We all remember the day we were sent home from work for the last time in 2020. As offices across the country shut down, employees packed up their workstations, likely anticipating a return in a week or two. But more than a year and a half later, plenty of those employees still havent returned to those desks, and our collective work world now exists almost entirely within our computer screens.
At the beginning of the pandemic, it was estimated that 37% of all jobs in the U.S. could be done remotely, according to a 2020 white paper by the Becker Friedman Institute for Economics at the University of Chicago. But at the time, just a 7% of American workers had ever worked in a completely remote setting.
Today, of course, all thats changed. Now, 52% of workers have performed their job from home, according to a recent survey from Gallup. That statistic is only anticipated to grow, made possible by the workforces ability to embrace tech tools that allowed the office to easily transition to a virtual world.
Read more: Are HRs efforts to adapt to the new normal falling short?
Workers reactions to this shift have been largely positive throughout the COVID-19 crisis: 82% of remote employees agree that they have the technology needed to stay connected to their manager and team, according to data from employee success software site Quantum Workplace. And as for productivity, 78% of remote employees say theyve been highly engaged over the past 20 months, compared to 72% of on-site employees.
This forced adoption of technology has touched every corner of the workplace, but its revolutionized certain disciplines and departments across companies, changing the way we engage, hire and support our workforce. Now, theres no going back.
How tech made human resources more humanFor HR executives, the foundation had already been laid for a tech-driven revolution but COVID provided the incentive for leaders to truly embrace these tools.
The push to cloud-based ERP (enterprise resource planning) platforms was already in place, says Chris Michalak, CEO of technology solutions platform Virgin Pulse. The use of technology from a recruiting and talent acquisition perspective, the ability to manage benefits was there. [The pandemic provided] an acceleration of how tech is used in HR.
In 2022, 15% of organizations plan to decrease their spend on traditional HR technology by an average of 23%, accord- ing to Sapient Insights Groups most recent HR Systems Survey. But another 28% plan to increase investments in more forward-thinking, nontraditional HR technology, such as remote-working tools and infrastructure.
Thirty-five percent of respondents said at least half of their workforces will continue to work remotely after COVID subsides. Technology made it possible to keep the workplace afloat throughout the pandemic, from applications such as Zoom and Slack to the use of AI and social media in recruiting. Now that more companies are choosing to stay remote, it will be up to HR tech to evolve to support new needs.
"The next challenges are, how does HR manage the onboarding process for people in a highly virtual world and how do we manage benefits in a more centralized fashion, Michalak says. Being able to figure out ways to connect people using virtual technologies while making sure that youre creating a cohesive cultural experience for new team members that join your company I think thats going to be absolutely crucial going forward.
Read more: The future of primary care benefits is virtual
In the past, companies relied on such resources as onsite healthcare clinics and benefits forums to engage with employees, but much of that is going to go away, Michalak says. Companies will be much more reliant on technology to present their benefits to people and make sure they understand whats available to them to manage their physical and mental health needs.
Its going to cause HR functions to focus more highly on, wheres the right place to incorporate tech, he says. And how to enable people to use it really effectively.
Recruiting gets smart, DEI efforts get realThe definition of what it means to attract and retain diverse talent has changed in a digital environment, and the proliferation of technology has created more opportunities to be intentional and mindful about how and who we hire.
The pandemic-induced labor shortage has spotlighted one of the harshest recruiting realities that has long been hiding in plain sight: there is an overwhelming amount of untapped minority talent in applicant pools, and those candidates have been systematically ignored in traditional hiring scenarios. But technology can help bridge that gap.
The tools have always been available, according to Vaishali Shah, vice president of diversity and inclusion at Randstad Sourceright. The pandemic pushed businesses to embrace them.
The pandemic sort of made it a situation where theres no choice, she says. Before, companies chose to [use less technology] or chose to use more. Now, its as if you have to use the technology and you cant ignore what the technology is telling you. If theres data in front of you, its no longer opinions, its no longer debatable. You can actually see what your process is driving.
Despite an uptick in company-wide DEI initiatives, discrimination in recruiting is still rampant on average, applications from candidates with a perceived Black name got fewer callbacks compared to similar applicants with a perceived white name, according to a recent study by economists at the University of California, Berkeley and the University of Chicago. As more companies look to streamline their recruit- ing process, many of the tools at their disposal are also aimed at tackling discrimination.
Technology has helped to take a lot of human bias out of interviewing, Shah says.
Read more: Open enrollment needs a makeover. Heres how to boost engagement and benefits utilization
For example, LinkedIn launched a blind resume function that hides an applicants name and face in an effort to look out for underrepresented communities. As working from home has been widely accepted, more companies are opening up opportunities to talent with disabilities or chronic illnesses that had previously excluded them from physical workspaces.
[Virtual recruiting] has made it a lot more accessible for people with disabilities to learn about jobs, engage with companies, match up to positions and then actually get selected for positions, Shah says, noting that human bias can often be eliminated. Technology just pulls out the most relevant pieces [of a resume].
Eighty-six percent of HR professionals feel as if recruitment has become more like marketing, according to a recent study from Glassdoor. Theyre not wrong: 82% of job seekers consider a companys brand and reputation before even applying, according to CareerArcs 2021 Future of Recruiting. And a recent report by Arizent, EBNs parent company, found that 64% of employees are less interested in working for a company that shows evidence of a lack of diversity.
Which means that recruiting and leveraging the tech to do it equitably will remain top priority for employers.
Mental health gets its own toolkit When the pandemic first hit, unlike with HR tech and recruiting, technology was actually, in part, to blame for the wide- spread decline in employees mental health.
The CDC cited fear, uncertainty and isolation as leading factors that led to 40% of adults struggling with mental health. But as peoples lives went online and homes doubled as offices, the boundaries between work and life came dangerously close to disappearing, and employees struggled to cope.
Everything has changed about the way that we work how we approach work, how we think of benefits, how we think of serving our employees, says Anna Dearmon Kornick, head of community at Clockwise, a virtual time management platform. From a mental health perspective, its about be- ing aware of what work-life balance looks like and what that means to your team members.
Since the onset of the pandemic, time spent in meetings has increased by about 29%. Seventy-seven percent of employees say they have experienced burnout and 91% say having an unmanageable amount of stress or frustration negatively impacts the quality of their work, according to a recent survey by advisory services company, Deloitte.
Read more: These tech tools show employees their health is your priority
As a result, theres been a 154% spike in the use of employer-sponsored telehealth offerings to manage mental health. Companies including Starbucks and Hewlett Packard have expanded their benefits to include free therapy, meditation and wellness apps, and even access to a virtual vegetable garden. As of June 2021, mental wellness platform Ginger saw a 410% increase in users accessing therapy and psychiatry services, compared to pre-COVID levels.
Were having to be more intentional about communication and collaboration than ever before, Dearmon Kornick says allows employees to schedule meetings of Clockwise, which as well as down-time. Making sure that our team members know they can designate their working hours and designate their meeting hours to make sure that they have protected time for doing the work helps keep n eye on the potential for burnout.
Clockwise also delivers insights to managers on how their employees are spending their time. Should an employee be clocking too many hours of meetings and not enough time for themselves, managers will be alerted and have the opportunity to reach out before the issue gets out of hand.
Without a healthy workforce, we cant get the work done, Dearmon Kornick says. The best way to protect the mental health of employees is to decide: what does your flexible work policy look like? Be clear in communicating that policy to en- able that future to be successful not just for a company, but to be successful for the members of the team.
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