Futureproofing HR – digital skills or back to the fax?

I’m in the process of switching away from Microsoft’s ubiquitous Windows operating system to a new Mac. It’s something I’ve been pondering for a while and the need for a new laptop has prompted the change. It’s going pretty well so far, considering I have used Windows for all of my computer-using life to date (yes, I am old enough to remember a life before Windows!). True, there are some things I can do on Windows with my eyes closed that have been a bit of a struggle on a Mac. Like find the “@” symbol. OR even the “ symbol! But, by and large, I have adapted and I’m starting to get used to the fact there is no “Delete” button. I’m actually loving the Retina screen, which reminds me of the first time I saw programmes in HD and could see through the presenters’ make up. I’m also enjoying the speedy start up, the lack of productivity-sapping “please wait while Windows…..” and the sheer coolness of Apple’s sleek design.

So what’s the point of this extended Apple advert? Well it got me thinking about HR (as most things do, obviously). As you can probably tell from my opening paragraph, I generally approach new technology with geekish excitement and a desire to learn new things. I love the challenge of finding new ways of doing old things and – especially – new things I didn’t even know I wanted to do. It strikes me that HR is at this point now. I’ve heard the phrase “inflection point” used before about where we are as a profession and it strikes a chord with me.

We all know the world of work is changing. We’re told it often enough. We have that daft phrase “VUCA” rammed down our throats at every conference and gathering we go to. But the fact is that technology is changing the world. And from where I’m sitting, a good deal of fellow HR professionals seem to be in denial about that, preferring instead to sit back and think that they don’t need to understand that stuff – it’s all for IT or Comms to worry about.

Technology is shaping our world right now. There have been so many changes in our daily experience of life, it’s almost difficult to keep up. I’m typing this on a train. When I started travelling for business a few (ahem) years ago, the people around me would have their faces buried in newspapers or magazines. Every single one of the people I can see when I look up currently has a mobile phone in their hand. Every Single One. The woman in front of me is answering emails. The guy across from me is on Facebook. How we communicate has changed fundamentally. How we consume entertainment has changed fundamentally. The impact of technology is not just a recent thing. Think about the shift in retail over the past fifty years. We’ve gone from a guy behind a counter taking products off a shelf at our request, through self-service and self-scan to Amazon Dash, where you simply press a wi-fi enabled button in your home to order your groceries.

Still think this stuff doesn’t have implications for HR?

If we want to futureproof the profession we have to up our technology and digital skills right now. What hope will we have of understanding the implications of things like advanced robotics and AI if we haven’t grasped the basics of digital communication and social media? HR people need to get to grips with the communication machinery of the world – not just the world of work – in 2016. We have seen how the so-called “consumerisation” of corporate ICT has happened as people now expect as much from their tech at work as they do from their domestic smart phones, tablets and cloud storage. We can’t wait until it’s too late or we’ll go the way of the typing pool, fax machine and dictation tape. Redundant tech that no-one needs any more.

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