it does not happen too frequently and because they can leave the office. When working remotely, there is no separation of the office and personal environments and it becomes increasingly difficult to ‘switch off’. Many employees find themselves working overtime, leading to additional stress, unhappiness and reduced productivity.
This is why communication becomes even more important when working from home. HR teams need to stay connected with people to ensure that employees have a better balance of personal and work time. Things like sending them notifications reminding them to take a break and to make sure they use their holiday allowance, or alerting team managers of excessive overtime (all of which can be done automatically using digital HR assistants, naturally!) can really help in this regard.
In doing so, HR teams can ensure employees have a better balance of personal and work time and help to improve overall wellbeing leading to happier and more engaged people regardless of where they are located.
In recent months, there has been a lot of focus on how to make organisations more ‘human focused’. How can HR teams balance this requirement with using AI for greater efficiency?
Adam: Being human focused means understanding the challenges faced by employees and being able to provide them with the support and information they need, whenever they need it.
Digital Assistants, for example, enable HR teams to better understand those needs, quickly identify potential issues and develop effective solutions before they become widespread.
The HR Assistant might be receiving a high number of requests from employees asking about a holiday allowance or trying to book time off. This could indicate high levels of stress across the workforce, which may ultimately lead to people leaving or long-term illness. The Assistant can trigger an automatic message to the HR or team manager to reach out to the employees to check in on them.
Through better visibility and analysis of data, HR teams can more easily identify trends, whilst still delivering efficiencies. Ultimately it’s about freeing up the HR professionals’ time to focus on the human side, and have those conversations with the people who need it the most.
If AI can carry out many of the tasks currently undertaken by HR professionals, such as handling employee enquiries, onboarding, benefits etc., how will the roles and function of these people change?
Adam: The HR role will become even more vital to organisations as we move to more remote and isolated working. Technology applications such as conversational AI are great tools for providing employees with on demand support and information, however, they do not replace interpersonal and empathetic traits that are intrinsic to the HR role. They should therefore be used to augment HR teams, freeing them up from repetitive administration tasks to focus on dealing with complex and sensitive issues, building relationships with employees and developing support structures for the workforce in the coming years. Ultimately, technology will help to put the human back into HR by giving them the ability to focus on what matters most – a company’s employees.
The pandemic accelerated digital transformation for businesses, but a lot of what has been put in place up to now has probably been ‘quick fix’ solutions. Once the dust has settled, what would be your advice for companies looking to shore up their digital transformation strategy for the future?
Adam: Typically, many digital transformation projects are led by technology and IT teams, and it is these people who have been essential in finding these ‘quick fix’ solutions. Many of these are not sustainable in the long term, however, because of a misalignment of goals with functional teams such as HR. In order for digital transformation projects to be successful and scalable for the future, there must be a greater understanding of the business case, the impact and outcomes needed by the functional stakeholders and users. Through working together and really identifying the true business case, new technology deployments will gain greater adoption leading to improved systems, efficiencies, and ultimately enhanced employee experiences.
Find out more about how AI can help HR teams support more people-focused remote working and view the full survey findings from Humley.
Becky is Editor of HRZone and Trainingzone, global online communities of people working in the HR and L&D industries. Becky works closely with leading HR and L&D practitioners and decision makers to ensure the publications offer a rich source of real-world insight and fresh advice to their audience.
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