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Employers must adopt new mindset to evolving workplace technology

Dive into the transformative impact of evolving workplace technology and the imperative for employers to embrace agility and innovation.

Successfully adapting to the modern and future workplace requires a complete change in mindset towards rapidly evolving technology by employers and employees, according to research*.

A White Paper by Elizabeth Judson, head of client experience at AfterAthena, part of the Napthens Group, says businesses wanting to thrive must adopt an agile approach to innovation and the introduction of new and emerging technologies, securing buy-in from their workforce while maintaining the culture of their business.

Entitled Technology and the Future of Work, the research also shows that HR professionals are at the epicentre of ongoing technological change and the implementation of strategies to adapt to future technologies.

It reviews the changing technological landscape of the UK workplace, assesses challenges arising and proposes strategies for employers to embrace opportunities presented by new technologies, while managing risk and helping staff to adjust to unprecedented change.

Citing reports and pieces of research, Elizabeth highlights that while Artificial Intelligence (AI), robotics and automated equipment had a positive impact on jobs overall, the increasing use of technology will also have an uneven effect on different sectors, locations and demographic groups including young people, low earners, women and those with lower levels of education.

Addressing ethical and legal aspects and challenges of changing technology, Elizabeth considered:

  • job transformation – research by Patrick Brione, head of policy and research at the Involvement and Participation Association (at the time of publication), showed that while many new jobs will be created, they won’t necessarily be in the same locations, sectors or skillsets as those being lost, therefore impacting certain segments of the population adversely

  • surveillance, monitoring and privacy – focused on algorithms being used by employers to coerce and control their workers in a way that’s impossible to detect

  • bias and unfairness in AI and algorithms – Rachael Levene, barrister at 9 St John Street Chambers, warned that using AI in HR tasks including recruiting, onboarding and performance management depersonalises the relationship and may contain hidden biases and prejudices

  • Rachael also highlighted challenges in defending automated decisions by employers at employment tribunal claims for discrimination e.g. an employer trying to defend a claim without understanding the information the AI tool has been trained on

  • employee wellbeing and mental health – Patrick Brione found that one third of UK employees couldn’t switch off in their personal time, with 40 per cent checking their work mobile or emails at least five times a day outside working hours.

On the impact of technological innovation on HR specifically, Elizabeth focused on ‘dramatic change’ including so-called ‘phygital’ experiences – the merging of physical and digital experiences – and that although digital transformation is revolutionising HR, a human touch remains essential.

Ways in which emerging technologies are being incorporated positively into HR include:

  • algorithms to automate and enhance HR decisions including in recruitment, redundancy selection and performance management

  • people analytics and data driven decision making

  • AI automation – AI tools help HR teams to recruit staff, assess how employees feel and support HR functions including performance management and redundancy selection

  • learning and development – using Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) to train staff in high-risk tasks, data analytics to track engagement, course completion rates and knowledge retention and AI tools to create tailored learning materials

  • using AI to monitor employees and their activity.

Elizabeth’s assessment of the core role of HR professionals in implementing strategies for the future technological landscape included research by the Chartered Institute of Personnel Development (CIPD) which said: “People professionals have a critical role to play in informing decisions on technology investments and how it will be implemented.

“They need to keep up to date with the rapid developments in this field, rely on robust evidence and proactively engage with critical organisational stakeholders to share a people-focused technology strategy.”

The CIPD stressed that HR professionals have to be ‘critical friends’ and act as a ‘sounding board’ where technology might impact jobs, with a place in the boardroom to ensure an active leadership role in all discussions about workplace technology that could affect workers and their jobs.

Strategies for HRs to successfully manage technological transformation recommended by Elizabeth include:

  • staying informed about technological trends

  • networking and collaboration

  • monitoring legal and regulatory changes to technological adaptation and advancement and complying with requirements

  • ongoing training and upskilling

  • enhancing data literacy skills

  • using technology to develop a holistic approach to health and wellbeing such as flexible working

  • introducing workplace policies on the acceptable use of generative AI

  • plan to introduce algorithms while ensuring that a human manager has final responsibility for workplace decisions and agreeing standards on their ethical use around bias, fairness, surveillance and accuracy

  • workplace monitoring – train line managers to heed staff needs and concerns, with employers being open and transparent about such monitoring

  • be vigilant about cyber security threats and best practices and educate employees to protect sensitive information.

In conclusion, Elizabeth said: “Successful adaptation to the modern and future workplace requires a complete change in mindset, for both employer and employee. The working world is changing rapidly and is likely to continue to do so.

“Therefore, an agile approach to innovation and the introduction of new and emerging technologies is key, as is a willingness for continuous learning.

“Employers need to secure buy-in from the workforce and, to do this, they need to both involve employees in decision-making and share the benefit of any increased productivity arising from the introduction of new technologies.”

* AfterAthena

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