The digital workforce

Leading organisations are discovering valuable benefits from going digital with HR service delivery. However, exciting times lie ahead as companies learn to use the latest technologies to drive workforce performance to the next level.

The 21st century workforce

The workforce is changing and is increasingly mobile. ADP Research Institute estimates that in 2010, 1 billion people were working remotely worldwide. The popularity of teleworking is fueling this trend. Despite Yahoo’s much publicised recent policy change, it looks like the ROWE (Results Orientated Work Environment) is here to stay.

Unsurprisingly, this distributed workforce wants to work with the latest mobile devices and applications, which have become ubiquitous in other walks of life. Smart phones and tablets are just part of the picture. Social media applications, like Facebook and LinkedIn, have radically changed the way we communicate.

A quiet revolution

These trends create fascinating challenges for managers and HR professionals and many have been quick to seize the opportunities presented.

The first step has been the rollout of smartphones to all grades, not just the management suite. BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) has accelerated this process. Devices can be used simply for e-mail, texting and accessing company information – valuable for knowledge workers and front-line service providers.

The new devices have also converged with pre-existing ones used by in specific jobs, such as field service engineers and delivery drivers.

The HR self service concept, which evolved in the 1990’s with kiosks and intranet sites, has naturally extended to take advantage of smart phones. For example, employees in forward-looking organisations can now use smartphones to submit expenses, apply for leave or view payroll.

Another fast developing area is the use of social media for talent management. The “Jobvite Social Recruiting Survey” reports 92% of companies use or plan to use social recruiting.

Just the start

These transactional processes are just the start. Social media is being used in even more exciting and potentially valuable ways to drive performance. Given the rapid adoption of data analytics, there is clear potential for mobile devices being used for circulating performance data to managers and their staff.

Managers can now take this further, by supporting employees with learning and development material that will help them perform better. With powerful smartphones and fast 4G networks, video looks set to become the next big thing in the provision of knowledge sharing and learning resources.

HR services, delivered through digital platforms, have the additional potential to provide quantifiable data on the effectiveness of HR investments. Imagine a sales professional who receives regular analytics showing that he is underperforming. He accesses the company on-line development resource. Over the next few weeks his performance starts to improve. All of this data can be made available, allowing the HR function to demonstrate the financial value generated by the on-line training resource.

However the value of digital technologies can go beyond specific applications to creating a new, more fluid, way of managing peoples’ performance.

Many companies have adopted collaboration tools such as Huddle to empower distributed workgroups. A few others have taken things further and introduced internal social networking platforms such as Tibbr and Yammer.

These platforms have the potential to facilitate workforce performance in unexpected ways, particularly in the hands of managers who are familiar with social networking tools. For example, group targets can be given a new level of immediacy and shared purpose. Workgroups can provide real-time information on progress and managers can intervene to provide training and encouragement just when it is needed.

We are already seeing this in sales environments. However, it is equally applicable to front line service staff, for example in call centres or field operations.

Challenges can be overcome

There are obviously some challenges associated with adopting digital solutions, but there are signs that these may be easier to overcome than was once the case.

Data security is a big worry for many mangers, but the latest devices have advanced features to overcome this concern. These include: on-device passwords and data encryption; partitioning of corporate and personal applications and data; remote device kill and data deletion; and over the air data encryption.

Another big concern is that some workers, who are less familiar with social media, may not see the value of these new tools and be reluctant to adopt them. As a colleague put it – “teaching people to drive before giving them a company car”.

However, there are examples of digital solutions that have been taken up extremely quickly, even by the most traditional workforces, particularly when there is a clear benefit for the employee. For example a group of railway employees with a reputation for resisting change were asked to adopt a new smartphone app for leave applications. Leave was granted on a first come first serve basis and the employees were given the option of applying for leave using the new app or sticking with the old paper forms. There were some initial grumblings, but it quickly became apparent that leave applications from the app were being processed much quicker than the paper forms. Those using the app were getting the best leave days. As a result, all employees were using the new system within a few weeks.

The author, Alan Erskine is the Managing Partner of Adventis Consulting and a specialist in human capital management. He works at the intersection of HR, Operations and IT, facilitating new workforce management strategies, implementing technology and enabling change. This article appeared in the Spring 2013 edition of Moving Minds – the Adventis Consulting newsletter.