What is Automation in HR (And Where Will it Lead Us)?

HR Insights for Professionals

HR Insights for ProfessionalsThe latest thought leadership for HR pros

Monday, December 16, 2019

Learn more about how automation is transforming Human Resources and creating efficiencies across the function. Discover how to bring robotics to life in your organization.

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Maybe it seems counter-intuitive – suggesting robotics and automation for processes that are fundamentally about people. The way the world is moving however, there is a definite trend across all parts of business, including HR, to explore how automation can change the way we do things.

For a Human Resources team, automation and computer programming tasks and operations can bring cutting edge technology to what can sometimes be seen as a paper based, slower moving and policy driven part of the business. But have no fear, common sense, and research, has shown that there are some HR processes that cannot be automated and even those that can will still need a human touch.

What is automation in HR?

As with other areas of business, automation has found its way to the Human Resources department. Enterprise content management (ECM) software can be used to automate mundane and repetitive tasks without sacrificing the quality of the work involved. This can involve:

  • Importing documents to the correct places
  • Organizing them into a coherent system where they are easy to find
  • Maintaining files in a standard format that is optimized for sharing (across different devices and between employees)
  • Archiving files according to compliance regulations
  • Ensuring information is easy to find

What are the advantages of automation in HR?

HR is no different from many other business departments and functions in that it has a lot to gain from automation.

One of the biggest advantages to be achieved in this space is an increase in the productivity of your HR team. When routine tasks and admin work can be automated, rather than being assigned to human employees, your people have more time to focus on value activities that make better use of their skills and generate value for the business.

Automation can also maximize accuracy in various HR functions, from managing payroll to ensuring you stay compliant. Using dedicated systems and software helps you limit the risk of human error in these vital areas, which protects the business and cuts down on wasted time and resources.

Furthermore, automated workforce reports can prove particularly useful to access reliable, real-time data on the people in your organization. Using automation to gather and collate this information gives your staff more time to draw actionable insights from it and think about how the data can be used to benefit the company.

What can be automated?

As robots become more and more sophisticated there are fewer and fewer tasks that cannot be done by automatic systems. Options exist for records management, contract and form signing and tracking, benefit options and selection, health and safety operations, employee communications (reminders etc.)

Common queries

But would you consider a chatbot for HR queries and transactions? We are used to seeing chatbots now as a “live” help option on websites for finding answers to your frequently asked questions. In terms of HR this is the next step from a knowledge base system when, instead of a simple search engine, an intelligent chatbot can decipher your question and provide suggested answers. The most sophisticated of these can also carry out administrative tasks for employees such as booking time off or changing personal details within a system.

Recruitment

One of the most important Human Resources process – recruitment and selection – is also becoming more automated with systems available that can pull keywords from CV’s as part of the selection process and interviews conducted solely by computer. Job hunters can now apply for jobs from their smartphones, have their CV selected by a computer and then have their first interview conducted by a computer and have no human interaction with the prospective employer.

Onboarding

As far as particular functions are concerned, one of the biggest opportunities of automation in HR is to improve the onboarding process. Automated onboarding can help to keep the entire process seamless and consistent, meaning all new hires go through the same stages of preparation for starting their roles.

You can tailor automated onboarding over time, to ensure the procedure is always relevant and up to date with the current needs of the business.

Employee empowerment

Employee empowerment is another example; rather than taking control away from workers, automation can help individuals take a more self-led approach to their jobs.

Using automated systems, employees can take ownership of their personal data and access their details without having to put a request through the HR department. Furthermore, basic tasks like holiday requests can be handled and approved with maximum speed and efficiency.

What are the opportunities?

So, what are the key points and opportunities for your business? A tip from the experts is to ensure you automate the right things for your organization.

“There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all.” - Peter Drucker

 

The size of your organization will determine what’s worth doing and what’s not – but bear in mind something not worth implementing now may be a necessity one day in the future; consider your employee experience through the decision-making process and compare your process today to what you might like it to be in the future.

Is Human Resources moving as fast as the business around it? As mentioned before HR is somewhat late to the party when it comes to technology and robotics, but this doesn’t need to be the future. To be a true partner to the business do we need to step up to the technology plate?

Consider a time and skills analysis in your team – what could be automated? Automation should free up time for human activities such as planning, organization, development, strategic work and those activities where having a person do it really adds value to the task and not just a pair of hands.

Evidence exists for technological advances changing the face of HR with cloud based systems, for example, forcing changes such as wholly standardizing policies and creating 20% less human HR transactions through the new implementation.

Automation is here to stay and will be taking over more of the daily tasks both in our lives and in business. What you take on board and what you save for the future is up to you but by considering the opportunities for your business you could open the doors to possibilities that haven’t existed yet.

4 HR automation challenges

When making any major change in how key business units function, it's vital to prepare for the problems and obstacles you might encounter along the way.

Here are some of the most common challenges to be aware of where HR automation is concerned:

1. Reassuring workers

For many people, the prospect of fundamental business functions like payroll administration being automated triggers fears of losing their jobs to machines. This is an understandable reaction, and it falls to HR leaders to address these concerns and give people the information and answers they're looking for.

Employees should be informed that automation can take routine tasks and laborious admin off their hands, freeing them up to focus on more meaningful and valuable work. Providing upskilling opportunities can also help to show people they’re valued by the organization and aren't simply being replaced by machines.

2. Cost of implementation

Introducing new systems and processes will come at a cost, of course, not only financially, but in terms of the time and resources required to get every member of staff on board and up to speed with different ways of working.

Careful planning and budgeting will help you anticipate these impacts and prepare accordingly.

3. Relinquishing control

Adopting automation means placing a certain level of trust in technology and relinquishing a degree of control over key HR functions.

Some managers will feel completely comfortable with this, but others - specifically those who prefer a traditional, hands-on approach to management - might need longer to get to grips with the idea.

4. Deciding what level of automation you're happy with

There are varying degrees of automation, so it's important to take the time to research your options before settling on the approach that makes the most sense for your department and the business as a whole.

Fully automating HR processes can maximize the time-saving and accuracy benefits, but might cost more and require a bigger transition for your workforce. A semi-automated solution could be an easier sell to concerned employees, but the advantages for the organization are likely to be less pronounced.

Can HR be at the forefront?

The “rise of the machines” brings a real opportunity to think about how we do things. Are our processes scalable and are we making use of all the available technological options out there? Developers are constantly pushing boundaries for industries and operations such as communications, automotive, marketing etc. but is there someone in HR’s corner discussing the processes that HR themselves want automated? Can we, the service function, the policy keeper, a mere side-kick to the business, really be at the design end of the robotic future?

HR still needs to remain human

Regardless of the great potential of automation in HR, and however you plan to make use of the various systems and technologies available today, it's important that this core business function retains an element of humanity.

The significance of human relationships and engagement is evident in the very name of the department. HR is all about people, so it's essential that the human element remains central to how your team operates.

As businesses and the world of work continue to evolve in the coming years, finding the right combination of technology and humanity could prove vital to success.

To help you make better informed HR decisions, click here to view more industry trends.

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