Way back in 2015, Deloitte estimated that 76 per cent of the UK population had a smartphone. Furthermore, they added, more than half used them while on public transport, while shopping or at work. More recent surveys suggest that market penetration among the 16-34 age group is as high as 91 per cent.
Why am I telling you this? For the simple reason that it clearly shows that the smartphone is potentially the single most powerful and ubiquitous piece of technology we all possess. So why isn’t it being harnessed by HR? Because I believe it could – and can - transform HR in ways we are only just beginning to explore.
Much has been said of the transformative power of technology, not least in enabling HR to perform faster, smarter and more efficiently. However, much of this comment still assumes a nine to five, office-based workplace. As we know, the boundaries of work and play have broken down. In London the arrival of the 24 hour Tube is seen as a clear indicator of the arrival of the 24 hour economy. For many employees, an office has never been a place of work, let alone one they visit at fixed hours from Monday to Friday. For many others, such as drivers on everything from buses to long distance lorries, and workers in all manner of other industries, the concept of the ‘office’ have never existed at all. Working from home is also now well established, with many people spending several days a week working away from a ‘traditional’ office.
Keeping in touch with ‘mobile’ workers has never been easy. But even keeping in touch with those whose working world is a PC in the corner of a glass and steel building has its challenges. Take workplace surveys. Yes, the technology exists to generate and distribute excellent surveys to find out the answers to all manner of workplace questions. But you still have to follow them up, and technology or no technology that isn’t always easy. Not only that, but you’re generally expected to complete them while your sat at your desk during ‘office hours’. That’s not always the most convenient time for an employee already faced with several other tasks that require their attention, let alone one steering a truck across Europe’s motorway network.
And what happens if your business is spread across several different geographical sites? Even across different time zones? Perhaps a manufacturing site in one location, a management facility in yet another?
Enter the smartphone app. Using an app you can not only create your survey and send it out to the relevant employees, but they can complete that survey anywhere or at any time they like. Unlike other surveys, the technology also allows you to cut the response data anyway you wish – at office, department or team level. You can even use joining dates if that helps you understand the results better. And because employees can do the survey on their phone wherever they are – even while they grab their breakfast coffee and a roll - engagement is also likely to be much, much higher.
Now add to that all manner of other functions: news about the business, changes in working practices, vital policy documentation – all can now not only be distributed, but comment and reactions to these can be sent back in real time, and those reactions examined, assessed and further acted upon, if necessary. Need to report a health and safety issue? Simple, use the app on your phone – even take a photograph and download it – and you’ll have that issue logged and be able to follow the progress of any action taken with updates sent directly back to your phone.
Many professions need regular access to important policy documents, such as those in financial services, or the medical or pharmaceutical sectors. Not only can various tags be added to make accessing these quick and easy, but when new documents are issued you can track who has or has not read them and chase up those who may require a gentle reminder.
Mobile technology has transformed everything from the way we consume media to the way we share almost every aspect of our private lives. With app technology it can now take that transformation into the workplace itself – and in ways which look and feel so familiar to each and every smartphone user. The applications themselves can be tailored and branded to meet whatever need a business might have in whatever sector it might operate.
Not only is mobile technology quicker, more efficient, more secure, and potentially more inclusive, but it’s also more engaging. Empowerment is a popular concept, but what could be more empowering than putting so much potential to change straight into the hands – quite literally – of every one of your employees wherever they are and whatever they do? It’s a smart revolution that’s happing right now in your jacket pocket, your briefcase, at the bus stop, on the train, wherever your employees are, and whenever they are ready to engage with it. Now that really is empowering, isn’t it?
Justin Howard is managing director of Epic Software