Platform Integrations Point the Way Forward for HR
Recently, Lindon, Utah-based BambooHR announced an integration with Slack meant to improve handling of time-off requests, simplify calculation of time-off balances and easily access employee directories, all from within the Slack app.
Integrating collaboration tools and HR solutions is something of a theme across the HR tech industry landscape this year. Why? “Slack is where the work happens," said Ryan Sanders, BambooHR’s chief product officer. “The BambooHR Slack app has been one of the most requested integrations by our customers."
Since the pandemic began, employers have embraced a variety of tools to facilitate work, remote or otherwise. Some of these were purpose-designed applications, while others were solutions basically drafted from other uses. That’s been good news for companies that offer communications and collaboration tools, such as Slack and Microsoft and Google.
Integration to Make Workflow Easier
But let’s focus on Slack. The idea of it being, essentially, a hands-on workplace tool dovetails nicely with much of the HR tech world’s current chatter. Industry executives and analysts continually talk about “meeting users where they are” and providing solutions “in the flow of work.” Sanders’ view of “Slack is where the work happens” fits right in.
These integrations aren’t particularly sexy on the face of it. After all, we’re talking about making tools and information available through the text-like interface of Slack or Microsoft Teams, not distributing high-resolution video or virtual reality learning programs.
But these integrations are welcome because they make the user’s life easier. BambooHR, for example, said its Slack integration will streamline HR logistics for both employees and managers. It will do that by, among other things, helping employees manage time-off requests, see who’s out of the office and look up employee information. Managers benefit from being notified when new requests or timesheets are ready for their review.
To further simplify life, BambooHR built the app with a natural language engine. That allows users to type in what they want to do using plain language instead of Slack’s native slash commands. BambooHR and Slack said all of this saves time that was previously spent on manual data entry or shifting between multiple applications, another common theme among HR solutions firms.
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Creating an Operating System for Work
This isn’t the first integration between Slack and an HR technology provider. The company has a variety of connections in place that allow access to platforms such as UKG and Workday. Because it does a neat job of enabling both internal and external communications, Slack’s often described as an important contributor to culture and experience. It also gets high marks for its ability to integrate with other enterprise applications. In other words, it’s a good partner.
The company’s also thrown itself into the HR world’s challenges. When it rolled out new features in July, including real-time voice chat, a number of commentators said the release was a sign of increased competition among companies that provide collaboration tools to support the hybrid workforce.
By simplifying conversations and information exchange among dispersed teams, Slack has benefitted from the pandemic’s impact on business. When its San Francisco neighbor Salesforce announced its acquisition of the company in December 2020 for $27.7 billion, it positioned the transaction as creating an “operating system for the new way to work.”
At the time of the merger, The Wall Street Journal quoted Salesforce COO Bret Taylor as saying his company saw the world as “fundamentally having shifted” because of the pandemic. “Slack is really the system of engagement for every employee, every partner and for every customer interaction,” he said.
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Still Room to Improve Employee Experience
Technology is supposed to make life better anyway you look at it — in terms of productivity, experience, quality or pretty much wherever it’s applied. But a study by the UK-based digital work platform Qatalog and the Ellis Ideas Lab at Cornell University reports that, in fact, the impact of digital tools at work isn’t always so positive.
Employees waste an hour each day trying to find information buried within their apps, the study found. Six in 10 people say it’s hard to know what colleagues are doing at any given time. And 43% say they spend too much time switching between apps. Productivity software, it seems, is cheating workers out of time, focus and creativity.
“There’s been an explosion in the number of apps we rely on to do our jobs, but the result isn’t greater productivity. It’s total chaos,” said Qatalog CEO Tariq Rauf. Each tool is “adding to a noisy digital environment that is, quite literally, driving workers to distraction.” All the time spent on navigating technical tools takes away from users’ efforts to engage with colleagues or even think, he said.
And despite the preponderance of tools in the workplace, employees still turn to co-workers when they need information, rather than access it directly. Typically, they interrupt at least two people to find what they need, and they do it up to five times a day. That ends up generating more messages, calls and interruptions.
The mechanics of juggling multiple apps is problematic, as well. Forty-three percent of workers report spending too much time switching between different tools, whether they’re cycling through tabs or sifting through messaging channels. Forty-five percent say such context switching makes them less productive.
The impact of all this? According to the Harvard Business Review, 89% of workers say their work life is becoming more difficult. Meantime, 70% believe there could be more efficient ways of using technology to get work done, according to the Qatalog research.
That, in essence, is the problem companies like Slack, Microsoft and Google are working to address. Communications must be simplified and technical tools should be easier to use. Both help HR do a better job but, just as importantly, both contribute to a positive employee experience.
That’s why organizations need to design a comprehensive tech system that delivers a consistent experience on a day-to-day basis, and does it within their workers’ routines.
About the Author
Mark Feffer is a journalist who focuses on HR technology and workforce data.