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HR should use tech to empower employees

Technology is critical in helping HR drive change at work, according to Andrea Winfield, UK HR director at Microsoft

Speaking on day one of the 2019 HRD Summit, Winfield said: “Today the mission of our founder Bill Gates, who 40 years ago wanted each of us to have our own PC at our desk, might seem redundant. When we think about how much technology has fundamentally changed our working lives, and our relationships, we know that we’re really just getting started."

Winfield outlined five of the most significant human capital trends HR needs to think about: the war for talent, flexible working, the rise of AI and machine learning, diversity and inclusion, and a need for purpose and culture as currency.

She stressed that these are no longer predictions, but trends that are having a dramatic impact on business today: “When we think about D&I, for instance, this is something we can no longer afford to pay lip service to. With research showing that 80% of employees think D&I is an important factor in the workplace, and 70% stating that they would leave an organisation if they found somewhere that was more inclusive, we need to act now.”

Microsoft has taken steps to address this problem by overhauling its recruitment process, Winfield said. “We decided to really widen the net in terms of hiring people, and, when skills can be scarce, instead of asking ourselves ‘why should we hire this person?’ we changed that thinking to ‘why not hire this person?’”

She also acknowledged that the organisation had become "increasingly fragmented". To tackle this it introduced a single online hub where employees would be able to better communicate.

To empower employees, Winfield added that HR could tackle productivity ‘myths’ in the workplace by offering personalised data showing staff how they spend their time: “We feel that being able to diffuse myths and debunk urban legends is a really important part of bringing about organisational change. We have made data decisions, including bringing in a personal ‘productivity coach’ for employees, [myself] included, which will show exactly where your time is going and how to use it more effectively.’”

The software company has also introduced measures to steer it away from transactional HR, including using technology to deal with time-consuming written requests from employees: “We used to receive around 5,000 letter requests from employees about travel alone, which is now automated. These changes might sound small but it’s an example of how HR can use AI to make life easier.”

Despite headlines predicting job losses, HR should ultimately see these trends as an exciting opportunity for the profession to progress, she concluded: “I know that when we talk about digital transformation it can seem terrifying. But this isn’t just a time to think about work but to really examine our own profession to look at what we are doing, and what we need to change. And that’s extremely exciting too.”