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HR Technology Is About the Work, Not HR. That and More HR Tech News

March 17, 2021 Digital Workplace
Mark Feffer
By Mark Feffer

HR technologies are blurring the line between the focus on the workforce and the work itself.

Meanwhile, vendors are paying increasing attention to how their products contribute to employee experience in ways that go beyond simple interface design. In the words of industry analyst Josh Bersin, founder of Oakland, Calif.-based Josh Bersin Academy, this all adds up to a shift from HR tech to “work tech,” and highlights the importance of technology tools to most anything that’s work-related.

In his annual report on HR technology, Bersin predicts this year’s industry focus will be on improving the employee experience through apps that are easy to use and integrate with existing tools. This “EX layer” includes communications, surveys, case and knowledge management, as well as platforms that simplify the building of new workflows, chatbots and portals. 

This represents a significant change in the HR tech landscape, Bersin said. The bloom is off the idea of systems that consist of siloed payroll, benefits administration and learning platforms tied into talent management solutions. Instead, vendors will work to develop their own idea of a single interface to learning, communications and collaboration.

“The overall strategy is to make more and more HR technology ‘disappear’— that’s to say, make it useful to employees, managers and leaders, and improve your overall employee experience,” Bersin said.

The COVID-19 pandemic has been a major impetus to this shift, Bersin believes. As the full impact of the crisis became evident in early 2020, employers recognized that their survival and growth depended on the health, well-being and productivity of their workforce. That realization turned employee experience into a company-wide value, Bersin said.  

The report also noted:

  • The emergence of in-house talent marketplaces that facilitate internal mobility, gig project work, mentoring and job sharing. “Companies in every industry segment now realize that a marketplace model for talent is far more powerful, useful and engaging than relying on managers to make all job decisions,” the report said.
  • An “explosion” of features to help companies with their efforts toward diverse hiring, diversity programs, confronting harassment and ensuring fairness at work. 
  • Increasing interest in platforms the help manage contingent workers. Bersin found that higher performing companies were almost three times more likely to use such technology.

ServiceNow Release Expands AI, Low-Code Tools

ServiceNow’s new release includes workforce optimization capabilities to help IT and customer service managers streamline their organization’s work, and a workplace monitor that tracks agent productivity in real time.

The Now Platform’s Quebec release expands the product’s native AI capabilities and low-code development tools while helping customers improve productivity and employee experience. In announcing the new version, ServiceNow said it anticipated a greater need for systems that can support distributed workforces and cross-functional workflows.

“In today’s challenging environment, organizations worldwide are pivoting fast, adopting new, distributed models of working and creating new workflow-enabled ways of operating with more agile, resilient, digital enterprise value chains,” said Chief Product Officer Chirantan “CJ” Desai.

As part of the release, the Santa Clara, Calif., company introduced Creator Workflows, which it said will allow users “at every technical skill level to build apps at speed.” Creator Workflows includes App Engine and IntegrationHub, ServiceNow’s low-code development tools. 

The release also included App Engine Studio, which offers a guided low-code visual development environment designed for users with no coding experience, and App Engine Templates, which provide access to pre-built workflow “building blocks.” These help users begin building apps without having to start from scratch.

Quebec leverages a unified platform and data model to help customers optimize business processes to identify and avoid bottlenecks and enable distributed work. A Workforce Optimization module provides a workspace for IT and customer service managers to work on optimizing productivity, and monitors agent productivity, workload and KPIs across multiple channels.

Asynchronous Communication Tools Quietly Move to Forefront of HR Tech

We haven’t seen any research reports on the “Outlook for Asynchronous Communications Tools in HR,” but interest in the idea seems to have steadily increased over the last year, from both employers and HR technology vendors.

On the face of it, this is counterintuitive. Messaging platforms and conversational interfaces have garnered a growing amount of attention among HR professionals, especially as the uptick in remote work made communications and collaboration more challenging.

But while many analysts and executives focus on the immediacy offered by tools like Slack and Microsoft Teams, hints are emerging that all those real-time messages are burying workers with too many tasks and too many messages, all of them coming too fast.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, collaboration platforms including Slack, Teams and Workplace from Facebook have seen a surge in popularity, according to The Wall Street Journal. Between January and April 2020, the average user increased their time on Slack from 85 minutes per day to about 120 minutes, the Journal said. Last March, instant messaging on Teams rose by 72%.

However, the “always-on” approach to work that these platforms facilitate — if not encourage — is encountering something of a backlash. At least some employers are reducing or even eliminating the pressure on their workers to be ready for a stream of chat messages and calls at any given moment, the Journal said.   

Instead, they’re looking more closely at asynchronous communications tools or, basically, messaging that’s not intended to generate an immediate response. Email is one example, although the term can apply to any product that delivers messages without pressing the recipient to provide an answer right away.

Executives say asynchronous communications gives users the opportunity to digest information and breathe, even as it offers options for more dynamic and more tailored messages. Paylocity users, for example, use its video-messaging tools to deliver company-wide and individual messages, performance management comments and training.

A number of HR technology vendors have added asynchronous communication tools in the last year or so, including SparkHire, Paradox, iCIMS and Phenom. Slack, too, is developing an asynchronous video feature, the Journal reported.

“I think this idea of flexible schedules and communication, which has been a big point of conversation [in 2020] will continue to be throughout 2021,” said Paylocity CEO Steve Beauchamp.

News Briefs

Visier announced a strategic partnership with PeopleFluent, which will make its analytics available as part of the talent management platform’s product. Visier’s tools are currently in beta testing for PeopleFluent customers, and the full application will be available later this year for mid-market and emerging growth clients.

JazzHR rolled out an integration partnership with payroll-management provider Gusto. Using the solution, mutual customers can send new-hire information directly to Gusto from JazzHR, creating payroll records, eliminating manual entry and automatically kicking off the onboarding process.

Recruiting platform SeekOut announced a $65 million Series B round led by Tiger Global Management. Existing investors Madrona Venture Group and Mayfield also participated. The investment brings SeekOut’s total funding to $73 million and reflects extensive growth since the company’s Series A round 21 months ago. It also gives SeekOut an estimated value of nearly $500 million. 

Freelance management platform Stoke Talent released a Worker Classification Engine designed to help employers identify high-risk independent contractor and freelancer relationships that might lead to misclassification penalties. The company said it’s the first product built to automatically track individual relationships for compliance with workforce classification laws.


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